We cannot overstate nutrition’s importance in the growth and development of children. Children should get at least one-third of their total calorie requirements from the food that they take in school. Therefore, parents should focus on menu planning for the school lunchbox. Children often indulge in various kinds of unhealthy eating habits during their school lunch hours. They often get addicted to a high dose of junk food during their school days that continue to create health risk later in life. Therefore, preparing healthy and tasty snacks are important for a child, even in the long run.
Pre-Schoolers and School going Children
We can broadly classify children into two different categories- preschoolers and school children.
Pre-School (3-5 years old):
We cannot overstate the importance of nutrition for preschoolers. Children grow and develop extremely fast during these periods. In addition, they often indulge in lots of physical activities that enhance their nutritional requirement. However, they cannot eat as much as they should. This makes having nutrition rich foods during school hours seminally important.
School Children (6-16 years)
The growth and development rate decreases among school children, which reduces their overall nutritional requirement. However, their taste palate develops in a more comprehensive way. Consequently, this often leads them more towards junk food. Compensating this need for junk food often require a lot of imagination on the part of the parents. They would need to prepare a lunchbox that’s both healthy and tasty every day. While preparing the lunchbox it is important to keep in mind that we restrict the use of salt, sugar and unhealthy fats. Also, we need to include important vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, Iron, Zinc, Vitamin A and Calcium.
A Balanced Lunchbox Meal
In order to prepare a wholesome balanced meal, we need the following in the school lunchbox:
- We need to pack half of the lunchbox with colorful fruits and vegetables. Two to three different coloured fruits/vegetables would make the lunch box attractive, as well as healthy.
- One-quarter of the box needs to be whole grains.
- Rest of the lunch box needs to contain healthy proteins.
If you can add some healthy fats into it, you can have a complete and balanced meal.
Let’s address each of the above components separately and the foods that you can include in order to attain your desired objectives:
One fresh Fruit
One fresh fruit from choices like banana, grapes, apple slices/rings, melon chunks, and berries (strawberries/ blueberries/ raspberries)
Two healthy vegetables:
Two healthy vegetables from options like mixed sabji, different kinds of sautéed vegetables and salads.
One healthy protein:
One healthy protein from choices like hard-boiled egg, tofu cubes, sliced chicken, paneer cubes, beans and lentils.
One whole grain:
One whole grain meal from bread, pasta, brown rice, oats, ragi, jowar and quinoa
Different types of nuts and dry fruits like almond, cashew nut, raisins, pistachios, hazel nuts, and peanuts.
Making the Lunchbox Attractive
All parents would know that preparing a healthy lunch, and convincing children to have it are two completely different things! Therefore, to address this, we need to focus on the presentation part of it. The more colourful and attractive a lunchbox looks, the easier it becomes for children to have the food.
In this section I shall describe how foods of different shapes help make the lunchbox look attractive. For example, instead of packing regular sandwiches, you can pack breads cut in the shape of a heart or smiley. Fruits cut with cookie cutters give them different shapes and sizes. It also makes them look attractive. Different kinds of aesthetically pleasing lunchbox sets are also available in the market. These might cater to an individual child’s personal preferences. You can use lunch boxes with multiple partitions to separate different kinds of fruits. Also, boxes should be accompanied by a spoon, a fork and napkins.
We need to keep in mind the feasibility of preparing healthy lunchbox. This is a regular affair and parents need to plan things beforehand in order to ensure availability and consistency in preparing the school lunch. Therefore, we need to keep in mind the following things:
- Listing menu for the whole week
- Arranging required ingredients
- Making children participate in non-fire cooking so that they might be more interested in school lunch
- Avoiding giving liquid or excessively dry foods
- Providing water bottle that can be refilled
- For maintaining hygiene; hand-sanitizer, spoon, and napkins can be provided
- Selecting easy to cook menus
Importance of a Healthy School Lunchbox
A healthy lunch box would contain foods with high nutritional value. These nutrition rich foods not only positively affects a child’s present, but also her future. Consequently, there are enormous academic and behavioral benefits of a nutritious lunchbox some of which have been enumerated below:
- Improvement of Cognitive Functions
- Higher test scores
- Better attention span
- Better classroom behavior
- Fewer absences
- Improved mood
Some Ideas for Preparing Healthy and Tasty School Lunchbox
You can curate meals for your children following the examples given below. That is to say, these menus cater to feasibility of preparing lunch, child’s taste preferences, health, taste and overall aesthetics of the lunch box:
- Vegetable/Chicken stuffed Multigrain Sandwich + Sliced apple or grapes (8-10) + Sauteed carrot and bell-pepper sticks (5-6) + Almond (3-4)
- Soyabean /Egg Pulao + Sliced banana (1) + coriander chutney
- Dal Stuffed chappati + Sauteed vegetables + berries (7-8) + raisins (4-5)
- Whole wheat pasta with vegetables and soya granules/sliced chicken+ watermelon cubes (5-6) + Dates (2)
- Rice noodles cooked with chopped carrot, bell peppers, onion and sliced chicken or sliced tofu + berries (7-8) + Walnuts (2)
- Peanut butter and banana tortilla roll ups + Sautéed carrot and bell peppers
- Mixed vegetables and cheese Quesadilla + Guacamole + Strawberries (2)
You can avail other menu choices as well. In order to do so, you need to access a larger gamut of available options. For this, and for other information regarding your child’s nutritional needs, you can get in touch with the Food N Wellness team. Here, professional dietitians will guide you through this arduous journey, by keeping in mind your child’s unique health and taste preferences.