No single food group will provide all the nutrients that growing children need (for energy, weight management, cognitive function, growth and development). To get the right balance, a nutritious packed lunch should contain the following:
- Energy-giving carbohydrates (such as wholemeal bread, pittas and pasta, oatcakes, rice cakes and potatoes). Wholemeal bread and pasta contain more nutrients and fibre than white alternatives, meaning they take longer for the body to digest and keep children feeling fuller for longer. Rice should be avoided in packed lunches as it can be a food poisoning risk when kept at room temperature
- A source of protein – such as lean meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses, hummous or a small pot of nuts/nut butter (in non-allergic individuals)
- A dairy item (such as mini individually wrapped cheeses) or yoghurt. Opt for natural yogurt where possible, with added berries for natural sweetness
- Vegetables or salad (celery and carrot sticks or cherry tomatoes are tasty and easy to eat, and good to dip in hummous or tzatziki)
- A portion of fruit (such as a banana, an easy-peel satsuma, dried apricots or a small box of raisins)
Fruits and vegetables that include a mix of bright colours will also provide the most varied selection of beneficial nutrients – encourage your child to ‘eat a rainbow’.
Foods to avoid
Research has shown that a typical packed lunch serves up more than a six-year-old’s entire daily sugar limit. Most of the sugar content found in packed lunches comes from ‘free sugars’ – these are sugars added to food (such as sucrose and glucose) or those naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. It does not include sugar naturally present in milk, whole fruit and vegetables.
Avoid your child filling up on free sugars and empty calories by limiting processed, convenience foods with poor nutritional value – such as fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate, biscuits or sweets. A two-finger Kit Kat contains 48% a seven-year old’s recommended sugar intake, so is best as a treat a couple of times a week, rather than an everyday staple. Swap chocolate or cereal bars for lower sugar alternatives – such as fruit in sugar free jelly or popcorn.
Drinks such as Fruits Shoots and Capri Sun can contain more than a six year-old’s recommended maximum daily free sugar intake, so are also best avoided (with water, sugar free squash or milk good alternatives).
© Sarah West Nutrition