What size should your child's portion be, what are their GDAs and how can you encourage fussy eaters to enjoy nutritious, midday meals? Find out in our guide to preparing healthy, fun-packed lunchboxes...
With more than half of children taking a packed lunch to school – that’s a staggering five billion lunches a year – not to mention the many office and outdoor workers who rely on them, it’s clear what a vital contribution lunchboxes make. That said, thinking up inspiring ideas can be a challenge. It's tempting to fall into the trap of using packaged, ready-made options. Although these seem like the easy answer, they tend to be high in fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar.
Keep choices varied, fresh and tasty, high in protein, veg, fruit and fibre, but low in fat, salt and sugar. Lunch is an important point in the school day and should provide at least a third of your child’s daily requirements – without it youngsters struggle to concentrate in the afternoon. Pack plenty of sustaining, nutritious options to make the school day a productive one.
Coping with a fussy eater
Involve your child in planning and preparing their lunchbox – kids are more likely to try foods that they’ve been involved in selecting and making.
Children are happier choosing from a small range of foods. If your child seems to pick just one or two favoured things every day, this is not unusual – gradually introduce more options but be prepared to be patient.
If they refuse wholegrains, like wholemeal bread, don’t worry – some small children find fibrous foods too filling and they may even upset their small stomachs. Instead, supply fibre by opting for beans and pulses puréed into a creamy dip or add to salads or sandwich fillings. Introduce brown versions of rice, pasta and bread when your child is a little older.
Talk with other parents and use their child’s healthy appetite as an example for yours to follow.
Don’t use food as a reward – this reinforces the idea that sugary, fatty foods are better options than healthy whole fruit or dairy products.
How much does my child need?
You’ve probably noticed that some food labels display the percentage of your Guideline Daily Amount (GDAs) that the food supplies – many manufacturers show these figures to help you make sense of the information on the label. GDAs are a guide to the amount of calories and nutrients an adult or child may have as part of a balanced, healthy diet. Remember, we all vary in size and activity levels so these figures are only a guide, but they can help you to see how much a food is contributing to your child’s daily diet.
• Ideal options include water or milk.
• Yogurt/fromage frais, child-size pots vary from 50-100g.
• Hard cheese like cheddar, approximately 15g-20g.
• Soft cheese, approximately 20-25g.
• Glass of milk, approximately 150-175ml.
• Calcium is essential for bone-building. Good sources are milk, cheese, yogurt and fromage frais, as well as green leafy veg and canned fish.
• Protein is important for helping your child to grow. It will also keep them feeling fuller for longer. Good choices include skinless chicken, oily fish, eggs and dairy foods, as well as beans and pulses for vegetarians. Give your child the amount they can fit in the palm of their hand.
• Aim for two portions of fruit and veg, with at least one being veg or salad. Fresh, frozen, dried, canned or you can use a juice – they all count.
- Starchy carbs:
• Such as bread, noodles, pasta, rice or potatoes. These are important for energy and should make up a third of their lunchbox – opt for wholegrain versions or, for sandwiches, try one of the high-fibre ‘white’ breads.
• The amount your child can fit in the palm of their hand – typically one small apple or banana, or three or four cherry tomatoes.
Buy healthier – what to check on the label
When you do buy ready-packaged options, read the label – this is key to making good choices. Here’s the information you need at your fingertips:
|What's a lot||What's a little|
|Fat||More than 17.5g||3g or less|
|Saturates||More than 5g||1.5g or less|
|Sugar||More than 22.5g||5g or less|
|Salt||More than 1.5g||0.3g or less|
Ideas to get kids to eat up!
- Make fruit more exciting with a fruit slaw. Cut apple, firm mango, peaches and plums into fine matchsticks, add a few blueberries and toss together with alittle lime juice. Serve in tubs.
- Swap the tuna mayonnaise in their sandwiches for tinned mackerel or salmon mixed with mayonnaise – these will provide a higher amount of essential omega-3 fatty acids.
- Freeze berries, banana slices or grapes before packing into containers – they will defrost by lunchtime but keep
the lunchbox cool.
- Instead of a sandwich, give them
a little tub of houmous with blanched broccoli, raw carrot, red pepper or cucumber sticks for dipping.
- Write a message or your
child’s name onto a boiled egg or a banana skin.
Find more recipes in our family & kids collections
Now find healthy lunch ideas for teenagers and adults.