Filling the school lunchbox with nutritious food can open a box full of questions. Andy Kenworthy offers some helpful tips and suggestions.
How do I fill kids up without loading them up with sugar?
The easiest way to make kids feel full is with a good helping of protein such as lean meat, chicken, tuna, cheese or egg. For vegans, avocados are a great source of energy as they are high in healthy monounsaturated fat, and also contain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Switch white bread for whole grain wherever you can get away with it, as it’s more filling and nutritious. For something sweet, find fruit your kids love, as this contains fibre and vitamins; dried fruit is the next best option.
If your children are muesli-bar monsters, get them to help you make their own – you can go to town with decent ingredients and still come out healthier than the packaged stuff. If you’re buying ready-made, look for muesli bars that are less than 15 percent sugar (they contain less than 15g sugar per 100g) although a smaller bar as high as 25 percent sugar could also fit the bill if some of the sugars come from lactose milk or from fruit.
How do I avoid so much packaging?
The easiest way to avoid excess packaging is not to buy it in the first place. Invest in a set of BPA-free containers for servings of yoghurt, dried fruit and more. Then you can buy things in bulk or make your own goodies. This saves you money and makes it more affordable to buy high-quality or organic alternatives. If your kids pine for all the bright colours and cartoons that are on the packets, buy them stickers to decorate things with and get creative.
My kids are gluten-intolerant, what do I give them for lunch?
Any gluten-free leftovers from dinner can be spritzed up for a second lap. There are also gluten-free bread suppliers such as The Original Bread Company. Potatoes and rice are great fillers. Rice crackers now come in a variety of flavours, including organic versions, but keep an eye on the salt content, which should be no higher than 200mg per serve. It’s also a great idea if you can spare the time for a little gluten-free baking to give kids a treat or two, otherwise they could feel they are missing out and be tempted into unhealthy trading and snacking.
Can I avoid palm oil?
As part of its commitment to conservation Auckland Zoo has created a palm-oil-free food list, which includes a wide range of breads, crackers, dressings, sauces and other snacks suitable for lunchboxes that are widely available in Kiwi shops. Go to www.aucklandzoo.co.nz/conservation to find out more. The sure-fire way to avoid palm oil is to avoid packaged foods as it makes it much easier to know what is going in there.
Ultimately, when putting together a healthy lunchbox, just like healthy eating generally, there is really no substitute for time – a lot of the sweet and salty packaged snacks we buy are there mostly for convenience. If you really want to get on top of what is happening in your kids’ lunch break, pre-plan the night before. Monitor what the kids actually eat by asking them to bring back any leftovers so you can continue to customise an appetising lunch that works for their long-term health.