Week 2 back at school and I’m sure some of you mama bears out there are over making lunches already! My mission this year is to make one nude food, healthy treat per week such as one of my Bliss balls or my Banana Raspberry muffins, seeing as I now have a little extra time on my hands with both my girls at school now….. Yippee for that, I feel this freedom has been a long time coming!
However, it doesn’t have to be home made to be healthy, and lots of mums are super time poor. So I thought I’d give some tips and brands of foods to look out for at the supermarket, and why we need to be including certain foods like protein, omega fats and fibre in to our kids lunchboxes, every day if possible. Children use up SO much energy at kinder and school, both by learning and playing. It is just so important to fuel them with the right foods to help them be on top of their game, without sugar crashing and zoning out.
Lets start with protein; growing bodies and brains need protein. A lot of children (and adults) simply don’t get enough. Major protein sources are eggs, tuna and seafood , meat, tofu, nuts, seeds and dairy products. So you can see how easy it is to fill your child’s lunchbox purely with carbs without even really realising it. Ideally you should be giving your child two foods that contain protein in their lunchboxes, every day. It is so easy to fill their lunchboxes with carbs, carbs and more carbs, when actually they’re little brains need that protein to help them learn, concentrate and not have the afternoon slump that is so common in not only kids, but adults too. Protein will help curb their hunger and keep their blood sugar levels nice and stable.
Carbohydrates: These are still a hugely important food source for little beings and lunch boxes. However, it’s the TYPE of carbohydrates that is most important. Quite often lunchboxes will be filled with crappy muesli bars or Ritz crackers and white bread – which contain so much sugar. These carbs are so refined that they literally burn through your kids within an hour, not to mention the sugar high and then the sugar crash from the refined carbs and sugars. This can bring about tiredness, lack of concentration and ratty behaviour – all things that teachers love, I’m sure. The carbs that we DO want in our kids lunchboxes are complex carbs – the slow releasing carbs that give their little bodies the proper fuel it needs to keep them going for a few hours, until they’re next snack or meal. These types of carbs are brown bread, rice and wholegrain or spelt pasta. Some dry biscuits that are good options – my fave ones are the Sakata Rice Crackers – wholegrain Soy and Linseed, as they have some Omega 3 fatty acids in them, which is so important for their beautiful growing brains.
So, what exactly are Omega 3 Fatty acids? Basically they are a good fat that are essential for children’s brain development, plus they also help with concentration and memory. Omega 3 and 6’s should be consumed every day, both by children and adults. Omega 3 fatty acids also help with mental health, hormone modulation and healthy skin. Most children and adults do not consume the required amount of Omegas. Omega fats are in foods like salmon, tuna, barramundi, walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds – so again, these are hard foods to get into lunchboxes. Unless your kids are super good eaters and will scoff a tin of tuna, (in oil has the best Omega concentration) then your best option is chia seeds, as walnuts are generally out because of nut allergies in schools. Chia seeds are little powerhouses of omega fats, fibre and protein. You can hide them in anything. Sprinkle them in sandwiches or on toast with peanut butter, put them in your baked goods like healthy biscuits, muffins and bliss balls. Sprinkle those suckers everywhere you can! Over porridge, cereal, yogurt, over salad, veggies or even in burgers. (see my Chicken and Chia Burger recipe on my blog)
Fibre: Most kids are not getting enough fibre, and as a result are not regular with their bowel movements which is just so important. Kids (and adults) need to be pooing EVERY day. Chia seeds will help with this, but my little trick is to give kids 1 or 2 kiwi fruits per day as one of their snacks. Obviously fruit and veggies are a another essential food source high in fibre; as are dates, figs and dried apricots. Watch your serving size with dried fruit though, as its high in sugar. A little packet of sultanas in some brands contain 6 teaspoons of sugar! If you swap your white rice to brown, and white bread to seeded or brown bread, this will improve your fibre intake substantially. Oats are also a great fibre rich cereal, so a good one to have for breakfast or to include in healthy biscuits. Water also helps improve bowel function too, so make sure your little ones are drinking enough.
OK enough information – what should you ideally fill you child’s lunchbox with and what brands should you be looking at?
Sandwiches obviously are a great option. You can make them healthy, filling and tasty by choosing the right bread and filling. They are something easy and quick for children to eat, which is good at school. Yes they’re boring, but they’re practical. Sometimes as mum’s we feel we need to be giving them something fancier – but most of the time kids will be happy with a sandwich; it’s us that put the pressure on ourselves to make it more interesting….. Don’t over complicate it. Yes eggs, tins of tuna and rice, fried rice, pasta salad, sushi, rice paper rolls with tuna/chicken/tofu and frittatas are all awesome protein rich options – but most mum’s, myself included, do not have time for that. An easy rule to make with sandwiches is thatis has to contain some form of protein. Chicken and salad, cheese and cucumber, cheese and tomato or even cheese and vegemite are all good options that are ensuring some kind of protein has been eaten. Ham is OK too, just try not to do it every day as it is a processed meat. Even try adding some avocado with cheese and vegemite so you’re getting some good fats in there too. Peanut or nut butters are also great protein sources, but only if there is no allergy children obviously in the classroom. Sandwiches give you an opportunity to provide them with a protein, carb and good fat fix – a complete nutritionally balanced meal, if using the right ingredients and bread. Abbotts, Burgen and Helgas are good brands, and the light Rye looks a little bit like white bread, so you can trick kids who insist on white bread. Bakery breads tend to have less preservatives in them. I also love the High Protein one at Aldi’s if you can get it in to your kids, as it’s filling and full of fibre. However it is quite a dark bread which will turn some kids off. The best one you can buy at the supermarket though, is either the Ancients Grains brands or the Alpine Breads. (and yes of course they are more expensive.)
Yogurt: is a good snack full of calcium and protein. It can also be loaded with sugar. Unfortunately today it is bloody hard work to get a yogurt with acceptable amounts of sugar in it. The crazy thing is, that a lot of ice creams now have less sugar in them than yogurt. Tamar valley have the lowest sugar pouches. Vaalia and Chobani do OK yogurts also, although the sugar content can be quite high, depending on the flavour. Greek yogurts are great with fruit or even a tsp honey added to them, as they are the highest in protein and lowest in sugar. Activia also do a great yogurt one that is flavoured with stevia. My absolute favourite though is the No Sugar one at Aldi’s, and it comes in pouches also.
Muesli Bars: as I said before most of them can be crappy with lots of sugar, preservatives, numbers in the ingredients list and 40, 000 different ingredients. I do like the brands Carmen’s and Freedom. I also like Sam’s which has a few gluten free options too, as do Carmens. Both also have have one or two low FODMAP options also for all you mums out there with kids who have Fructose Malabsorption. Look at the nutritional panel on the pack and try and choose one that has about 7 or 8 grams sugar only per bar.
Fruit: is obviously great for energy for children; bananas are especially good in the afternoon when children go through an energy ‘slump.’ Bananas give their brains and bodies energy to get them through the afternoon. Talk to them about what snack to have when, to help them manage their lunchbox and energy. Other good fruit to pack in lunchboxes are obviously apples, oranges, mandarins, grapes, (try freezing these on hot days) blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe and kiwi fruit. Children should only be having 3 pieces of fruit per day, which is really easy to go over, so watch this – this is one way how extra sugar creeps into their diet.
Raw Vegetables: sliced carrots, capsicum, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers are obviously a good healthy snack full of nutrients and fibre. They’re also a great alternative if you’ve given them their 3 bits of fruit for the day. Try adding some hummus or tziki with it for extra protein, or even some peanut butter if its allowed in your classroom. Or even just a couple of slices of cheese to go with their veggies.
Popcorn and corn chips are a good healthy swap to put in lunchboxes instead of potato chips. Choose popcorn that aren’t coloured or flavoured too much. Even the sweet and salty ones are fine, as they have less than a teaspoon of sugar in them.
Dried biscuits and cheese: these can be bought in a packet together, or for a cheaper alternative buy big packets of biscuits and slice up your cheese. These are a good little protein plus carb fix. The brands Sakata or Peckish are good ones to go for, preferably the brown option if the kids will eat them. Rice cakes, Ryvitas and Vita Wheats are also another option. Try and put some protein on them if you can, or good fats like avocado, so they’re a decent filling snack. These are carbs that won’t burn through them as quickly.
Treats: unfortunately a lot of kids expect a treat every day; my kids included, and its hard work teaching them that treats are not for every day. Treats are inevitably full of sugar and one of the reasons why we have a diabetes epidemic on our hands in Australia, with both adults and sadly kids. Try and teach them that a snack every second day is ok, or to go for healthyish treat like bliss balls, anzac biscuits and healthy muffins ideally made with non refined sugars, such as honey and maple syrup.
Food can completely change how we feel, and our moods as adults – imagine the change in kids behaviour and concentration when we are fueling them with the right things – not sugar and white refined carbs. If you need more ideas or would like to do a big family overhaul with your health, feel free to message me or book an appointment. Good luck mama bears with the daily chore and responsibility of the kids lunchbox!