Healthy lunches are vital to a child’s well being and growth. For tips on healthy lunches, read on.
If your day is really busy lunch is a meal that can be easy to skip. Although, if you have young children in tow, this can be hard to do as they do need feeding at regular intervals to ensure the ‘wheels don’t fall off’.
As an adult, or even a teenager, if you do skip lunch this will often set you up for an attack of the munchies mid afternoon. This can then become a vicious cycle as you may not be hungry for your evening meal. It can also lead to tiredness, so you are less motivated to select and prepare a wholesome meal at night time.
Regular eating is important at any age. It helps to keep you well fuelled. Assuming you make good sound healthy choices it will also ensure that your over all diet is likely to be more balanced and nutritious. As soon as you skip any main meal it becomes harder to ensure you are getting an adequate range of the nutrients you need.
Young children certainly need refuelling on a regular basis. Their stomachs hold a smaller volume than adults at any one time so they do need to eat regularly.
If you are a busy mum (and I am yet to meet a mum or care giver who isn’t busy!) then make sure that you take time to stop for something to eat as well.
Lunch time ideas
If you do make school lunches for others in the family take the time to make a lunch for yourself and any preschoolers at the same time. This can help on the days when you know you are going to be super busy. It is also a great way for saving time even on those less frantic days.
For ideas on school lunches take a look at our article on School Lunches.
Lunch time is an important time for also getting fluids into kids. At every main meal both adults and children should include a drink. Water is a good option, but it may also be appropriate to offer a cup of milk at this time. Young children need about 500-600ml of milk a day, so if they do get lots of milk at other times milk may not be necessary at lunch time. From an adult perspective a cup of tea or coffee can count as a serving of fluid. It is not advisable to give very young children a cup of tea as it interferes with iron absorption. Teenagers are also discouraged from drinking cups of tea with a meal as it will interfere with iron absorption for them – it is best had away from set meal times.
Tips for healthy lunches
Food choices at lunch time should have a good balance of both protein and carbohydrate as this helps to ensure they are filling and satisfying. Make sure the choices come from foods in the main food groups.
Good protein choices include –
- low fat cheese,
- lean meat, chicken (no skin), fish (tinned or fresh)
- dried beans and lentils (you could use tinned beans, chickpeas, soup mix)
Carbohydrate foods include –
- breakfast cereals – choose high fibre options such as natural muesli type choices, bran based ones, weetbix, porridge
- breads – wholegrain or wholemeal is preferable, for variety you could use pita pockets, wraps, English muffins, bagels, fruit bread
- fruit and root vegetables,
- crackers – where possible choose high fibre options – rye based, wholemeal, soy & linseed ones, refer to cracker list for low fat options,
- rice, pasta, cous cous dried beans and lentils
- yoghurt and milk
Lunch time for younger children can be a great opportunity to offer a mini-picnic type selection for them. Give them lots of different finger foods to try
- Fruit cut up with yoghurt to dip it into
- Sandwiches cut into small squares
- Mouse traps or other cheese on toast type options
- Vegetable sticks (carrot, cucumber, red pepper) or cocktail tomatoes
- Ham shaved thinly
- Cheese and crackers
If you feel your child is difficult to feed in the evening then try giving the main meal in the middle of the day. Sometimes they are just too tired to eat properly at night time. Or you can give more vegetables in the middle of the day as vegetable sticks, or try some vegetable patty type options – use left over mash potato and add other vegetables to this then cook in a non stick pan.
Sometimes you may feel like your child is stuck in a rut with food choices. This may not be such a concern if it is happening only at one meal. If your child always wants peanut butter sandwiches at lunch time it won’t be such a concern if they are getting a good variety of other foods over the day.
It is however important to keep offering different choices to see if you can tempt them into something else. If they always have fruit with it try to include a variety of fruits instead of offering the same fruit at this time.
Check out this article on healthy food choices by Dr Libby if you want to learn more about teaching food choices to your children.