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How to build a healthy school lunchbox

Packing school lunch boxes with healthy foods that your kids will actually eat can be a challenge! Children need adequate nutrition for healthy growth and development. What’s in your child’s lunch box makes up a 1/3 of their daily nutrients. So, it’s important your are providing the right combinations of foods so they are getting all the nutrients they need to grow, play and learn. To alleviate some of the stress that comes with lunch box prep, follow this simple guide to build a healthy lunchbox for your kids.

Where to start?
The key to providing your kids with a balanced, nutritious and healthy lunch is to include foods from each of the five food groups. These five food groups are:

  1. Grain (cereal) foods
    Grains and cereals are an excellent source of carbohydrates to provide children with enough energy to play and concentrate throughout the day. Always choose wholegrain varieties of grains or cereal products as these have more fibre than processed, white grains or cereal products. This means wholegrains take longer to digest and can provide us with longer bursts of energy.Some examples of wholegrains to add to your kid’s lunchboxes can include:
    • Wholegrain bread (1-2 slices)
    • Wholegrain bread roll or flat bread
    • Cooked brown rice, pasta or quinoa (1/2 cup)
    • Wholegrain crackers (2-3)

  2. Vegetables and legumes/beans
    Veggies are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fibre which helps children feel fuller for longer and boosts their immune system to avoid getting sick! It’s important to include a variety of different types and colours of vegetables, legumes and beans. Start by bulking up your child’s school lunch with veggies by adding them into their sandwich or adding a serve of raw veggies to snack on at recess.Some examples of vegetables, legumes and beans to add to your kid’s lunchbox can include:
    • Raw salad vegetables (1 cup)
    • Vegetable sticks such as carrot, snow peas, capsicum or celery (1/2 cup)
    • Sweet corn (1/2 cup)
    • Dried to canned beans, peas or lentils, with no added salt (1/2 cup)
    • Cherries tomatoes or sliced tomato in sandwiches (1/2 cup or 1 medium tomato)

  3. Fruit
    Like veggies, fruit is also an excellent source of essential vitamins, minerals and fibre to help children feel fuller for longer and keep healthy in the long term. Try to mostly choose whole fruit rather than fruit juice or dried fruit as these are lower in fibre and can have too much sugar when over consumed.Some examples of fruit to add to you kid’s lunchbox can include:
    • Apple, banana, orange, pear (or 1 other medium size fruit)
    • Apricots, plums or kiwi fruit (2 fruits)
    • Diced or canned fruit in natural juices (1 cup)Occasionally:
      • 100% Fruit juice (1/2 cup or 125ml)
      • Dried fruit (30g e.g. 4 dried apricot halves or 1 ½ tablespoons of sultanas)

  4. Dairy and/or dairy alternatives
    Dairy foods provide excellent sources of calcium and protein, essential to help children build strong bones and muscles all while helping them feel fuller for longer!Some examples of dairy and/or dairy alternatives to include in your kid’s lunch box can include:
    • Low-fat milk or milk alternative (1cup)
    • Low fat cheese (2 sandwich slices or 4 cubes of hard cheese)
    • Ricotta (1/2 cup)
    • Low-fat yoghurt (3/4 cup or 200g tub)When choosing plant-based milk or dairy alternatives make sure they contain 100mg of calcium per 100ml.

  5. Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu nuts/seeds and legumes/beans
    These foods provide an excellent source of protein to help children build strong muscles. They also provide lots of vitamins and minerals, particularly iron which is vital for children for concentration and overall growth and development.Some examples of how to include these foods in your kid’s lunch box can include:
    • Lean meat such as beef, veel, lamb, pork, kangaroo or goat (90-100g raw weight)
    • Poultry such as chicken or turkey with skin removed (100g raw weight)
    • Cooked fish (115g raw weight) or tin of tuna (100g)
    • 2 large eggs
    • Cooked or canned legumes or beans such as lentils, chickpeas, split peas with no added salt (1 cup)
    • Tofu (170g)
    • Nuts, seeds, or natural nut butter with no added salt (30g)

Don’t forget water!
Water is the best drink for kids to keep them hydrated throughout the day. Always pack them a water bottle and encourage them to fill it up throughout the day at the bubblers. On hot days you may like to freeze half or all of their water bottle to keep it refreshing to drink and keep the rest of the foods in their lunch box cool. Avoid sugary drinks such as cordials, soft drinks, fruit juices, flavoured milks or energy drinks.

Now, to get your kids to actually eat the foods you pack try:

  • Taking your kids food shopping and getting the involved in prepping their lunch box. Allowing children to choose the healthy food they put in their healthy lunch box will mean they are more likely to eat it. This also is teaching them the skills to choose and prepare healthy meals which will lead them to make healthier choices into adulthood.
  • Prepare food ahead of time. Do lunchbox prep the night before rather than in a rush in the morning. You can also try preparing snacks and meals in bulk in the weekend for the week ahead.
  • Talk to your kids! Ask them what foods they would like to try. This can give you the opportunity to discuss the importance of healthy eating for healthy growth.

Have fun trying different combinations!

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