For so many parents out there the start of a new school term marks mixed emotions. Anxiety, excitement, stress, relief, fear, happiness… I could go on. As parents we ride more of an emotional roller coaster than our kids at this time of year. And there is little wonder why.
On top of making sure we have the school uniform ready to go, the right bag, shoes, stationery and start day (I know important right!) and lunch box, then we have to think about what we’re going to put in the lunch box. It’s so important to get the food we put in those lunchboxes right. To pick food that will fuel our little ones through a whole day of learning and play.
My school teacher friend and I were chatting about the pros and cons of her job. Unsurprisingly one of the hardest parts can be managing the kid’s behaviour. Walking around the playground, it seems to her that the food choices in the sparkly new lunch boxes directly relates to the behaviour in the classroom.
I know, I know there’s so much to think about in the lead up to the start of a school year but when you think about how the food we give our kids affects their learning experience, it’s a no brainer. It really is worthwhile putting time into planning their lunch box treats to make sure you set your kids up for the best learning experience possible.
That was the inspiration behind my simple ‘lunch box’ treats. They’re super easy to make, freezeable and free from refined sugars, additives and preservatives.
Don’t forget, when we talk about ‘lunch box bites’ it is important to remember schools food policies about ingredients like nuts and egg. It’s also important to keep in mind when you buy snacks that making a product ‘gluten free’ or ‘nut free’ doesn’t always mean it’s free from other nasties such as trans fats, refined sugars and additives and preservatives. All of these things can cause havoc to our systems creating unwanted physical and behavioural symptoms.
But those packaged snacks are convenient, right? Well now there’s no excuse you can make these lunch box healthy treats for your kids quickly and simply and some even in the space ten minutes. Even the most time poor mum or dad has ten minutes!
These treats are nut, dairy, gluten, refined sugar and grains, additives and preservatives* free. And even better all of these treats can be frozen so you can make them in bulk with your little helpers and pop them in their lunchbox as you need.
So start mixing up your own delicious healthy lunch box bites at home. Do what I do. Take a recipe tweak it, mix it change it. Have fun with it. Get the kids involved to include their favourite fruits or toppings. Personalise them for your family and start enjoying healthy lunchbox treats the whole school year through!
*a word on preservatives in dried fruit and coconut products…
It is important to be aware that many dried fruits and dried coconut in Australian stores contain the preservative sulphur dioxide (number 220) which gives dried fruit its bright colours. This preservative can play havoc with our systems, with kids being particular sensitive and should be avoided where possible. Read labels, and try avoiding buying dried fruits or coconut with any numbers in the ingredient list. Choose organic where possible, although they don’t look as pretty, they taste twice as good and they are loads better for us. To save money, find a local bulk organic supplier (such as Flame Tree Community Co-op in Thirroul) where you can pick up however much or little as you need at a fraction of the cost of some organic stores.
Whenever school goes back for the year, the one thing every parent seems to dread is packing school lunchboxes. Packing a school lunchbox is like walking a tight rope. Not only does it need to be nutritious for growing bodies, it also has to taste and look good so that they actually eat it! This can be a challenge for even the most inventive and organised parent!
With most children spending an average of seven hours at school each day, it is important that children are provided with nutrient packed food choices to give them with the energy and vitality to power through the day while also supporting healthy growth and development.
The most common issues when children do not eat well while at school is an inability to focus and concentrate in class. Teachers often say by 1pm, many kids just don’t have the energy to stay on task. Unfortunately, this often leads to homework also being a difficult task in the afternoons.
And of course the biggest complaint from parents and children alike is the tired and cranky ‘I’m so hungry’ moans after school. Often, this leads to cravings for refined foods that are high in sugar. Believe it or not, a more balanced lunchbox (and a good breakfast) will help to calm those insatiable tummies while also helping to them to be more energised (and less irritable) to tackle their afternoon activities and homework.
So, we know we want happy kids that have energy and are ready to learn but how do we make this happen?
The top tips I suggest when packing your children’s lunchbox go like this…
- ALWAYS include protein. I cannot stress this enough. Almost every lunchbox I see has a distinct void when it comes to protein sources. Protein is commonly referred to as the building blocks of the body and is essential to maintain and renew cells in the body as children grow.One of the most important day-to-day functions of protein is that it fills kids up and keeps them full. Enough protein in their lunchbox helps to keep their blood glucose levels more stable which assists with concentration and focus. All of this leads to less grumpy and starving kids at the end of the school day. Protein sources are easy to remember as they are anything that comes from an animal such as chicken, fish, eggs, turkey, mince or dairy. Nuts, seeds and legumes (such as chickpeas and four bean mix) are also a great source of protein.
- 1 serve of fruit. Fruits provide the body with essential nutrients such as dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. They also contain phytochemicals which helps protect cells from the damage caused by pollutants. Just be mindful of the salicylate content and fructose if you have a child that is sensitive to salicylate foods or blood sugar rises.
- Include vegetables or salad (in any form). We all know vegetables are important however often children are not as obliging to accept this. One thing I tell every parent is ‘don’t give up’ when it comes to vegetables. It takes children at least 10 tries of something before they will truly accept or reject a food. Just because it doesn’t get eaten the first few times doesn’t mean it will never get eaten! I suggest offering salads and vegies in lots of different ways in lunchboxes. A few ideas include…
- Use mini vegetable cutters to cut vegetables like cucumber into shapes like stars and hearts.
- Mini cherry tomatoes are great for lunchboxes as they don’t go soggy and are sweet and juicy.
- Cut crunchy vegetables into sticks and offer along with a healthy dip such as pesto, hummus, capsicum dip or eggplant dip. Almost any roasted vegetable can be transformed into a healthy dip. These dips can be used with crackers as well.
- Thinly peel (or use a Veggie Twister) vegetables like zucchini, cucumber and carrot to use in quinoa or rice salads, rice paper rolls or vegie pasta.
- Frozen peas and corn in a container are often enjoyed by kids. Just pour them straight into a container from the freezer and they will thaw by lunchtime!
- Corn on the cob
- Hide vegetables in snacks like zucchini slice, savoury muffins or rissoles
Variety is key
Just like adults get bored with eating the same things all the time, so do kids! Just because your child loves something – give it to them too many times and then they’ll never want to eat it again (which then makes your job even harder!) A wide variety of foods will ensure kids stay interested but it also helps them get all the nutrients they need from many different foods. To help with variety, I strongly recommend making larger batches of foods and keeping them in the freezer so you can have many different meal and snack options on rotation between weeks.
Snacks are fun and very important. Including a healthy treat in their lunchboxes will help kids to look forward to the different tastes in their lunchboxes while helping to keep their energy levels and blood glucose levels balanced. Having a wholefood treat that has no added sugar (and lots of added goodness) ensures kids feel like they are getting something special and lessens the comparison to other kids with packaged biscuits, chips or cakes
Lunchtime Time Savers
I am a huge fan of serving leftovers for lunch. Meatballs, salmon patties, left over chicken / meat from last night’s dinner mixed with herbed mayo and diced vege, frittata, quiches, pasta….I tend to make extra at dinner time to save me mucking around with lunches the next day. For example, when I am roasting a chicken, I will roast two. When I am making meatballs, I make double what I need for dinner…..get my drift? Any leftover that doesn’t get used for lunches gets placed in ziplock bags in individual servings, ready to go when I am fresh out of lunchbox options. So use the dinner and breakfast recipes for lunchtime inspiration.
Here are a few more options if you are still in need of inspiration to get over the sandwich rut!
- Apple and Cinnamon Cookies
- Apricot Bites
- Banana and Blueberry Muffins (sugar, dairy and egg free)
- Choc Chip Cookies
- Fig and Seed Cookies
- Hidden Goodness Brownies
- Mini Quiche Many Ways
- Muesli Slice
- Nectarine Mini Muffins
- Nutella Balls
- Raspberry and Coconut Mini Muffins
- Raw Rochero Balls
- Simple Wholefood Mini Muffins
- Strawberry Muffins
- Super Seedy Slice (Nut Free / Vegan)