It's no secret that kids will choose chips, chocolates, pieces hot dogs or donuts for lunch if given a choice, as evidenced by Nestlé’s 2014 Tuck-Shop Truths survey. So, how do we get our kids to eat healthily? The answer is all in that lunchbox you send with them every day.
Although 71 percent of children surveyed participate in sports, just 36 percent of parents surveyed said that their children eat nothing before playing their sport of choice, suggesting that lunchbox planning needs to take the whole day into consideration.
"The day is long for many children and a healthy and well-balanced lunch is vital for children's development and consistent concentration and energy throughout the school day," explains Naazneen Khan, Health and Wellness Manager at Nestlé South Africa .
From a snack perspective, it's encouraging to see that 62 percent and 32 percent of parents surveyed pack their children fresh fruit and biltong respectively. However, 33 percent give their children crisps, 12 percent admit that they pack energy bars, and 11 percent throw in a few sweets.
"Placing treats in your child’s lunch box is absolutely normal, however try and keep them small and only include them on an occasional basis," says Kahn.
"Snacks should be eaten between meals to regulate blood sugar levels and not spike them.
"Ideally, snacks should fit within the Food Based Dietary Guidelines and ultimately be of a smaller quantity. A 30g packet of peanuts and raisins, two cups of unbuttered popcorn, a boiled egg or two pieces of dried fruit are great snack ideas which will keep your child feeling fuller for longer."
The challenge that most parents are faced with are that children will only eat what they want to eat. The opportunity therefore lies in making sure that whatever you pack for lunch is both nutritious and tasty.
Here are six great lunchbox ideas:
1. Try and change the type of starch in lunch boxes to keep meals exciting. Consider items such as wholewheat bread, pita pockets, English muffins, rice cakes, tortilla wraps or mealie meal – there are a range of different items to suit every pocket. If possible, try and choose wholegrain or wholewheat options.
2. If you have leftover mealie meal for dinner, place a small amount into your hand and roll it into the size of a golf ball. Once you’re done, make an indent at the top and place a bit of tinned fish or vegetables to make a delicious and filling lunch box snack.
3. Why not send your child a pita pocket and assorted fillings so that they may prepare their own custom pita sandwich? Nutrient packed sandwich fillers include grilled chicken, ham, chicken or turkey slices, peanut butter, egg, tuna, cheese, cottage cheese and fresh vegetables.
4. Enlist the help of your children to cut up a variety of fresh seasonal fruit the night before school and make a delicious fruit salad. Apple, banana and pineapple slices are great options - they are packed with antioxidants and are in season all year round. To stop them from oxidising (going brown), squeeze a bit of orange juice over them.
5. If you grow your own vegetables, be sure to include your children in the harvesting process to increase their interest in eating the food that you’ve grown. If you have vegetables such as carrots, spinach, cabbage or sweet potato, place them in a lunch box with leftovers such as a chicken drumstick and rice for a well-rounded meal.
6. It takes a few minutes to make an exciting home-made trail mix with your child’s favourite dry cereal. Toss in a few raisins, dried cranberries and sprinkle in the recommended portion** of SMARTIES as a special surprise.
Parents need to realise that the nutrition their children receive now is an investment for their future health.
"We cannot stress the importance of good nutrition for children enough and the need for forming healthy eating habits for South Africa's children remains high," concludes Kahn.