By helping your children to establish healthy eating habits early on, you can ensure they thrive, are energetic, have early protection from many illnesses (such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and tooth decay) and develop a positive association with food.
There is no doubt that our relationship with food is formed early on, with parents and caregivers exerting a strong influence over these attitudes.
Here are some lunchbox tips that will help create a good relationship between your kids and the food in their lunchboxes.
Nutrition and children in day care
Generally speaking, only children who attend long day care centres (LDCCs), or centres where the program specifically offers meals, will eat food prepared by the centre. Many centres hire cooks; others use staff and parents to create nutritious meals that meet both government guidelines and the needs of the individual children attending. Most children in LDCC will receive lunch and two snacks. Children in long day care throughout the week will receive a significant amount of their nourishment from sources outside the home, so the nutrition knowledge and the attitude of the staff is of great importance.
When researching a centre for your child, some questions that may be worth asking include:
- What is the level of nutrition training of staff involved in meal planning?
- How recent is the training? (nutrition is a fast moving science)
- Does the centre have a nutrition policy?
- Can you view some sample menus?
- How often are the menus reviewed and changed?
- What size are the portions of meals served?
- What are the meal time routines?
- What opportunities do parents have in the say of what goes into meals?
- Are children given any other snacks or drinks over the day?
- What hygiene policy does the centre have in regards to food preparation and safety?
- Does the centre have a policy you can read regarding food allergies and intolerances?
- What are the core guidelines the centre uses in meal planning? E.g. The Dietary Guidelines, CSIRO, World Health Organisation etc.
Preparing healthy lunchboxes
So what is a healthy meal? The three basic principles of a good diet – for us all – are variety, wholesomeness, and unprocessed food. These help ensure that a diet is nutritionally sound.
Variety in a diet refers to eating a variety of food groups but it also means variety within a food group. A great, easy way to ensure variety is to check that there is a good range of colours; for example, red fruits and berries (an excellent source of vitamin C), green and yellow vegetables (high in vitamin A), wholegrain and brown bread (high in zinc), white meat (providing protein and iron), dairy (for calcium and riboflavin) and so on. Eating a little of all sorts of foods can dilute the exposure to problem food components and undesirables.
Ensure that snacks are as nutritious as meals, avoid overly fatty foods and sweetened foods or drinks (e.g. fruit juices, biscuits, and cordials) that may displace more nutritious foods.
As well as trying to balance meals and lunchboxes so they have something from each food group, try to keep changing what you put into it each day. The food groups are:
- Bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles
- Vegetables and legumes
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese, and fish
- Meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, and legumes
For example, a wholemeal sandwich with turkey, cucumber and cheese, a frozen orange, carrot sticks and a yoghurt covers all the bases.
Always send your child off for the day with a full drink bottle and check the level when they get home. Their thirst reflexes are still developing, so they may not know they are thirsty, while others are just too busy to stop for a drink.
Water is best, while fruit-based drinks can be added to a healthy diet (in appropriate amounts), they can fill little tummies, displace food, and reduce appetite not to mention affect teeth – they are often high in sugar.
Changes in eating patterns
Some preschoolers don’t adhere to our views on dietary habits, preferring to get most of their nutritional needs in just a couple of meals and pick the rest of the day. Some even have a main meal at lunch and barely touch their dinner.
These habits are all quite normal and ultimately it is a case of ‘you can lead a horse to water…’ Never force a child to eat. Always offer healthy foods and allow your little one to choose from these selections. Be patient, persistent and consistent.
- When using filling that has high moisture content such as tomato, mayonnaise, mustard, salad dressing etc., place between two pieces of lettuce or another ingredient that will hopefully prevent soiling.
- To cut down on plastic and waste, buy a lunchbox that is airtight so you don’t have to wrap food.
- Such lunchboxes also allow you to make sandwiches the night before and store in the fridge. They will stay as fresh as if they were in the bread bag.
- Using these will mean that you can wrap a sandwich in paper towel, for example, so that your child can clean their fingers afterwards.
- Place lunchboxes and drink bottles into an insulated lunch bag to keep cool.
- Freeze water bottles (don’t forget not to fill them to the very top to allow the liquid to swell) and place them in the lunchbox or bag to keep lunches cool all day.
- Try to chill cooked foods such as egg, bolognaise etc. before packing (the zone for bacteria to grow is 50ºC to 60ºC – avoid this temperature range as far as possible).
- Encourage children to swish their water around their mouths after eating to briefly wash their teeth.
- Add a piece of sliced cheese to lunches, especially when you have included something a little naughty. Cheese will help to protect teeth from decay.
- Soak peeled fruit, such as apple or pear, in water with the juice of half a lemon to stop it from going brown.
- Avoid giving your child foods that need supervision if you are unsure whether they are being watched over while they eat.
- A tub of yoghurt in a lunch box is a great addition, opt for the ‘real yoghurt’ made from a culture of bacteria such as acidophilus, these generally don’t have added sugars, are low in lactose and the friendly bacteria have been shown to be beneficial for immunity.
- Do your best to reduce the amount of added sugar in your child’s diet, reduce any sugar used at home, and opt for foods that contain no added sugar or those in which sugar is not listed in the top three ingredients.
– this article was written by Leanne Cooper of Cadence Health