Nutrition plays a very important role in the growth and development of children; and since a considerable part of their waking hours is spent in schools, the importance of school lunchbox becomes enormously significant. Children should get at least one-third of their total calorie requirements from the food that they take in school, and therefore menu planning for the school lunchbox is something parents should be extremely mindful of. Indeed, children often indulge in various kinds of unhealthy eating habits during their school lunch hours. Often fast food and junk food find their ways into the lunchbox of children making them exceedingly desire for more, which begins a vicious chain of junk food addiction at a very early age. Therefore, preparing healthy and tasty snacks is important for a child, even in the long run. Today we shall share some tips so that this recurrent problem might be addressed and we can curate healthy balanced meals for school hours, as well as make your child’s lunchbox attractive.
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):
The importance of nutrition for preschoolers cannot be overstated. 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, which 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 salt, sugar and unhealthy fats are restricted to a minimum. Also, important vitamins and minerals like Vitamin C, Iron, Zinc, Vitamin A and Calcium must be included in the lunchbox meal.
A Balanced Lunchbox Meal
In order to prepare a wholesome balanced meal, we would need the following in the school lunchbox:
- Half of the lunchbox needs to packed 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.
And 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) might be included in the lunchbox.
Two healthy vegetables: Two healthy vegetables from options like Mixed vegetable sabji , Sautéed carrot and bell peppers, carrots and French beans vegetables (cut into sticks/coins), cucumbers and tomato salad , broccoli and red & yellow bell peppers sautéed and Potato and peas sabji etc.
One healthy protein: One healthy protein from choices like hard-boiled egg, tofu cubes, sliced chicken, paneer cubes, beans and lentils can be included.
One whole grain: One whole grain meal must also be included in the lunchbox. Bread, pasta, brown rice, oats, ragi, jowar, quinoa are some of the healthy whole grain options that can be alternatively chosen.
Fats: Different types of nuts and dry fruits like almond, cashew nut, raisins, pistachios, hazel nuts, and peanuts are available from which healthy fats can be included for your child’s school lunch.
Making the Lunchbox Attractive
All parents would know that preparing a healthy lunch, and convincing children to have it are two completely different things! In order 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.
Foods of different shapes help make the lunchbox look attractive. For example, instead of packing regular sandwiches; breads cut in the shape of a heart or smiley may be packed. Fruits can be cut using cookie cutters to give them different shapes and sizes that would make these look more attractive. Different kinds of aesthetically pleasing lunchbox sets are available that might cater to a child’s personal preferences. Lunch boxes with multiple partitions should be preferred so that different kinds of foods are not mixed with each other. Also, boxes should be accompanied by a spoon, a fork and napkins.
Feasibility of preparing lunch for school must also be kept in mind. This is a regular affair and parents need to plan things beforehand in order to ensure availability and consistency in preparing the school lunch. The following points might be kept in mind:
- 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, which not only positively affects a child’s present, but also her future. 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
The following choices could be used as examples to curate meals for your child’s school lunch. These menus have been worked out keeping in mind the feasibility of preparing lunch regularly, your child’s health, taste, as well as aesthetics that would make the lunch box more desirable:
- 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)
For other menu choices in order to have a larger gamut of available options, as well as for other information on your child’s nutritional needs, you can get in touch with the Food N Wellness team. Here professional dietitians would guide you through this often-arduous journey of planning menus for your children’s school lunch, keeping in mind your child’s unique health and taste preferences.