Lunch can provide kids with a third of their nutrients for the day, so it’s important to ensure that they are getting a well-balanced meal.
Unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done. The first task is getting the kids to eat what you’ve packed, which is tricky when they start taking their lunch to daycare or school and you’re not able to see whether they are eating it or sneakily stuffing it in the bottom of their bag. (A fact you’ll only discover when it is nice and mushy.)
Then there’s the question of what to pack, with supermarket shelves filled with snacks that all making claims to be good for you.
If this is all sounding too hard, the Healthy Kids Association has created a formula, the Core 4 + 1 for active kids, that makes it easy to remember what to include as you fill the lunchbox.
What’s the Core 4 + 1?
A lunchbox should have four elements:
- The Main Lunch: sandwich and wraps are obvious but not all children will eat them, so you can always experiment with things such as hummus and pita bread, frittata, cold noodle or pasta salad and onigiri. If your kids love sushi, onigiri is easy-to-make Japanese rice balls which you can fill with various ingredients. If you are busy, you can always make a batch of these or sandwiches and freeze them for when you need them.
- Snack: If there are none included in the main lunch, throw in some chopped up veggies (cherry tomatoes and baby cucumbers are often a big hit). You could also send rice crackers, whole grain crackers with their favourite spread or cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and yoghurt, Just remember to keep the stuff that needs it cool. If you buy yoghurt pouches or make your own, you can always freeze them and they’ll be nicely defrosted by the time your little one is ready to eat
- A piece of fruit: Seasonal fruit is cheaper and tastes best. At this age, you’ll probably have more success with fruit if you chop it up into pieces. To stop fruit like pears and apples going brown, soak them briefly in water with a squeeze of lemon before packing. Others swear by reassembling cut apples back into their original shape with the core and putting elastic bands around it.
- Water: If you freeze a small bottle, you can pop it into their lunch to keep the food cool until it’s time to eat. Unless it’s really hot, you might want to pack another bottle they can drink in the meantime.
+1. If you have an active child, pack an extra snack
What Not to Pack
- Nuts: If your kid loves peanut butter or almonds, it can be frustrating that you’re not allowed to send them to school or daycare. But allergies can be life-threatening and some nut ones are so severe that they can be triggered by making contact with someone who has touched nuts. Save them for when you’re at home.
- Chips, sweet biscuits, lollies, snack/muesli bars: These are not completely off-limits, but while they are convenient, that are often high in sugar, salt and/or fat. Keep them to a minimum
What Do Health Star Ratings Mean?
Two years ago, the government introduced the Health Star Rating system, which measures the nutrients on a product and gives it a rating out of five stars. If you use it to guide you at the supermarket, remember that you have to compare apples to apples, as it were. The rating is based on foods in the one category, so one brand of yoghurt might get 1.5 stars, while a packet of liquorice gets 2.5. This doesn’t mean that liquorice is better than yoghurt, just that other yoghurts are more nutritious.
Enjoy your lunch!