The healthy school lunchbox

School is a place of learning and activity and is probably where your child expends the most energy during the day. A good breakfast alone is not enough to sustain your child through an active day - a mid-morning snack is required for optimum functioning. In many cases, school tuck shops sell foods such as potato chips, chocolates and fizzy drinks - the kind of nutrition that provides calories, but little else of value. Packing a healthy school lunch box with nutritious snack foods can greatly enhance your child’s energy levels and learning capabilities.

Nutrition and learning

Energy

Caloric intake is important during the early hours of the day to prevent hunger and hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels). Hungry children have a decreased attention span and cognitive function. Carbohydrate and fat-rich foods supply energy in the diet.

Protein

Protein deficiency has been found to lower school performance and decrease physical and mental development.

Fat

Essential fatty acids play a huge role in proper brain development and the enhancement of learning.

Water

Adequate fluid intake is essential to prevent dehydration. Dehydration causes listlessness and a decreased concentration span.

Iron

Iron deficiency can result in anaemia. Anaemic children exhibit poor cognitive (thinking) function, have a decreased level of alertness and exhibit disinterest in learning.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A plays a role in immunity. Vitamin A deficient children are at an increased risk for infections, leading to an increased number of school days missed.

Vitamin B complex

 

The B complex vitamins help the body to utilise energy effectively, for optimum cognitive function. B complex vitamins also help to reduce stress levels during tests and exams.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps protect children from colds and other respiratory illnesses.

Healthy snack foods for a school lunch box

Energy foods

  • Bread
  • Bagel
  • Potato salad
  • Pasta salad
  • Bran muffin
  • Cold pizza
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Instant cereal
  • Popcorn
  • Muesli bars
  • Croutons
  • Crunchies
  • Banana loaf
  • Avocado pear
  • Peanut butter

Protein foods

  • Peanut butter
  • Boiled egg
  • Chicken leg
  • Mixed nuts
  • 3 bean salad
  • Roast beef
  • Bean sprouts
  • Yoghurt
  • Milk
  • Cheese slices/sticks

Fat (limit in overweight children)

  • Use butter as a buffer between bread and fillings
  • Avocado pear
  • Olives

Fluid

  • Fruit juice (dilute fruit juices with water in overweight children)
  • Flavoured milk
  • Water bottle
  • Tea flask (in winter)

Iron-rich foods

  • Beans and sprouts
  • Chicken, fish and meat
  • Eggs

Vitamin A-rich foods

  • Carrot sticks
  • Peach
  • Mango

Vitamin B-rich foods

  • B vitamins are found in a wide variety of meats, grains and vegetables.
  • Vegemite

Vitamin C-rich foods

  • Berries
  • Citrus fruit
  • Apples

Some practical suggestions

  • Include a variety of foods from all the food groups to ensure adequate nutritional intake.
  • Include a variety of tastes, colours and textures in the lunch box to promote interest in the food
  • Allow your child only a certain amount of money each week, to prevent him or her from buying unhealthy tuck shop food.
  • Wrap food in plastic or tin foil to prevent spoilage and sogginess.

Some snack ideas

  • Include the following alone or with cheese, cottage cheese or yoghurt dips, or peanut butter: celery, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, green pepper, green beans, cucumbers, mushrooms, zucchini.
  • Try pumpkin, banana, or cranberry bread and bran, corn, apple, banana, or blueberry muffins for variety
  • Make shakes with milk or yoghurt and fruit. Other dairy snacks include yoghurt with fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, applesauce, and/or muesli or dried fruit; and cheese cubes, slices, or sticks.
The packed school lunch is an important part of every child’s daily nutritional routine. Nutrition knowledge and creativity need to be applied when planning school lunches to help ensure an active school day and a healthier, brighter child.