How to: pack lunch like a pro
PAEDIATRIC DIETITIAN JENNIFER DOUGLAS SHOWS US HOW TO PACK LUNCH LIKE A PRO.
This lunchbox guide has been amended for school age children only due to the Ministry of Health’s new food safety regulations for early childhood education centres. Talk to your early learning service provider or visit health.govt.nz for more information.
Back to school in the new year for kids means it’s also back to lunchbox packing for you! It can be hard to think of interesting ideas, especially after the summer break, so we asked paediatric dietitian Jennifer Douglas from Jumpstart Nutrition to serve up some advice.
A healthy lunchbox helps kids enjoy their school day by providing them with good nutrition for concentration, sport and play. It's a really good idea to get your child involved in making their own lunches by helping you pack it and/or helping to choose what goes in it.
There are so many awesome lunchboxes out there to help make the food you put inside look more appealing. Bento-style boxes or ones with compartments help keep food fresh and not squashed together. These lunchboxes also reduce your need for cling film and help to reduce your plastic waste.
A healthy lunch should include:
✔ Protein: 1-2 servings
✔Carbohydrates: 1-2 serves
✔ Vegetables: 1-2 servings
✔ Fruit: 1-2 pieces
✔ Calcium: 1 serve of dairy or dairy alternative
✔ Bottle of water
Avoid adding too many packaged or highly processed foods in the lunchbox as these are often high in fat, sugar and salt, and offer little nutritional value. Avoid giving sweets and chocolate but some homemade baking (eg oat bars, biscuits, muffins, savoury pinwheels) can be added.
If you do add packaged snacks to the lunchbox, read the ingredients to ensure real food is in there! Check the nutritional information panel for:
✔ <10g sugar per 100g. You can allow a slightly higher sugar content if the food is made with dried fruit.
✔ <250-300mg sodium (salt) per 100g.
✔ >6g fibre per 100g to help keep kids full and to ensure a healthy gut.
✔ >4g protein per 100g for an active or super hungry child!
✔ <10g total fat per 100g and aim for higher amounts of polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats rather than saturated fat.
1-2 SERVINGS. A SERVE IS THE SIZE OF YOUR CHILD'S PALM
Keep processed meats such as ham and salami as an occasional item.
❧ Hard boiled eggs.
❧ Egg sandwiches with mayonnaise.
❧ Chicken drumsticks.
❧ Vegetable frittata.
❧ Tuna or salmon in spring water or tinned flavoured fish such as tomato and basil, or lemon pepper.
❧ Fish cakes/patties with dip.
❧ Hummus or tahini dip with veges or crackers.
❧ Falafel balls or lentil patties.
❧ Baked beans, low salt bean mixes or bean salads in containers.
❧ Peanut butter (no added salt or sugar) with wholegrain bread or crackers, or inside celery sticks.
❧ Whole nuts (unsalted and unroasted) in a small container.
❧ Seeds added to nuts or dried fruit in a small container.
❧ Tofu sticks.
❧ Sliced cold meats such as ham, turkey, chicken.
❧ Savoury muffins.
❧ Bliss balls with nuts and almond meal. Bliss balls can be made nut-free with coconut and dried fruit only, but these are not as nutrient-dense.
WHOLEGRAIN BREADS & CEREALS
1-2 SERVINGS. A SERVE IS 1 SLICE OF BREAD, OR 2 CRACKERS, OR 1/2 CUP OF PASTA OR RICE.
❧ Wholegrain bread sandwiches – choose wholemeal, wholegrain, soy and linseed, corn bread and other breads with at least 6g fibre per 100g.
❧ Sushi with salmon and veges.
❧ Rice or pasta salad with vegetables and fish/chicken/chickpeas. Choose basmati rice and wholegrain pasta.
❧ Foccacia bread with hummus and some salad.
❧ Crackers – rice crackers, rice cakes, corn thins or grain crackers. Wholegrain varieties that are higher in fibre will help your child feel fuller for longer. Check sodium (salt) content of crackers is less than 250mg sodium per 100g.
❧ Bagels spread with light cream cheese and salmon.
❧ Fried rice with chicken/pork/tofu/egg and vegetables.
❧ Leftover pasta/rice/noodles.
❧ Homemade scones, pikelets, muffins or crumpets.
❧ Homemade oat bars or slice.
❧ Untoasted low sugar/fat muesli with yoghurt and fruit.
❧ Rice paper spring rolls.
1-2 SERVINGS. A SERVING IS THE SIZE OF YOUR CHILD'S FIST.
❧ Whole small carrots or carrot sticks.
❧ Cucumber sticks.
❧ Capsicum sticks.
❧ Edamame beans.
❧ Vegetable sticks with dip, eg hummus, salsa or beetroot dip.
❧ Cherry tomatoes.
❧ Celery sticks – these can be filled with peanut butter, low fat cream cheese or hummus.
❧ Handful of snow peas.
❧ Peas in the pod.
❧ Corn on the cob, or a small container of corn kernels or creamed corn (with no added salt).
❧ Corn fritters.
❧ Preserved vegetables such as gherkins or olives.
❧ Grilled or roasted vegetables.
❧ Steamed or raw broccoli or cauliflower 'trees'.
❧ Vegetable skewers with tomato, capsicum and cucumber.
❧ Grated carrot, courgette and beetroot in bread rolls.
❧ Salad with a light dressing.
❧ Roasted vegetable, chickpea and couscous salad topped with hummus and natural yoghurt.
❧ Falafel wraps with tomato, lettuce, cucumber and hummus.
❧ Coleslaw with light mayonnaise.
❧ Homemade vege muffins. Try pumpkin and courgette, carrot and sultana, cheese and corn, date and sweet potato or courgette and poppy seed.
❧ Homemade vege slice – mix grated vegetables (such as carrot, courgette) with chopped onion, cheese, flour & eggs and bake in moderate oven until brown.
1 SERVE. A SERVNG IS THE SIZE OF YOUR CHILD'S FIST.
Use fresh seasonal fruit whenever possible. Fruit can be given whole or cut up, depending on child's age and stage.
❧ Apple, mandarin, orange segments, banana, grapes.
❧ Container of berries – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries.
❧ Cubes of watermelon or rock melon.
❧ Chunks of pineapple.
❧ Mango slices.
❧ Stone fruits such as plum, nectarine, peach, apricot.
❧ Kiwifruit cut in half. Don't forget a spoon for scooping.
❧ Canned fruit in natural juice (with no added sugar).
❧ Dried fruit occasionally, but this can stick to your child's teeth and increase tooth decay.
CALCIUM OR DAIRY ALTERNATIVES
1 SERVE. A SERVING IS A GLASS OF MILK, OR A POTTLE OF YOGHURT, OR TWO SLICES OF CHEESE.
If your child cannot tolerate dairy, then ensure they have a calcium-enriched alternative such as soy or oat milk, or soy yoghurt. Check that alternative products have at least 120mg calcium per 100ml.
❧ Milk – cow’s milk, or soy, oat, rice or almond milks which are fortified with at least 120mg calcium per 100mls. In summer, milk can be frozen overnight and wrapped in a cloth to thaw out by lunchtime.
❧ Yoghurt – natural or low fat/sugar fruity yoghurt. Remember to include a spoon! Soy yoghurt can be used for children sensitive to cow’s milk. Coconut yoghurts do not contain calcium so are not the best alternative to dairy.
❧ Cheese slices, cubes or sticks.
❧ Cheese on toast.
❧ Cheese scrolls.
Keeping Food Safe in the Lunchbox
Over the summer months it can be hard to keep the lunchbox cool and safe from bacteria. Some ideas to help keep foods safe are:
✔ Wash and dry your child’s lunchbox each day.
✔ Wash and dry your hands and all chopping boards, knives etc before preparing the lunchbox.
✔ Pack an icepack or a drink bottle that is frozen next to foods to keep them cool. An insulated cool bag can be helpful to keep foods chilled.
✔ Chill already made up lunchboxes (eg salad, sandwiches, frittata, yoghurt) in the fridge before school, especially if they are prepared the night before.
✔ Cook all meats, chicken and fish thoroughly.
✔ If giving your child warm foods, such as leftovers or soup, keep these warm in a thermos.
✔ Meat and cooked egg can be cooled in the fridge prior to packing.
✔ Store perishable foods, such as meat and egg, in between already cool foods such as yoghurt.
✔ Perishable foods can be kept at room temperature for up to four hours.
✔ After school, leftover meat, mayonnaise, sandwiches, cheese and other perishable high-risk foods will need to be thrown away if uneaten.
✔ Fruit and vegetables that remain intact should be okay to offer again the next day or after school. If only a small bite is taken out of them, you could cut off the bitten part and cook the Fruit/vegetables to use at dinner or in baking.
* This guide offers ideas including nuts.
Please check if your school has a nut-free policy before adding these to lunchboxes.
Jennifer Douglas is a Registered Dietitian specialising in children’s nutrition, food allergies and intolerances, and fussy eaters. She sees families for nutrition consults in Dunedin or throughout NZ via Zoom as well as online seminars. jumpstartnutrition.co.nz.
Read about the new Ministry of Health regulations here:
More information on potential choking hazards:
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 52 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW