Lunchbox lowdown: Keep your cool as kids head back to school

It’s that back-to-school time of year again and households descend into lunchbox drama

Racha Adib
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It’s that back-to-school time of year again and as households descend into lunchbox drama, it’s time to get the lowdown and learn how to keep your cool in the kitchen. Meet your child’s nutritional needs this academic year with expert food advice.

Add in Protein

When you’re looking for practical food to add in your child’s lunchbox, it’s easy to overlook the most essential nutrient that your child needs to grow – protein. A lunch box that contains a zaatar manousheh, freshly squeezed juice, carrot sticks and an oat bran raisin muffin may sound very balanced and nutritious, but what is it missing? Essential protein found in cheese, yogurt, milk, eggs, chicken and beans.


Protein can be incorporated in a variety of ways. For example, adding in a hummos tahini dip or a labneh dip alongside vegetables sticks can pack in protein and at the same time provide some lunch time fun. A sandwich packed with tuna, chicken, eggs, or cheese is another great idea. Keep in mind, however, that although practical, cream cheese is best avoided because it contains a minimal source of protein and has little to no Calcium.

Which brings us to dairy, another form of protein – according to USDA’s Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, children should consume on average two cups of dairy a day. Other than cheese and labneh, dairy constitutes yoghurt and milk. It is best to choose low fat dairy after the age of two years.


Give them the right carbs

A healthy lunch box contains plenty of carbs, at least half of them in the form of whole grains. Whole grain carbs provide a slow release of energy to keep them going the whole day. These healthy carbs include brown bread, bran cereal and whole grain toast. If your kids aren’t too excited about whole grains, you can always meet them half way. For example, if you’re making a club sandwich, choose white toast on top and whole grain toast on the bottom until your child gradually gets used to whole grains. Another option is mixing their favorite cereal with bran cereal.


Appealing fruits and veggies

Fruits and vegetables provide plenty of vitamins, minerals and fibers essential for your children in every way possible. They ensure optimal growth and development and keep them from getting sick too often.

What’s the first thing you think of when it comes to packing fruits and veggies? Apples, bananas and carrots sticks are the most common answers. Eventually, your kids will get bored and stop eating them all together. So, why not mix it up a little? When it comes to fruits, you can get creative by cutting them in different shapes, placing them on sticks, or mixing them in some honey sweetened yogurt. You can also choose to serve dried fruits and mix them in with some nuts and small chocolate pieces. Vegetables can be added into sandwiches, ground into tomato sauce, or served with different appealing dips.

Don’t forget to think colors, mainly dark green, red and orange, to ensure your child is getting a rainbow of vitamins and minerals.


Good fats, not bad fats

You get all sorts of advice on how to avoid trans fats and saturated fats but that doesn’t mean fats should be avoided all together, especially in children. Children need more fats than adults, because they’re growing. Healthy options for fats are raw nuts, olive oil dripped on bread and avocados added to sandwiches. Stay away from unhealthy alternatives found in fried chips, commercially baked goods, yellow cheese and butter.

Don’t forget the fun!

There’s nothing wrong with your child enjoying some treats. Your child needs to understand that “there are no such things as bad foods, only bad diets” – a popular statement from the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Telling children to abandon junk foods and their favorite treats rarely works, so instead offer healthier alternatives to them. These can be baked potato chips, pretzel sticks, milk based desserts and fruit muffins.

Involve your kids

Need an assistant to help pack their lunch boxes? Who better than your own kids! If you involve them in preparing their meals, they’ll be much more prone to eating them and will tell you straight away what foods they enjoy more. Along the way, you can discuss why it’s important to eat certain items and how it could make them stronger, smarter and happier. Encourage them to come up with their own creations, even if they don’t make sense to you. Let them try! And when they return any food, ask them why and find a solution.


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