Healthy start to new school year

In the rush to get ready for the school year, parents are reminded of the importance of preparing a healthy lunchbox for their children.

Department of Health and Human Services Community Nutrition Manager Julie Williams said it is often a daily challenge to prepare enjoyable, healthy and nutritious school lunches.

“Lunch provides one-third of a child’s daily nutrition, so it’s really important it is healthy, balanced and filling,” Ms Williams said.

“A healthy lunchbox helps children concentrate in the classroom and also helps ward off headaches, dizziness, colds and other infections.

“Children who don’t eat a nutritious lunch are less likely to get the variety of food they require for good health and development.

“Children who skip it all together are more likely to feel tired and irritable after school, and may over-eat when they get home.”

Ms Williams said the content of the average school lunchbox had changed over the years, with more high-fat, high-sugar packaged foods.

“The problem is that many mums and dads are nagged by their children to include convenience or packaged foods like crisps, bars, chocolate and confectionery,” Ms Williams said.

“These foods are filling and high in calories, but don’t provide much in the way of important nutrients like fibre, vitamins and minerals.

“Foods high in fat, sugar or salt are best left for special occasions as a treat.”

Ms Williams said the key to a healthy lunchbox is planning and variety.

“Think through the food that you will be preparing for the week and make sure that you buy a wide range of ingredients for lunches.

“It is vital to provide foods from different food groups, including breads and cereals for energy; dairy products for calcium; lean meat and meat alternatives for iron and protein; and fruit and vegetables for vitamins and minerals,” Ms Williams said.

Six-step guide to a well balanced school lunch

1. Start with the base

For bread, try different types such as wholegrain, wholemeal, high fibre, white and rye, pita, rolls, bagels, mountain bread and English muffins. You can also use pasta, rice, potatoes, couscous and noodles.

2. Add protein fillings or toppings

Lean beef, lamb or ham, corned beef, rissoles, meatloaf, chicken, turkey, fish, (e.g. tinned tuna, salmon and sardines). For cheese, try different types such as cheddar, Swiss, cottage and ricotta. You can also use egg, peanut butter, three-bean mix, baked beans and hummus.

3. Add vegetables (cooked or salad)

Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, grated carrot, snow peas, sprouts, celery, capsicum, mushrooms, cabbage, zucchini, eggplant, beans, spinach, asparagus, sweet potato, avocado (avoid soggy fillings for sandwiches such as tomatoes).

4. Flavouring suggestions

Herbs and spices such as parsley or chives, curry powder, lemon juice, mild mustard, a little tomato sauce, a little mayonnaise, chutney and relishes. Don’t add salt.

5. Add fruits

Choose from a variety of fruits in season. Try a small apple (different types), small banana, orange mandarin, mandarin, small bunch of seedless grapes, a couple of apricots, nectarines, peaches or plums, a small container of fruit salad, small pear, berries, Kiwi fruit, cut pieces of melon, snack pack or small tin of fruit.

6. Don't forget the drink

Water is the best drink. Or try milk or soy milk that has at least 100mg calcium per 100ml.