A recent study in England found that only one in a hundred packed lunches met the same nutritional standards set for the Primary School Meal,and 99% percent of packed lunches were deemed unhealthy.
So what makes a healthy lunchbox you may ask? Well to start with the box ought to contain the required ingredients that make up a third of a child’s daily requirements.
It’s important to get the balance right because in the short term a healthy lunchtime meal may have a positive impact on your child’s behaviour and concentration in the classroom. In the longer term your child’s health will be impacted upon by the food they receive.
Providing a healthy lunch box may sound easy but it’s more difficult than it may seem. In particular it’s easy to exceed the recommended maximum levels for fat, sugar and salt.
Most children take readily to foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) but you can encourage and develop their tastes for foods that have less HFSS and start them on the path to a healthy lifestyle from an early age.
In the School Meals Service, one of the ways we reduce the HFSS content is by sourcing products that contain less of these ingredients. When you do your shopping you can do the same. It’s a simple but effective way of influencing what your child eats. The difficulty is that parents are being bombarded by manufacturers with often misleading information about their products. Manufacturers, for example, will label products as having less fat, when they are still high in fat or as free from artificial ingredients when they have vast amounts of sugar in them. Don’t get conned, dismiss the headlines and read the small print.
Reducing sugar in the diet is relatively simple. Start by making sure the drink that goes in the lunchbox does not contain lots of “hidden” sugars. Stick to water or low fat milk (if it’s flavoured milk buy those that have less than 5% added sugar). Water is the best choice and is always freely available in the school. There are lot of hidden sugars in other drinks, most of us will know that fizzy soft drinks may be ladened with sugar but fruit juices can also have a high sugar content. A 200ml carton of orange juice may contain some 20g of sugar which exceeds the recommended maximum level in the entire lunchtime meal which is set at 15.5g.
Try to have at least one portion each of a fruit and vegetable or salad in the lunchbox. If you want some inspiration of what to put in your child’s packed lunch there is a wealth of good information available. One of the best sites on the internet is The NHS Change for life
The Trust has a whole section on packed lunches with recipes and ideas which will suit all tastes and pockets. If cost is an issue, than try to avoid gimmicky foods that often are an expensive way to provide protein. Much better value can be achieved be buying staple foods such as Manx cheese, they are easy to cut into child friendly pieces and come in an exciting range of strengths and flavours.
Crisps and sweets ought to at best be a very occasional treat. Almost half of the maximum allowance for fat is found in an average packet of crisps. It might seem harsh but really these foods are often just vehicles for delivering sugar, fats and salt with little other benefits. Spend a little time planning what goes into your child’s lunch box, help them make better, balanced food choices and stack the odds in their favour so that they can reach their full potential.