It’s tricky enough trying to get children to eat a well-balanced meal at home, but preparing healthy packed lunches that also taste good can be a real challenge for mums. It’s all too easy to get into the habit of giving your child a sandwich, a bag of crisps and a chocolate biscuit every day - but it’s not the healthiest combination of foods and children will get bored pretty quickly if they get the same things all the time.
One of the problems is that children get lunchbox envy – especially when their friends have tasty treats that they don’t have. The answer is to get creative and keep their lunches interesting whilst packing in plenty of foods that contain the nutrients that children need.
Children of school age consume one third of their daily food intakeat school, so it’s important that the bulk of the food in your child’slunchbox provides nutrients, vitamins and minerals to help them grow and give them a healthy dose of brain power for the afternoon ahead.
Unfortunately, of the 5½ billion children’s lunchboxes packed each year, three quarters are overloaded with fat, sugar and salt. A healthy lunchbox should contain the following:
- A source of protein, such as chicken or tuna, to keep your child alert
- Complex carbohydrates – for example, a pasta salad or a sandwich made with wholegrain bread – for energy
- A calcium-rich food, such as cheese or yoghurt, for healthy bones and teeth
- Two portions of fruit and vegetables, for vitamins and minerals
- A little fat, for staying power – so, it’s fine to include a treat, such as a cereal bar or a cookie, but it’s best if these are home-made.
Sandwiches are a brilliant way of providing a combination of food groups in a single portable parcel of nutrition; carbohydrates in the bread, protein in the filling and, with any luck, one or two vegetables to boot.
Provide variety by making sending them off with a tasty filled baguette or bagel, or a stuffed pitta pocket or wrap. If your child is a fussy eater, try simply cutting their sandwiches into fun shapes using cookie cutters.
My children love grilled chicken, shredded lettuce, tomato and salad cream or prawn, shredded lettuce and a cocktail sauce of mayonnaise mixed with a little ketchup, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce.
Including something crisp and green is a great way of ensuring your child is getting vitamin rich vegetables. But if they don’t like salad, all is not lost; you could add sweetcorn or finely diced pepper to a spreadable filling, a layer of sliced cucumber or tomato, or a handful of grated raw carrot.
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You can buy Annabel Karmel's latest book, Quick & Easy Toddler Recipes, online available from next Thursday.