Eating healthy food helps children concentrate and learn. However, healthy eating changes are not always easy to make. Try to set a good example with your own lunches. Encourage children to help choose and prepare their own lunch. They might like to make a list of the foods they enjoy. Praise your child when they choose healthy foods for their lunch box. Healthy lunches and snacks are important for active children. It is important to offer healthy lunch box choices
- Fresh fruit
- Crunchy vegetables
- A meat or protein food such as slices of lean meat, hardboiled egg, peanut butter or nut paste*
- Dairy food such as grated cheese, or yoghurt
- Bread, a roll, pita or flat bread or crackers
Food suggestions for lunch boxes
There are lots of food choices available for lunch boxes. However, it can sometimes be difficult to decide which foods are healthy choices. Suggestions include:
- Fruit - Best choices include fresh fruit. Dried fruit is sticky and high in sugar, so have it occasionally. Best left out of the lunch box are dried fruit bars and 'straps', which are very high in sugar, low in fibre and stick to children's teeth causing tooth decay.
- Vegetables - Try vegetable sticks with dip or a small container with mixed vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, capsicum and cucumber. Chips and packets of crisps are best left for parties and special occasions.
- Yoghurt - Fruit yoghurts should be kept cool in an insulated lunch box. Best left out of the lunch box are 'dairy desserts' and flavoured milks, which are high in sugar.
- Dips, cheese and biscuits - Pre-packaged or your own homemade versions of cheese and crackers are fine. Children enjoy mini packaged cheeses. Avoid sweet dips such as chocolate spreads. 'Oven-baked' savoury biscuits are just as high in salt and fat as chips and are best avoided.
- Different breads add interest - Include a variety of bread, especially if children begin to lose interest in sandwiches. Try bread rolls, pita bread, flat bread, focaccias, scones, pikelets, muffins, crumpets, crispbreads, rice cakes or corn thins.
- Vary the fillings - Fillings can include vegemite or other yeast extract, peanut butter, cheese (try different types), tuna, egg, sliced cold meats, baked beans, grated carrot and lettuce, chopped roast meat with pickles or chutney, and avocado. Dips like caviar (taramosalata), eggplant, chickpea (hummus), cucumber, yoghurt (tzatziki) or spinach also make good spreads. Avoid chocolate spreads, jams and honey, and fatty meats like salami and Strasbourg.
- Muffins and cakes - Try making your own muffins and cakes as a great way to include more fruit and vegetables. Examples include, carrot, zucchini, banana or pumpkin. Donuts and creamy cakes are best offered at birthdays and special occasions instead of in lunch boxes.
- Muesli and 'breakfast' bars - Almost all 'bars' are too high in sugar to include regularly, but cereal bars may be better for teeth than chewy sticky muesli bars. Try to avoid muesli bars and chocolate bars in lunch boxes. These are expensive and usually stuck together with fats and sugars.
Practical issues for busy families
Foods should be simple and easy to prepare, ready to eat and appetising after several hours' storage in the lunch box. Foods such as sandwiches can be prepared the night before or on the weekend, frozen, then taken for each day's lunch box. Suitable foods to freeze include:
- Cooked meat
- Peanut butter*
- Baked beans
- Mashed eggs
- Yeast or vegetable spreads such as Vegemite.
Things to remember
- It is important to keep offering healthy lunch box choices in a variety of ways, as children learn to eat what is familiar to them.
- Encourage your child to sit and eat before heading out to play, or talk to your school about making sure all children get a chance to eat enough before play starts.
- Include fruit and vegetables in your child's lunch box.
- Foods such as sandwiches can be prepared the night before or on the weekend, frozen, then taken for each day's lunch box.
* Some schools have a nut-free policy and fillings like peanut butter are not allowed.
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