There’s a topic that mums can’t stop talking about. It’s the ultimate parenting woe, what keeps mothers up at night, the stuff scary movies are made of – we’re talking about the mighty lunchbox.
Having probably had over 1,500 egg salad sandwiches when we were young, we understand why kids dread lunchtime when they find out that, rather than having pasta from the school canteen, they’re having mum’s choice of “healthier” alternatives.
Luckily, some nutrition gurus studied the best foods for kids and how they can be made school break-friendly, without sacrificing cleanliness or wellbeing along the way. Banin Shahine, nutrition manager at Fitness First, says it all starts with realising how important it all really is.
“Kids eat around two to three meals per day at school, so a healthy lunchbox should be high on every parent’s list. However, making a healthy, balanced and tasty lunch for them doesn’t have to be a struggle,” adds Shahine.
First things first, healthy carbs are essential for providing the energy and concentration needed to get through those afternoon classes. Try wholewheat bread, pasta, brown rice or popcorn to keep the kids going.
“Also, one serving of fruit to strengthen the immune system and fight illnesses is a must,” she explains. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast. The toughest nutrients to include would be the ones from veggies, you know, since kids love them so much...
“Smaller vegetables such as baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers or broccoli are usually more appealing to kids,” says Shahine.
Milk and dairy products are also an important part of a young child’s diet. “Include full fat milk to provide a high amount of protein, which is low in sugar compared to lower fat alternatives. Full fat milk is also naturally high in vitamin D,” the nutrition expert highlights.
“Foods which are high in protein such as cheese, eggs, labneh and chicken breast are vital for healthy growth,” she adds.
Healthy fats, especially for young kids, are needed to help the brain and nervous system develop as they should. These can include healthy raw nuts such as almonds and walnuts or olives.
Also, make sure they stay hydrated. “Drinking water at a young age is a great habit to get into, especially in this weather. Milk or laban are also recommended, as they’re both high in calcium and vitamin D,” says Shahine.
More tips for a healthier school lunch
• Use this opportunity to get the kids to try new foods.
• Involve your child in preparing their lunchbox and giving ideas.
• Send some foods that they’re familiar with to share with friends – if they see their friends enjoying them, maybe they will too.
• If your child doesn’t like a certain food, try substituting it with something else.
• Food safety is paramount when preparing a packed lunch.
• The lunchbox should be insulated or double-sided.
• Use ice packs or a small frozen water bottle to keep food fresh.
If preparing a lunchbox every morning sounds like quite the challenge, rest assured, the Health Authority and Municipality have strict laws in place for school canteens in Dubai, meaning that they make for a satisfactory alternative when necessary.
However, it’s still important to bear in mind that there are unhealthy foods on offer, so make sure they know to swap croissants for whole wheat sandwiches.
Fitness First. Various locations across the UAE including Golden Mile, The Palm Jumeirah, Dubai (04 453 8859), Dalma Mall, Abu Dhabi (02 550 4330).