How to pack a healthy packed lunch

kids eating healthy foodLittle Miss Green asked me for a packed lunch this week. She told me she wanted to pretend she was going to school and I had to pack her a lunch!

There have  been some alarming reports in the press recently about the lack of healthy options in children’s packed lunches.

According to the BBC, only 1% of primary school children’s packed lunches meet the nutritional standards set for school meals in England.

Not knowing exactly what that meant, I checked out the ‘nutritional standards set for school meals’ and found the following guidelines:

A child should have:

  • One portion of salad or vegetables and one portion of fresh or tinned fruit.
  • One portion of milk or dairy such as cheese, yogurt, fromage frais or custard[amazon-product align=”right” small=”1″]B000H1NL6W[/amazon-product]
  • One portion of protein such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts, pulses, cheese or beans
  • One portion of starch such as bread, pasta, noodles, rice, potatoes, millet or cornmeal

Unfortunately, the food in a typical child’s lunch box is packed with saturated fat, salt and sugar and missing vital nutrients.

The majority of fat is coming from crisps, fat spreads, cheese products, chocolate bars and biscuits.

The high salt intake is coming from white bread, crisps and processed meats.

[amazon-product small=”1″]0713682604[/amazon-product]While the high sugar levels are coming from squash, chocolate-covered bars, biscuits and flavoured yoghurts.

The other challenge is, that without proper guidelines, education and example menus, these nutritional standards could be misunderstood.
For example, a meal of white bread processed ham sandwiches with a lettuce leaf in it followed by a sugar-laden fruit flavoured yogurt and a high sugar cereal bar could be misconstrued to follow the nutritional standards.

So what can you do to make your child’s lunch box healthier?

  • Crudités and dips are a fun way to get kids eating raw veggies. Try strips of carrot, cucumber, celery and small cherry tomatoes with a dairy based dip.
  • Try pasta, cous cous, noodles or rice salad – toss your cold, cooked grain with cubes of red peppers, tinned sweetcorn and peas. Mix in some protein such as tinned fish, strips of chicken or some chickpeas for a colourful, delicious and healthy meal.
  • Serve seeded crackers such as ryvita with pumpkin seeds or sesame seed rice cakes – top with hummous or egg mayonnaise.
  • Home made soup is a great way to ensure your child eats well. Fill a wide necked flask with wholesome lentil and vegetable soup. Serve with crusty, seeded bread.[amazon-product align=”right” small=”1″]0954821920[/amazon-product]
  • Fill a pitta bread or wrap with sliced meat, fish or falafel and salad.
  • Mini pasties are great for lunch boxes – fill with diced vegetables and cheese.
  • Make mini pizzas or quiches with peppers, onion, mushrooms and sliced courgettes and add chopped meat, fish or mozerella cheese.
  • Mix fresh or stewed fruit into natural yogurt or add a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup for a fruity pudding.
  • Individual boxes of raisins make a cute, healthy and easy-to-transport pudding.

If getting your children to eat fruit and vegetables is challenging try carrot and raisin muffins, smoothies or banana bread for dessert.

If you want more ideas, check out the Food Standards Agency suggested lunchbox menus for 5-8 year olds and 9-12 year olds.

What about you? What do you do to ensure your child is eating a healthy packed lunch? If they are at home, what do you give them at lunch time?