Every parent knows that the beginning of the school year can be very stressful – with new routines to adjust to and lots of school supplies to organize, there’s a lot going on! Amidst the chaos, it’s important not to overlook the small things that can make a big difference to your child’s school day. Healthy and nutritious school lunches are one of the best ways to set your child up for success! In this blog, we’ll be explaining why eating well at school is so important, and what a healthy school lunch should look like.
Healthy Food = Healthy Brain
The food your child eats has the power to make or break their school day. High fiber fruits, vegetables, and grains make sure your child is fuller for longer hours, so they’ll be able to focus on their schoolwork and not on how long they have to wait until lunch! Foods with lots of good carbohydrates, like bread, rice and pasta, are full of energy that will keep your child attentive, conscientious and happy. Conversely, foods that are high in processed sugar have the opposite effect. While eating lots of sugar can give us energy, that energy soon wears off and causes a sugar crash. Instead of being attentive and energized, your child will become tired, hungry and irritable, and will have trouble concentrating on their schoolwork.
Teach Healthy Habits
The lessons a child learns about food and healthy eating will last them a lifetime. Including your child in your grocery trips and letting them choose their own snacks for school is an excellent way to teach them about making good food choices. You’ll be able to show them the difference between healthy, everyday foods, and extra treats that are only eaten every so often. Taking your child shopping also allows them to pick out foods they enjoy eating, so you can reduce the chance of your child bringing home a full lunchbox. 🙂
The key to a healthy and delicious lunch that your child will love is variety. Try to cover as many food groups as you can – grains, fruit, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy are all essential for a well-balanced diet. To keep your child interested, try to send different foods to school with them each day. Why not include a new snack or change the fillings on their sandwiches?
So, what exactly should you NOT include in your child’s lunchbox?
Some food groups aren’t so great for our little ones, and we want to avoid them where possible. In particular, try NOT to pack foods that are high in sugar, salt, or unsaturated fat (always check the food label for terms like palm oil, maltodextrin, etc). Foods with too much added sugar can damage teeth and lead to weight gain in the long run. While some salt is good for us, eating too much can lead to high blood pressure.
Then, what should you include?
Whether it’s a sandwich or wrap on multigrain bread, homemade pizza, or leftovers from dinner the night before, a substantial main item should be a core ingredient in every healthy lunch. Include lots of vegetables, a protein like meat, eggs, or tofu, and dairy or a soy alternative. Where possible, replace high sugar white carbohydrates with multigrain or wholemeal alternatives. White bread, rice and pasta contain more sugar than their alternatives, which we want to avoid! The healthy seeds and grains in multigrain bread are also a great source of fiber, which keeps your child feeling fuller longer.
A lunchbox should also include healthy snacks. Again, try to cover as many food groups as possible. In-season fruits and vegetables like oranges, apples, celery and carrot, reduced-fat, low sugar yogurt, cheese and crackers, mixed nuts and boiled eggs are all simple, affordable snacks to keep your child feeling full and healthy all day long. Stay away from high sugar snacks like muesli bars, chocolate spreads and jams, and sweetened dairy desserts like chocolate yogurts.
Finally, make sure your child has a healthy drink in their schoolbag each day. Avoid sugary drinks like fruit juice, cordial and flavored milk. A large, refillable bottle of water is the best way to ensure your child stays hydrated and energized throughout the school day. Freeze the water bottle the night before and use it as an ice brick to make sure lunch stays nice and cool!
There is no denying the importance of nutritious school lunches to help your child make the most out of their school day. We hope we’ve inspired you to try something new next time you’re packing a lunchbox! If you’d like to learn more about nutrition for young people, we think you’d love our Children’s Nutrition course. In this course, you’ll learn about the ideal diets for children and infants, healthy eating behavior, and avoiding and addressing childhood obesity.
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