Coming up with packed lunches for school can be tricky – they need to include food kids will enjoy and tick all the health boxes.
With more than half of all children in primary schools bringing in their own meals, it’s no wonder many busy parents end up resorting to the simple lunch of a ham sandwich, piece of fruit, chocolate biscuit and crisps.
A recent study* by the University of Leeds found that fewer than two out of every 100 lunchboxes belonging to primary-aged children met the same strict standards that are now in place for school dinners.
It’s worth checking with your child’s school for their individual lunchbox guidelines, but here’s how to swap a typical lunchbox for five healthier packed lunches.
They’re easy to make – and tasty enough to be a hit with the kids!
White bread is often the choice for sandwiches but it contains less fibre than wholegrain varieties. Children aged 5-10 years need 20g of fibre each day.
Wholegrain rolls, wraps, pittas, bagels or oatcakes for variety and to boost fibre. Or use leftover wholemeal pasta or noodles, brown rice or potatoes as the base for a salad (just make sure it’s been refrigerated and stored safely).
Ham is a popular go-to filling but it’s high in fat and saturates.
A whole apple. While this is a great, healthy choice, many kids leave it uneaten when it’s not in bite-size pieces.
Cubes of melon, pineapple or mango, tubs or pots of fruit salad in fruit juice (not syrup), and small amounts of dried fruit like raisins or apricots. All provide fibre, vitamins and minerals. Grapes are also a good choice but halve these to avoid a choking hazard.
Crisps and/or a chocolate biscuit. Apart from not even being allowed as part of school dinners, crisps are often high in fat and salt, and contain few beneficial nutrients. Chocolate – including any in biscuits – are also banned from school meals and are high in fat, saturates and sugar.
Again, this is something that tends to be missing from many kids’ lunchboxes.
A little tub of carrot, celery or pepper sticks, sugar snap peas or halved cherry tomatoes. Pulses – beans, peas and lentils – count as veg too. They’re a great source of fibre and add a variety of vitamins and minerals.
We often forget to add a serving of calcium, which is important for the growth and development of children’s bones.
A small portion of reduced-fat cheese (this can go into a sandwich or salad), a pot of yogurt, fromage frais, rice pudding or reduced-fat custard or a small carton or bottle of reduced-fat milk. These foods are all rich in calcium.
A carton of juice drink. This will often contain loads of sugar.
Water is the best drink to include. Lower-fat milk is also a good choice. Skip drinks that contain added sugar and if you’re going to include fruit juice, stick to a 150ml serving and top it up with water.
BY JULIETTE KELLOW