We know we should provide a healthy lunch for our children and ourselves. Studies on school children have shown that a healthy, nutritious and balanced lunch has a positive effect on concentration and behaviour, so it really does make a difference!
What should a good lunch include?
- Complex carbohydrates – wholemeal or wholegrain breads, pasta or rice
- Lean protein – chicken, hummus, fish
- Vegetables – salad counts!
- A small amount of fat – usually found in protein or from seeds and nuts
- Fruit – fresh, tinned or dried
- Water or milk to drink
What should you avoid?
Simple sugars include foods like white bread or rice, cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate and sugary drinks. These will give only a quick sugar fix and may make you feel tired or low in energy in the afternoon. Also try to avoid processed or fatty foods as these often contain a high amount of salt and/or additives and preservatives that the body is not designed to process easily.
Why is this important?
Eating complex carbohydrates and lean sources of protein will provide longer lasting energy to fuel you throughout the day and help keep you feeling fuller for longer. This means choosing wholegrain breads, crackers, pasta or rice rather than the refined ‘white’ varieties. Including vegetables at lunchtime will help you reach your ‘5-a-day’, provide the vitamins and minerals to help your body function more effectively and the fibre is vital for good digestion.
There are lots of great alternatives to boring white bread sandwiches so try to get creative!
Some healthy lunch ideas
- Grated cheese and carrot filled wholemeal roll, cherry tomatoes, carrot and cucumber sticks, a small pot of chopped apple and kiwi and some Greek yoghurt
- Wholemeal pitta slices with a pot of hummus dip, veggie medley of blanched broccoli, orange/red peppers, a handful natural popcorn sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and a small natural yoghurt with blueberries
- Seeded bagel with peanut butter and banana, mini salad box with shredded lettuce, halved grapes and raisins, chicken ‘fingers’ with yoghurt and paprika dip and a Satsuma
Tips for making children’s lunches
- Freeze different types of wholemeal/seeded breads, rolls, pitas, crackers, wraps or bagels individually so you have choice throughout the week
- Vary what you offer and keep trying out new foods – sometimes children need to try things up to ten times before they get used to the taste
- If your child is very fussy try a ‘give it as try’ day and offer a reward (not sweets!) for just trying something new
- Invest in small screw/snap top pots to use for dips and seeds/nuts/dried fruit
- Cut veggies and fruit into bite sized pieces to encourage little fingers to give them a try and don’t make too much fuss if things don’t get eaten
- Avoid using sweets, chocolate, biscuits, cake, puddings etc as a reward – children will associate them with being ‘better’ than healthy food
Sandwich filler ideas and alternatives
- Mashed sardines with a bit of ketchup
- Egg mayonnaise with shredded lettuce and finely chopped spring onion
- Grated cheese and carrot
- Cream cheese and chopped peppers
- Ham and tomato
- Cream cheese and chives or chopped spring onion
- Whole-wheat or tricolour pasta with a light salad dressing
- Cous cous with roasted veggies and feta cubes
- Pitta with dips (rather than filled)
- Wholegrain rice salads with chopped veggies
- Home-made sweetcorn and potato rostis or falafels (make ahead and freeze)
- Try tinned salmon or mackerel instead of your usual tuna fish
- Hearty soups are a great lunch time option in the winter with a chunk of wholegrain bread
One of the keys to success for getting a healthy and nutritious lunch each day is to plan ahead and do a little preparation. This way you can have a variety of nutritious options through the week. Even if you’re not that adventurous with your fillings, trying more healthy breads and sandwich alternatives should help you get through the day with a little more va-va-voom!