And keep all their other meals healthy and nutrient dense.
When preparing your kids’ lunch box, any parent is facing a dilemma: making a healthy meal but also making sure it is going to be eaten.
Too much greens… it will come back home untouched.
Too little greens… probably not the best for the health.
It is a subtle game, so here are some tips in order to find the sweet spot between healthy and yummy!
In a nutshell...
A healthy lunch box should contain a portion of protein (animal or plant-based), some wholesome carbs and 50% of delicious fruits and vegetables. Make sure that your kid’s lunch box contains at least these 4 elements every day.
They are fundamental to the growth of your little one. They include the “classic” animal proteins (meat, chicken, eggs or dairy products) but do not forget about the plant-based options (chickpeas, quinoa, lentils, beans…).
The recommended intake of protein is 0,8 grams pr kg body weight.
To give you an idea, a normal chicken breast (about 180 grams) contains about 30 grams of proteins, so does a salmon filet, while an egg contains about 6 grams, a glass of milk 8 grams and 1 tablespoon of Humus about 1.2 gram.
Proteins require a heavy digestive process to be broken down so eating too much of them can damage your children’s liver.
Carbohydrates are basically sugar and even though sugar has been demonised lately, it remains the main fuel of the human body and brain. We cannot function properly without carbs, especially for children who require a lot of energy to grow, play and learn.
The “healthy” sugar humans require to produce energy is the one from complex carbohydrates contained in wholegrain pasta, rice, cereals and other pulses. A good habit is to switch white pasta for whole-wheat pasta and rice for brown or basmati.
Brands advertise massively snacks with alternative and natural sweeteners but keep in mind sugar is sugar and consumed in excess it has a negative impact on the body, especially on young children.
Good fats are beneficial to your body and children need a lot of those to grow an efficient nervous system and a powerful brain.
Good fats can be found in some oils (Extra virgin cold pressed olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocado oil or walnut oil), nuts, seeds, avocado and oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel or trout).
Include fish in your menu, sprinkle some seeds on yogurt and fruits, season raw veggies with good oils or pack some guacamole (with a squeeze of lemon juice to avoid oxidation turning the avocado all dark) in order to boost your kid’s fat intake.
Fruits & Vegetables
Should be the staple of any diet and represent at least 50% of the lunch box. They are the optimal source of vitamins and other nutrients kids need to grow healthy. They are also the main source of fibres, which are essential for a good transit.
A lot of people wonder if fruits are a healthy option as they contain sugar and the answer is YES! Fruits do contain fructose, but it won’t have the same consequences as other sugary treats. They are loaded with benefits and I honestly do not know any kid eating too much fruits, so don’t be scared.
Vegetables can be a challenge, especially if kids are not used to them from a young age but be persistent and creative. Eventually most kids end up loving them. Think about raw carrots and cucumber sticks with humus or yogurt dip, or steamed cauliflower with tahini. Pasta with vegetables sauce usually works wonder!
There is no need for soda, juices or milk. Your little one only needs water to hydrate.
Water is the real deal when it comes to drinks. If your child is complaining, do not hesitate to infuse it with fresh fruits to add some great taste, but do not add any sugar.
Keep it simple!
The nursery or school is not the best place to be adventurous with food. Prepare something your kid does not like or too new and he might simply skip lunch.
Therefore, stick to previously tested and approved recipes and keep the experimentations for dinners, weekends or school holidays.
Homemade-food only or at least mainly…
Stay away from the industrial snacks as much as possible (Cheerios, Applesauce pouch, biscuits, flavoured milk…) as they contain way too much sugar, additives and others. A homemade muffin cannot compare to a store bought-one.
Stay consistent and resist peer-pressure
If your kids have been used to less healthy lunch boxes, it might be challenging to change his/her habits overnight and they will complain about his/her friends having “awesome” stuff in their lunch box and drink soda…
But do not give up. It is your duty as a parent to ensure your kids acquire healthy habits and it is one of the best gifts you can offer to your child.
If you find it difficult to establish a healthy lifestyle in your home, maybe you have to take disease, intolerances or allergies into consideration, it could be helpful to have a consultation with a nutritionist. They will guide you and put together a program that will ensure a healthy diet for your family.
Magda is a certified Naturopathic Practitioner. She graduated from ADNR Paris and is specialized in Women and Children Health and Nutrition. As a Mother, she believes the health journey starts before conception. She is helping mothers and future mothers to provide their body, and their baby, with the best nutrition before, during and after birth.