School days. Healthy ways

Nutrition team

Those lazy days of summer are just over and it's time to go back to school. While everyone is asking the kids how they feel about going back there's one thing you are probably dreading more than anything; preparing the school lunch boxes.

It's not easy to be imaginative all the time, particularly if you are pushed for time. But this article will help to give you a few pointers on healthy eating for kids and a few ideas for snacks and packed lunches. Happy packing.

Getting the balance right

When it comes to nutrition, kids are definitely not just little adults. Compared to adults, they have very high energy needs for their body size. This means that if they are to grow normally, they need to eat foods that are high in energy and rich in nutrients. So advice such as "eat low-fat high-fibre foods" which is appropriate for adults, isn't necessarily appropriate for kids.

In fact, there have been cases where parents, thinking they were feeding their children a healthy diet, have actually under-nourished them by giving them bulky low-fat foods. This has been called 'muesli belt syndrome'.

Instead, the key to healthy eating for kids is to eat a wide variety of foods from each food group. That means:

· Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables – five child size portions a day e.g. half an apple, a medium carrot cut in sticks, a small portion of peas.
· Plenty of milk and dairy products. Yoghurt, fromage frais and cheese triangles are handy snacks.
· Including some protein rich foods such as meat, fish, peas, beans, nuts and seeds, or meat alternatives such as quorn.
· Eating plenty of carbohydrate rich foods such as bread, breakfast cereals, potatoes, pasta and rice. Try to vary it.
· It is ok for kids to eat treats such as sweets and crisps now and again but just not too often.

Morning snacks

Throwing a chocolate biscuit or a packet of crisps into their lunch box may seem to be the easiest option but these foods are high in fat and/or sugar and low in nutrients. Instead, break time could be a valuable opportunity to introduce new healthier options to your child's diet and teach them habits of healthy eating that will last their whole life. The good news is that this is getting easier with a wide variety of healthy snack products available. For example:

· Yoghurt or fromage frais
· Individual packets of dried fruit e.g. raisins, apricots
· Cheese triangles and cheese strings
· Plain biscuits
· Sandwiches
· Scones, fruit buns, bagels
· Fruits or vegetable sticks

Eating between meals is fine for children because they need to take in energy regularly and have a small stomach capacity which doesn't allow them to eat large amounts all at once. That said, there is one thing you need to be careful with when it comes to snacking – their dental health.

Dentists recommend that sugary foods and drinks are taken by children no more than four times a day and this is best kept to meal times. So, for break time the best drinks are milk and water, which don't harm teeth.

The lunch box

It's true that packed lunches can be repetitive and boring, but they don't have to be. Although sandwiches are the mainstay of most lunch boxes, there are now a huge variety of breads available. From white to wholemeal, baps to bagels, pittas to petit pain, the list is endless. That's before you even consider the choice of fillings.

Keeping your child interested in healthy food isn't always easy, but sandwich fillings are so varied and versatile that you can introduce a wide selection of textures, tastes and colours without too much difficulty.

A tasty sandwich will go a long way to help satisfy your child's hunger and form the main part of your child's pack lunch. Every child's appetite will vary, but many children will probably need a little more to eat at lunchtime.

Try to avoid packing additional foods which are high in sugar or fat such as sweets, biscuits, cakes, chocolate and crisps. They can be included from time to time, just not every day.

As an alternative, try fruits or vegetables which will boost their intake of vitamins and minerals. For example apples, pears, mandarins, bananas, grapes, plums, peaches or dried fruits such as raisins, apricots or figs, and carrots or celery cut in sticks.

Yogurt or fromage frais, or cheese also make a good sweet and provide a great source of calcium which is essential for healthy growing bones.

As the days get colder, you can pack a wide necked flask with your child's favourite soup as an alternative option.

Finally - A few hot tips for healthy kids

· Carry snacks with you, in your bag or the car, so that when your kids are hungry there are always healthy options available.
· Discourage your child from spending their pocket money on sweets or crisps on the way to or from school.
· Talk to your head master about making healthier options available in the tuck shop, many schools now already have a healthy eating policy.
· Look out for sweet-free checkouts in the supermarket if shopping on the way home from school.
· Presentation is important when it comes to feeding kids. Pay attention to colour and texture and don't be afraid to experiment with shape when preparing their foods.

Start a diet plan at tescodiets.com

Thanks to tescodiets.com who have provided this article.