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Healthy lunches and snacks are important for children because they help children to concentrate and to learn.
According to Maria Veselinovic of Bread Basket, to ensure that children have healthy bodies and active minds, school lunch boxes should contain nutritious snacks that they will enjoy.
Veselinovic says that a diet high in fats, refined carbohydrates and salt make children physically and mentally exhausted.
She says an unhealthy diet early in life can lead to diabetes and obesity and to heart disease later.
She says that lunch should provide one third of a child's daily nutritional requirements.
"The snacks should include protein for alertness (chicken, tuna and egg are excellent protein sandwich fillings, or serve a chicken salad), complex carbohydrates for the slow release of energy (examples are whole-grain breads and brown rice), calcium for healthy bones and teeth (avoid flavoured yoghurts as they are high in sugar) and ample fruit and vegetables for vitamins and minerals," she says.
Veselinovic adds that because children have a higher energy requirement than adults, their lunch boxes should be filled with smaller snacks that can be eaten throughout the day.
Many schools have two breaks during the day, so plan the lunch box contents around those meal times, and also include a snack to enjoy before afternoon activities.
Children want food that is tasty and interesting, just like adults, but their palates are not as sophisticated. So when you introduce new foods, be sure that their flavours are not too exotic for little taste buds. If children are fussy eaters, paying attention to their lunch boxes enables you to ensure they are getting a balanced meal, within their tastes.
As challenging as this seems, a parent does not need to be a dietician to pack a school lunch. And how does one compete with other lunch boxes filled with cakes and cookies? Veselinovic offers these easy tips:
l Make eating fruit fun. Peel and section fruits into creative shapes. How about a fruit salad or fruit kebabs;
l Reduce salt. Many manufactured snacks like chips and processed meats are high in salt and not healthy. Limit these foods and rather introduce potassium-rich foods such as bananas and dried apricots. These will balance the effect of salt in the body;
l Build on your children's tastes. Talk to them about what foods they do not enjoy and observe what is left uneaten in their lunch box. Ask what foods other children are bringing to schools that they would like to try. Remember that forcing your child to eat something when there is usually an alternative is just not worth the headache;
l Save time. Pack lunches the night before and store them in the fridge so that you do not need to resort to plain peanut butter in the morning. This also gives parents time to plan school lunches properly;
l Keep food warm. When the winter wind whistles down the school corridor, nothing is more comforting than the thought of a warm meal. A small Thermos flask is ideal for home-made soups. Add to that a slice of health bread and little tummies will be warm and happy;
l Keep food cool. In summer, pack lunches in a small cooler bag or include a home-made ice pack - a frozen juice bottle. This will ensure that food is fresh and crisp. Remember to use 100percent pure juice because other juices are high in sugar;
l Fresh fruit and vegetables. Wrap vegetable sticks in a damp paper towel to keep moist. Add a dash of lemon juice to an apple so that it does not turn brown;
l Cut out junk. Manufactured snacks in bright packaging are full of all the refined fats and sugars you do not want in your child's diet. Reduce these foods as much as possible and substitute with nuts, dried fruit and baked chips or pretzels;
l Add a personal touch. A small surprise in the bottom of the lunch box will make your school lunches stand out on the playground. A note, sticker, joke, or a funny face cut into fruit or sandwiches cut with a cookie cutter will nourish little hearts.
Planning and packing tips
l Think like an accountant
Budget your time - and money - by creating a spreadsheet that will detail the daily school-day lunches for that month. Make use of Sunday leftovers and use fresh produce as soon as you buy it. Create a weekly shopping list to reduce trips to the shops and allocate prepacked treats for days without fresh fruit.
lAct like a chef
Cut your lunch-making time in half by creating an efficient assembly line of materials. Get out everything that you need, from bread and meats to wrapping materials and utensils. Place it all on the counter in the order you will use it. This will speed up the process when you're pressed for time.
l Keep it hot or cold
If you're sending your child to school with something that needs to stay cold, include a cold pack. If your child is like most children, you might want to tape the cold pack into the lunch box so that it doesn't accidentally get thrown out or left behind. For foods that must be kept warm, like a veggie stew or noodle soup, heat the food in the morning. Pour boiling water into a Thermos, let it warm up the container for a few minutes and then tip it out before you add the hot food. This will help retain warmth.
The way food is presented affects how a diner perceives flavour. This is true even for kids. Make an effort to keep dishes looking attractive, wrapped and served in cool containers and packed in lunch boxes that reflect the personality of your child. - www.epicurious.com