For that healthy, tasty lunch box

Health Today-blockThe second week of school has come to an end, and students should by now be fully settled in workwise –– and with all their books, education paraphernalia, shoes and uniforms.

But what about their lunches and snacks? As a mother, I am faced with the daily challenge of what to put into my sons’ lunch bags, because so often they return home with what I believed was a healthy and tasty treat.

Dr Ranita Jhagroo, the child health expert, told Health TODAY that eating healthy foods and snacks helped active children concentrate and learn.

“A lunch bag basically consists of one lunch (one main meal), two sets of snacks, lots of fluid. For the older kids if they are going to do an extracurricular activity, especially if it is a physical one, something to get them through that as well,” advised paediatrician Dr Jhagroo, MB, BcH, BAO, MRCPCH.

The following are Dr Jhagroo’s recommendations for a healthy lunch box.

What to pack for a lunch break. Some schools provide school meals and those are pretty good, they are nutritional and they are financially affordable. I would definitely recommend them.

Now, the reality is some kids don’t like school meals, or some parents prefer that they don’t have the school meals, in which case a packed lunch will be important.

Every child is different, and there are kids who actually like a hot meal for their lunch bag. That could be anything from what’s left over from the night before, which could be rice, pasta –– which is always a big hit.

There are some kids who like ground provisions with some sort of meat or sauce, especially with the pasta. Put in a thermos and pack in the lunch bag.

The majority of kids, especially school-age, will prefer a sandwich; and sandwiches can be healthy. They are not necessarily as bad as some people make them out to be.

Ham and cheese; ham on its own; cheese on its own. Peanut butter is allowed in certain schools and not others; so if it is allowed in the school, definitely, peanut butter sandwiches because they are easy.

Some kids also like wraps with cheese in them.

What to pack for a snack break. Fruit, if possible, is a good snack: grapes and bananas, which are the two that are normally tolerated by kids because they are the only things that stay fresh in the lunch box. Most kids will not eat many more in terms of fruits at school because of the way the fruits become as the day goes on.

I do recommend that a child get at least three to four servings of fruit or vegetables a day. A serving of fruit or vegetables is, for example, one banana. A handful of grapes is another.

If you choose to use tomato sauce in the spaghetti, that’s another serving. So if you can get three to five every day, you are on the mark.

Other things you can put as snacks are yogurts, crackers, health chips –– like plantation chips, cassava chips, lentil chips. There are even rice cakes made with various flavours. So some of those things can be put into the lunch box. Cheese strings are also a favourite.

Drinks for the lunch bag. Water, water, water! Water, we know, is important; and ideally a child who has been out all day should be drinking water throughout the day.

If they will not drink the water, then there is nothing wrong with putting a little cordial in it. That changes the flavour, makes it a little bit more appealing; and they will drink that.

Mauby is not an alternative to water (it is full of sugar and puts on excessive weight) nor to the juices. One tetrapack of juice a day is all a child should be drinking. So one tetrapack in the lunch box and a nice flask of water, and hopefully nothing comes back.

Extracurricular activity. If you have a child who is doing extra physical activity, like football, gymnastics, swimming, or tennis, or any of those active sports, and it’s done after school, then send a little extra for them, like the PediaSure, Granola Bar.

A smoothie is a good source of getting that fruit in.

Things to avoid in the lunch bag. We often beg [parents] to avoid snacks such as the corn curls, the chewy sweets, the Pringles, and those things which are often filled with a lot of preservatives and dyes.

I am not that keen on the processed meats. So although you are probably thinking hotdogs, chicken nuggets, they are not the best. They should be avoided as much as possible.

Once a week as a treat, yes; but other than that, really and truly, the nutritional content of those things are not the best.

Often parents say [children] don’t eat fruit, and so would put [for them] Welches fruits or those chewable fruit things. Just bear in mind that these are full of sugar.

They are also not recommended by our dentists; so although they are good as a little treat, they are not really supposed to replace a serving of fruit.    

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