AS summer comes to a close, it brings about big readjustments for families as the preparations for going back to school begins. With the madness of the last year, having a structured routine is something that the whole family may be lacking and can make the thoughts of preparing packed lunches a little bit daunting.
Fear not; it does not need to be that complicated. It is easy to get sucked in to comparing yourself to the ‘perfect’ family lunches posted by the Instagram Mums or the images on Pinterest but remember this – they are not your children and it shows no reflection of what the child actually ate!
Keep it simple. Break it down into the three main food groups; if you can aim for one from each than you are on to a winner. This will ensure a balanced lunch box without any panic. Try to make it varied where you can to expose your child to different foods.
1. Choose a carbohydrate: bread, wraps, pitta, roll, bagel, rice cakes, pasta, rice, crackers or breadsticks.Try and aim for wholegrain if possible but don’t panic if they refuse this initially, it is just one meal and they will be getting plenty of fibre in other parts of their diet.
2. Choose a protein: chicken, turkey, eggs, tuna, salmon, beef, ham, hummus or falafel. Protein is important to keep them full at meal times and can help your children coming in the door from school feeling starving.
3. Choose fruit and vegetables: this can be anything – you include some salad leaves in a sandwich or have a snack of cucumber and carrot sticks on the side. Include a piece of fruit as well if you can as a handy snack that full of fibre.
Anything extra is a bonus after this! You could include a dairy product such as cheese or yogurts or a healthy fat such as avocado or nuts although most schools don’t allow nuts due to allergies.
Let’s put in to practise; a balanced lunch could be:
• A ham sandwich, an apple, cucumber sticks, hummus and a yogurt
• A portion of pasta with chicken peppers and cheese and a banana
• A frittata or omelette with rice cakes, cheese and an orange
Ideally keep fluids simple – water or full fat milk are the best choices. If you notice that they aren’t finishing their lunches but milk is coming back empty maybe switch to water as sometimes milk can fill them up.
If you have fussy eaters don’t be too concerned. It is really not the end of the world if your child chooses the same lunch every day. If you want to make it more varied exposure is the key here. You can do this by adding a new food in their lunch box, but make sure it is alongside a familiar food you know they like so it’s not too overwhelming for them. If they don’t eat it, don’t react but continue to include in lunch box. Unless we provide exposure to new foods, they won’t have the opportunity to try them.
Then there’s that after school hump, where your child comes home with a hunger like they haven’t eaten a scrap all day.
This can be difficult when dinner isn’t for a few hours and you don’t want to make multiple meals for the whole family. Some weekend baking for the week ahead can be handy to be prepared for these scenarios.
Another great crowd pleaser is a smoothie – you can mix up a big batch in a minutes with endless different ingredients combinations.
Try out some of the recipes here to keep the hangry monsters happy!
• Blaithin O’Neill is a registered paediatric dietitian based in her own private practice West Cork Wellness Clinic. For more information or to book a consultation see westcorkwellnessclinic.ie