Lunch box: Tips on how parents can prepare healthy foods

When it comes to the healthiest foods for school-age children, it is important to focus on providing a balanced and nutritious diet that supports their growth and development. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Balanced. When it comes to the healthiest foods for school-age children, it is important to focus on providing a balanced and nutritious diet that supports your child’s growth and development. This means the children must have sizeable portions of the key categories of nutrition.

Children are extremely active mentally, emotionally, and physically throughout the day but because their stomach capacities are not as big as those of adults, they need constant refills of nutrients for optimum growth and the ability to keep up with their daily tasks. While some schools offer a mid-morning snack, others do not.  

Also, some children want an after-school snack to help them stay focused while doing their homework and give them the energy they need for active play, sports, or other after-school activities. This is why it is important to pack lunchboxes or snack boxes for your children. 

Balanced lunch box

Amanda Twebaze, a nutritionist, says in most cases, schools tends to focus more on carbohydrates and some protein while designing their menus. It is, therefore, important to ensure that you add a fruit, some nuts or seeds and vegetables in your child's box to cater for their micronutrient needs, boosting their immunity and enhancing their cell, metabolic, hormone, enzymatic and many other body functions. 

As adults, children need foods such as carbohydrates to provide them with the energy to learn and play. Also, proteins support growing bodies and minds. They also need foods with vitamins and minerals to support healthy immune systems. 

In order to supplement their diet, children should eat foods that range from high quality protein to supplement the proteins being offered at school which might not be as nutritious. You can opt for protein such as cheese, milk, eggs and chicken, among others. 

Carbohydrates should also be able to provide energy to your child more gradually. So, foods such as pancakes, bread slices or sandwiches and baked sweet potato can be great options. 

Also, nuts and seeds such as simsim, groundnuts, almonds, carrot sticks, apples, strawberries, bananas and many more can be added. 

Their favourite

“Always add, although in small amounts, a less nutritious favourite food of theirs such as potato crisps or biscuits just to stop them from having the urge to eat them in huge quantities which becomes unhealthy,” Amanda advises.

For hydration purposes, Dr Charity Asaba, a general physician at St Catherine Hospital in Kampala, says it is important that children have something to drink throughout the day at school. It can be water, milk, fresh fruit and vegetable juice such as beetroot, passion, orange or mango juices. 

“Do not give your children sugary drinks, including processed juice, cordial or energy drinks as they can lead to dental issues. If your child has trouble drinking plain water, try different bottles or cups. Some children are more likely to drink from a bottle with a straw or a spouted bottle,” she says.

Ensuring healthy eating

Always have a balanced meal to serve them containing foods from all food groups such as protein, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins. This way, they get adequate nutrients suited for the different necessary body functions.

Do not be too extreme by insisting on giving them healthy foods only. Allow them to indulge in their favourite less healthy foods occasionally.

Make it a point to explain and discuss with them the importance of eating healthy in a language or manner they can better understand so they are more motivated to eat well with a purpose in mind.

“Model the behaviour of eating healthy so they can easily pick up on that eating pattern by observing how you eat as well. Children learn best when a good example is set for them,” Dr Asaba advises. 

Give them many small healthy meals frequently throughout the day so they can constantly refill and achieve their body needs. Always supplement their school menus with healthy foods that you realise are not accessible to them at school.

When choosing packaged snacks, it is important to look out for the amount of saturated fat and fibre they contain. If possible, try to make the snacks at home since then you will be able to regulate the amount of oil, salt or sugar used. 

“Parents should also look for nutrient-dense ingredients such as low-fat dairy, wholegrains, fruits, vegetables to provide a more balanced snack selection. Some of the good options include dried fruits, wholegrain crackers, cheese, mini rice cakes, tinned fruit cups and yoghurts without added sugars,” Amanda says. 

For younger children, cut large pieces of fruit and vegetables. Remember to choose snacks with easy-to-open packaging. You can also show them how to open or what is in the packaging.

“Remember that whatever you are packing for the children stays for some hours before they actually eat it. It is, therefore, important that you keep it fresh. If you are preparing the snack box a day before, keep it in the fridge overnight so that it does not go bad before the child eats it,” Dr Asaba says.

Ask the child to keep the snack box in their school bag, away from direct sunlight and heat. You can also freeze water bottles overnight so that your child is able to get a refreshing drink on hot days. 

Emphasise good hydration throughout the day.

How to combat uneaten lunch

If your child's lunch is regularly coming home uneaten, talk to them to find out the reason for this and work with them to find a suitable solution. Some reasons can include:

● Too big a snack in the morning, or snack is too close to lunch time.

● They do not like where they are eating.

● They go straight out to be with their friends.

● They do not like the food in their packed lunch.

● Other children are commenting on the contents of their lunch box or the lunch box itself.

● Children prefer branded, packaged foods to fit in with their peers.

It can be useful to overcome the this by going to the supermarket together to find foods that you are both happy with. Be clear about the foods that work for both of you and your guidelines before you go shopping, such as nothing with a lot of sugar.