Here is a health initiative I worked on with staff at the boys school, helping to inform ‘Prep parents'(1st year school parents) about healthy school lunch options…
As parents, obviously we want the best for our children. It can however be difficult to keep abreast of available health information that addresses their changing needs. Schools are moving toward more and more “healthy eating” initiatives and with some possible nutritional gems to follow, my intention is to help ease your family’s transition into primary school and provide some wholesome advice that may aid your family’s health.
“The time spent promoting and developing a child’s healthy taste buds, is a gift that will last a lifetime.”
School Lunches For ‘prep’ Children:
Research shows that the capacity your child has for being healthy and well, is largely dependent upon their dietary and lifestyle habits.
The health of our children begins with the lifestyle habits we create today.
Few things are as important as providing our children with quality food, in fact their health, happiness and development depend on it.
We will discuss some basic health principles below and give you some nutritious lunch box ideas. It is important to remember that our children’s taste buds are developed over time. and what we promote and consistantly provide they will eat.
3 MAJOR Reasons Why We Need to Consider the Topic of School Lunches for ‘Prep’s’:
1) Quality nutrition strengthens your child’s health and their ability to learn and concentrate.
As Virginia Wolff said,“One cannot think well, love well, and sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
2) We need to consider the waste we create and our impact on the environment. By utilizing clever lunch boxes we can avoid the unnecessary usage of plastic wraps, plastic bags and Aluminum foil.
3) As parents we need to appreciate that Preps have limited time frames to eat, therefore we need to provide appropriate portion sizes. Prep’s are known to be slow and easily distracted eaters.
You will need to provide:
– A big enough water bottle for play lunch and big lunch (please see notes below for why water is recommended rather than juice)
– 2 or 3 small items for play lunch. These might include for e.g. 1 (small!) homemade muffin (muesli bar or fruit bar) to eat while they sit and 1 cucumber, carrot and capsicum stick or some fruit, to take in their hand as they go off to play. This is how many parents develop a child’s love of vegetables.
– For big lunch if you are providing a sandwich for the sake of ease of handling – cut it into quarters. Therefore the size won’t seem so daunting. Small portions are often easier to handle. Please see notes below regarding the importance of ‘variation’ and alternative ideas to sandwiches.
– Small portions of fruit that are not too messy for the afternoon “fruit time”.
Health Tips For School Lunches
It can be hard work trying to develop your child’s healthy taste buds and to keep school lunches nutritious and enticing. To avoid feeling like you are re-inventing the wheel each day here are a few healthy suggestions…
1) Alternate the types of bread utilized for sandwiches.
By introducing children to nutritious forms of bread ‘early-on’ we avoid the scenario of them only wanting or demanding nutrition-less “white” bread. White bread = white flour + water; this consistency is very similar to the “clag” or “glue pastes” we find in preschools, i.e. white flour is like glue for the human gut.
Most of us have too much white flour in our daily diet. We consume refined cereals and toast for breakfast which are predominantly white flour, cakes and biscuits for morning tea, white sandwiches for lunch, biscuits maybe again in the afternoon and then we may even have pasta for dinner. That’s a lot of foods with glue-like consistency for our digestive systems to handle, day after day, year after year.
As adults we may wonder why so many people have bowel trouble? Why our metabolism seems sluggish? Why we are so tired and run down? Today’s milling process leaves white flour with little or no nutrients or vitamins. Even “vitamin enriched” or multigrain white breads are questionable.
– Try substituting “white” for whole meal, kamut, spelt, millet, and barley or rice bread varieties. Most supermarkets stock a healthier alternative known as ‘wraps’, which often contain a percentage of rice or barley rather than being a whole wheat product. These foods are nutritional dynamite rather than being glue-like gut blockers.
As parents we set the nutritional benchmark for our children. Young children have no concept of which foods are healthy and which and not, therefore we cannot afford to let them choose or decide what they should eat.
2) Alternate your sandwich fillings so your child learns to enjoy variety. Avoid the repetition of ham and other meat fillings (which are generally full of preservatives and salts), vegemite, peanut butter or nutella.
There is nothing better sometimes than a delicious salad sandwich. Try adding some of the following sandwich fillings such as cucumber, cheese, carrot, spinach leaves, egg, tomato, and hummus. Rather than peanut butter you may like to try tahini (which has the highest source of calcium) and mix this with honey, for a healthy spread.
3) Variety is “key” to creating good eaters. Every few days replace the “sandwich option” for something different, please see ideas listed below.
4) Try to choose foods that are in their natural state or as close to their natural state as possible.
Packaged snack foods are generally expensive and loaded with preservatives and additives.
Food additives have been increasingly used since the 1960’s, since then we have seen a sharp increase in childhood behavioural disorders. A recent Melbourne study showed that when children were given items containing food additives, rather than demonstrating hyperactivity as they expected, the children displayed irritability, restlessness, and inattention or sleep disturbances.
– Did you know that there are over 3500 chemicals added to our foods?
Try to steer away from offering, or always offering, packets of chips, biscuits and muesli bars etc.
Pre-packaged items marketed at children, have time and time again, been shown to be “nutrition-less”. Most are either high fat, high sugar or both, completely artificial, preservative laddened junk.
We probably need to re-think those highly processed cheese sticks and offer your child “real” cheese instead, not the plastic manufactured variety.
So called ‘health foods’ may also not be as wholesome as they look. Gone are the days where we could focus on low sugar items, we now have to look closely at the list of ingredients of the foods we purchase.
Constant scrutiny of these products is needed to provide our children with quality nutrition.
It is wise to get to know what all those numbers and letters included in the ingredients list really mean.
Natural is always better, God doesn’t make any junk!.
On the weekend you may like to make some home-made cakes, biscuits or muffins. At least you’ll know what is in these!. Obviously time can be limited so if you need to purchase snack foods, read the labels carefully.
You can find quality items such 100% fruit bars, which are pretty high in sugar though, so perhaps cut these in half.
– Did you know that the number of overweight children in Australia has trebled in the last 20 years?
– Did you know that new research shows that if children are overweight or obese by age 11 they are likely to be overweight as an adult because this tendency is already set?
5) Provide fresh fruit or vegetables everyday. Try offering raw vegetable sticks such as capsicum, cucumber, carrot and celery. Make the strips thin to aid quick chewing. Also include pieces of fresh fruit. Promotion of food to a ‘preppie'(‘first grader’) is key!
6) Offer water instead of juices. Most of us don’t drink enough water and we need to teach our children from a young age about its importance. Children generally have enough sugar in their diet without regular fruit juice consumption. Water helps hydrate the body and keeps the brain alert.
7) Remind children that it is okay to be different to others and promote or talk to them about how clever they are for choosing to eat well. Positive promotion works a charm.
Alternative Ideas For Play Lunch Snacks
Some cut up fruit, half a delicious organic ‘spelt’ (Healthybake) fruit bun, a homemade muffin or slice of cake. Crackers or vegetable sticks with a dip such as hummus (use a separate little container for the dip). Crackers and cheese. Dried fruit. Natural yoghurt (please consider organic brands or those free of aspartame and nasty manufactured sugar alternatives.)
Alternative Lunch Ideas
Rice cakes with a spread, rice crackers or vegetable sticks with a dip such as hummus (use a separate little container for the dip). Rice crackers and cheese. Or try 1/2 a sandwich with a boiled egg or a chicken drumstick. Homemade quiches, frittata, savory muffins, pasta salads. In winter use a thermos (depending on the skill level) and try left over risotto or spaghetti bolognaise, (soup may be too hard for little ‘preppies’).
Our children have a marvelous capacity for good health and vitality and it is never too late to start building a strong nutritional foundation. It just takes consistency.
Children learn how to eat wholesome foods, how to care for and respect their bodies by the nutritional guidelines we set for them and keep ourselves.
Our children will learn via our diligence, wholesome dietary habits that will mold their health for a lifetime.
For further information visit www.welladjusted.co where we discuss many topics relating to health, nutrition and well being.
Yours in health,
Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani
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