With the back-to-school season, we find many mothers looking for advice on the social media regarding how to prepare their children’s’ lunch boxes. The integrative health coach Vally Hamza revealed to us 8 crucial rules to build a healthy lunchbox. She explained that the content of a lunchbox provides all of the energy kids need to get through an action-packed day. Therefore, a lunchbox filled with sugary, fatty foods doesn’t provide long lasting energy nor the necessary vitamins and minerals. This can directly increase the chances of overweight and obesity in children and teenagers .
Eating healthy food helps children concentrate and learn. However, healthy eating choices are not always easy to make. Try to set a good example with your own lunches.
1- Aim for balance:
Pack a balanced lunchbox: vegetables (veggie sticks)+protein (hummus, eggs, foul) + carbs (whole wheat bread, quinoa, brown rice, oats)+Fruits (you can cut some fruits and add nut butter) (sweets can be added too)
– PS. It’s ok if you miss a food group in the lunchbox
Fruits: Fresh is the best choice. Dried fruits are sticky and high in sugar, so send it occasionally. For extra energy, try putting peanut or almond butter on your fruit.
Vegetables : Try vegetable sticks with dip (Hummus or yogurt, or guacamole) or a small container with mixed vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, celery, carrot sticks and cucumber.
Protein: Eggs, foul, nuts, chicken wrap.
Carbs: Use whole grain, freshly baked bread. As a general rule, bread belongs to the “processed foods” category and is better avoided. It turns into sugar that spikes insulin levels. If you have to choose bread , opt for balady, whole grain or gluten-free bread.
2- “Be creative”
Now it’s easy to find a lot of healthy recipes to cook for your kids or teens.
You can also go for healthy alternatives. Use honey instead of sugar while making a cake, oats instead of flour and almond milk instead of dairy milk.
You can try “Baked fries” grilled in the oven and salted lightly instead of fried and the same for chicken.
You can find online recipes for:
• Fruit smoothies: choose your favorite fruits and blend them all together with some yogurt and ice.
• Vegetable sticks and a dip: hummus and guacamole are also great dip options.
• Dark chocolate.
• Nuts and dried fruits.
• Date balls.
• Egg muffins. Get creative with adding vegetables and fruits: you can make eggs with vegetable using cupcakes tray (egg muffins) instead of the regular omlette or add some fruits to the cake.
3- Don’t give them deli meats/sausages/hot dogs or ready deserts.
They are made of processed meat which means you really don’t know what kind of meat is actually being used. They are also loaded with cholesterol-raising saturated fats, sodium, and cancer-linked sodium nitrite.
Never give packaged cookies/ cakes/ muffins/ brownies/chips. Even if every kid in your child’s class has them. These are filled with transfats to give them their long shelf life, high fructose corn syrup which is another name for sugar and toxic genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
If high fructose corn syrup is on the label, don’t buy it.
4- Give them a homemade treat.
Homemade cookies or cakes are not loaded with artificial colors, transfats or high fructose corn syrup.
Try making your own muffins and cakes as a great way to include more fruit and vegetables. You can include carrots, zucchinis, bananas or pumpkins. Donuts and creamy cakes are best offered at birthdays and special occasions instead of in lunch boxes.
Avoid sugar, artificial sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, soy, corn or canola oil, artificial colors.
Always go for seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables and anything that is natural.
5- Give your child fresh juices or just plain water.
Canned fruit juices, even the ones that say “sugar free” are nothing more than diluted, preserved, additive-laden liquids. Try some healthy smoothies instead.
Water is very importan. Children taking part in sports or those who are exposed to a warm weather need to replenish the lost fluids by drinking more water. Research suggests adequately hydrated children may perform better in school. To make it more fun you can add ice, a slice of lemon or strawberry
6- Try to bring in the kids
Involving your children in lunchbox planning and preparation is important to increase their knowledge and acceptance of the food. Encourage children to help choose and prepare their own lunchbox. They might like to make a list of the foods they enjoy. Praise your children when they choose healthy foods for their lunch box.
It can get stressed when you see food returned home uneaten. However, don’t let yourself get upset, believe in the power of repeated exposure to the same foods . If something didn’t work, give it a few days (or even a few weeks) and try it again at another time.
Remember that it may take time to change your child’s food preferences to more healthy choices. (Food advertisements and their friends’ food choices will influence how they feel towards certain foods). 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.
Allow yourself time to plan and pack lunches on the weekend or the night before so your mornings are more relaxed.
8- Choose the right lunchbox and keep packed lunches cool
While plastic and paper bags are convenient, they may not promote healthy lunches for kids. In fact, they may be doing more harm than good.
Try Stainless Steel, Glass or Cotton.
• Use an isolated bag with an icepack from the freezer to pack your child’s lunch in on really hot days, or choose a lunchbox with a built-in freezer block.
• If your school doesn’t refrigerate lunches, put a bottle of water in the freezer overnight to act as an ice pack as it thaws.
• Freeze yoghurt in a secure container, take it out in the morning and it should stay cool until lunchtime while it defrosts.
• Pack salad ingredients separately rather than within sandwiches – bread goes even soggier in the heat.