By Jessica Ferguson, a dietician, practicing in Randburg, with an interest in paediatrics and nutrition-related medical conditions.
The start of the new term: synonymous with new seasons school uniforms, restocking school stationary, and recommencing the dreaded school lunches. Well, it’s a new start, which is a good time to make some new, exciting, and healthy school lunches (and why not try out some of these ideas for your work lunches too?)
What makes a healthy school lunch?
Here are some tips that will help you to pack a lunch that is nutritious, tasty, interesting, and safe:
Include a starchy food
Starchy foods are a good source of energy, and some of them provide good amounts of dietary fibre. While there is nothing wrong with the good old sandwich, here are some other examples of starchy foods, and some ideas of how you can include them in your child’s lunch box (try out the whole wheat versions):
- Rice cakes, Provitas, Oat cakes – Try them topped with avocado, hummus, or any normal sandwich topping
- Bread – Why not try toasting the bread at home, cutting into strips, and providing an avocado dip?
- Pasta, Couscous – Add some vegetables and a protein to make a complete meal
- Whole wheat wraps – Cut up some carrots, cucumber, lettuce, chicken, and make a wrap
- Pita slices – Fill it with salad ingredients and a protein food, or toast the pitas, cut into wedges, and serve with a dip.
These keep you fuller for longer. They also provide the building blocks for growth and for repairing cells in your body. Dairy is a good protein food and plays an essential role in building teeth and bones and maintaining bone mass.
Try out one of these protein foods:
- Chicken, ham and other meats – A nice protein source in wraps, pitas or salads. Remember to pack in with an ice pack!
- Tuna – Very versatile, can be used with many foods. You even get stay-fresh packs that you child can open at school which means that they don’t need refrigeration
- Egg – Give a whole boiled egg, or cut up/mashed in a salad or on a starchy food
- Hummus, cottage cheese, or cream cheese – Use on bread, provitas, rice cakes, oatcakes, or as a dip
- Cheese – On bread, provitas, rice cakes, oat cakes. Don’t use it too often, it is quite high in fat
- Nuts – Give a handful as a snack. A source of good fat
- Biltong – Choose the lean options as an occasional treat
- Yoghurt – A good source of protein and calcium
- Beans, lentils, and chickpeas – A good source of fibre, can be added into wraps, pitas and salads
Include fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are a good source of fibre and provide many essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which are important for good health. Cut up fruit into some yoghurt, grate some apple into pasta salad, or even try out a smoothie. Include vegetables by serving them with dips of cream cheese or hummus, in a salad with couscous or pasta, or in a wrap.
Some other healthy school lunch tips:
- Get your child involved in making their school lunch. If they are involved, they will be more likely to eat and enjoy their lunch!
- Remember to place the food in an insulated cooler bag with an ice pack if the food needs to be kept chilled
- Include a bottle of water in your child’s lunch bag
Occasional treats are ok to give your child, but just watch the portion size!
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