According to research half of children in the UK take a packed lunch to school and this equates to a staggering 840 million packed lunches a year*; we are definitely not alone in this task – whether its deciding what goes in it or cleaning out the mushed remains at the end of the day!
Negotiating the contents of lunchboxes with children can be tricky to say the least with research revealing they are often less healthy than school dinners** and tend to be low on fruit and veg and high in fat, sugar and salt.*
As with all conversations around feeding our children a healthy balanced diet, let’s take a breath and look at the bigger picture. We do have a responsibility to provide healthy food and to educate our children as to what this looks like, but we don’t need to achieve nutritional perfection every day. As far as lunch boxes go, balance and variety is key plus involving children when we can in the decisions we’re making is a great idea to make sure that food doesn’t become a battle over control. Achieving variety can sometimes feel like a bit of a headache, so to help with that we have a weeks’ worth of fantastic lunch box ideas that have been tried and tested on my own kids who are strong on their opinions and quick to judge (but I love them all the same!).
Firstly, let’s have a quick look at what nutrients a lunch box should contain
Kids need fuel, a little protein (although maybe not as much as you’d think; children aged 4-9 only need 19g per day which is the equivalent of a small chicken breast as it is worked out as approximately 1g per kg of their body weight) and nourishing extras like vitamins, minerals and fibre from fruit and veg.
They also need two to three portions of dairy or fortified plant-based alternative (e.g. soya or oat products) a day to meet their calcium requirements, for example milky puddings, cheese or yoghurt.
Carbs provide fuel and if these are fibrous options then even better, for example a wholemeal wrap or pasta. Sometimes it’s useful to think of the carbs as the base, from which lots of different options can be created. You’ll see some examples of this below:
Bringing it to life!
I've pulled together a handy shopping list for you too, so that's next weeks packed lunches sorted!
So, there we are, a few ideas to keep you going. Remember we’re not competing for a Michelin star; we’re simply showing our children what a balanced lunch looks like. Planning is really helpful to reduce time in the morning when we are completing so many tasks. The rejected contents that comes back may have us shaking our heads in despair but keeping the children involved whilst gently reminding them of the benefits of a healthy lunch should help to make it less fraught. My children frequently roll their eyes at me when I talk ‘work’ but I’m pleased to say it has rubbed off a little on them and most of the time we find a balance that makes us all happy.