Healthy lunches for you and your kids

Providing healthy lunches for your children can be a daunting challenge. At home the task is a bit easier, but what do you do about school lunches?

Even if school lunches today meet healthy eating guidelines, by offering healthier options, it doesn't guarantee that your child will always choose the healthy option. So, you may just want to consider packing your child's school lunch at home.

Start by including your kids in your grocery shopping. Buy foods with less than 5 grams of fat and/or less than 15 grams of sugar per 100g and teach older children how to read food labels.

Let them select one new fruit and vegetable to try each week and skip the middle aisles of the supermarket – the aisles that house sweets, biscuits and fizzy drinks. Stay out of the way of temptation.

At home include the kids in their lunch preparation. Add bottled water or milk to school lunch boxes, not high-sugar drinks such as fizzy drinks or even fruit-based juice drinks that are often full of sugar.

When making sandwiches, try to use wholegrain bread, which will provide additional fibre and help your child feel full. If your children aren't used to eating wholegrain bread, use softgrain bread initially, and gradually change over to the wholegrain bread. Try rolls for a change. They can be bought in bulk and frozen until needed.

Here are some ideas for delicious and healthy sandwich fillers:

• Reduced-fat cold meats (less than about 5 grams of fat per 30g). Note: Cold meat can be high in sodium so try to use leftover cooked (fresh - not processed) poultry, beef or lean pork for sandwich fillers.

• Tuna tinned in brine is fine, but watch the mayonnaise. Use the reduced-fat or fat-free mayonnaise.

• Peanut butter, although relatively high in fat, contains healthy monounsaturated fat, which will not adversely affect blood cholesterol levels.

• Add cheese to sandwiches for additional calcium, especially if your child doesn't drink milk.

• Healthy toppings include ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, salsa, hummus and low fat salad dressings.

For a healthy alternative, try stuffing pitta bread with fresh or leftover grilled vegetables (add a little olive oil and feta cheese if desired), cheese and/or other healthy fillers as desired. Or try making homemade wraps using tortillas and your favourite fillings.

Tip: Spreading the tortilla with a little reduced-fat cream cheese will give the fillings more 'sticking power' and make it easier to roll.

Some wrap suggestions include:

• Use leftover BBQ chicken, a little cheddar cheese, low-fat dressing and your kids favourite veggies for a great BBQ wrap. This is also good in a pitta.

• Use reduced-fat cream cheese, sliced turkey, a little cheddar cheese and salsa to make a tasty and different turkey wrap.

• Try a peanut butter and jam or banana wrap instead of a sandwich.

Children really like pre-packaged lunches, but unfortunately they don't always offer healthy choices. Make homemade lunchables using wholegrain crackers, sliced cheese and lean ham.

Add a piece of fruit or dried fruit, and milk or a small 100 percent fruit juice carton to round it off.

To help meet the recommendation of five or more per day, add fruit and veg as snacks as much as possible. Fruit suggestions include fresh fruits, mini tins of fruit and dried fruits or trail mix. Raw vegetables such as baby carrots or sliced cucumbers with healthy dip like hummus are easy to pack.

Vegetable soup is another good vegetable alternative.

Other lower-fat snacks include yoghurt, individual portions of cheese, air-popped popcorn (also high in fibre), cereal bars, crackers, and mini rice cakes.

Tip: Invest in a small cooler bag to keep their lunch fresh and cool until lunchtime.

Lastly, when you attend school parent-teacher association meetings make your views on school lunches known. Stress the need for healthy options in vending machines and more fruit and veg in school lunches.

Cheesy beany wrap

Chop 1 small tomato and a 2 inch slice of cucumber into similar sized pieces. Add 1 heaped tablespoon of canned and drained red kidney beans, mashing the beans lightly with a fork. Mix in 1 tablespoon of reduced-fat mayonnaise and 1 teaspoon of tomato puree.

Spread over 1 flour tortilla and top with 30 grams of low-fat grated cheddar cheese. Roll up the tortilla carefully but as tightly as you can. Wrap in baking paper, twisting the ends like a Christmas cracker. These can be made the night before and stored in the fridge until ready to pack.

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Thanks to tescodiets.com who have provided this article.