When your children go back to school after the summer break, it’s much harder to control what they eat. No matter how old they are, they may not always choose the healthiest option when you’re not watching.
How can you make sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need?
A colourful, delicious lunch box is a great start. Our clever nutritionists are here with some fantastic healthy school lunch ideas that you can make the night before in next to no time.
What should be in your child’s lunch box?
There’s a reason we’ve chosen tuna for these sandwiches. It’s because tuna is rich in omega-3, which can give your child’s brain a boost and send them soaring to the top of the class.
Your child’s brain contains neurotransmitters that pass signals and messages between cells. The quicker they’re able to do this, the faster their brain will work. Studies suggest that children with low amounts of omega-3 in their diet are more likely to have behavioural issues and score poorly in verbal IQ tests.
Unfortunately, our bodies don’t make omega-3 naturally, so we have to get it from food. Oily fish, such as tuna, are the best source. If you’re using tinned tuna, be sure to check the omega-3 content on the label and choose tuna stored in water, not oil or brine.
It’s recommended that everyone eats two portions of fish per week, including children. In case you were wondering, shop-bought fish fingers don’t count, but you can always make your own at home!
Fresh fruit and vegetables
Lunch is a great opportunity to provide two or three of your child’s five daily portions of fruit and vegetables.
A handful of something bitesize, such as grapes or cherry tomatoes, are really easy for your child to eat. Alternatively, crunchy sticks of carrot or cucumber can be served with a small pot of dip, which can add an element of fun for kids who might resist eating plain vegetables on their own.
On a nutritional level, fruit and vegetables are a great way to give your children plenty of Vitamins A and C, both of which are really important at a young age.
Vitamin A is important for a strong immune system, great vision and healthy skin. It’s found in orange fruit and vegetables, such as carrots, as well as dark green vegetables. You could try using spinach instead of lettuce in sandwiches.
Vitamin C is needed for healthy skin, bones and blood vessels. You’ll find it in citrus fruit and tomatoes.
Fruit and veg also has a high water content. Dehydration in children can lead to poor concentration and mental performance. These lunch boxes will help your kids stay hydrated and make the most of their school day.
Calcium for strong bones
When it comes to your child’s nutrition, one mineral that deserves a special mention is calcium. It’s common knowledge that calcium plays a key role in developing strong bones and teeth in young people. What’s often forgotten is that it also helps ensure muscles contract properly, including the heart.
A lack of calcium could result in rickets, where a child’s bones are too soft. This can cause deformities such as bow legs, while fractures are more likely to occur.
A child aged 4-8 needs around 1000mg of calcium a day. Adding a 30g serving of cheddar cheese to your child’s lunch box provides 216mg.
You might worry about the fat content in cheese, so let’s see how it fits in with your child’s dietary requirements. Children aged 4-6 should have no more than 18g of saturated fat per day, while those aged 7-10 should have no more than 22g. There are around 6g of fat in 30g of cheddar.
Fibre for healthy digestion
Brown bread is better than white bread on so many levels. For starters, white bread made using the Chorleywood method contains additives to make it softer and give it a longer shelf-life, but manufacturers don’t have to be specific about what these are.
Brown bread also contains lots of fibre, which is really important for your child’s digestion. Children aged 5-11 need 20g of fibre a day. Brown bread contains insoluble fibre, which passes through the gut without being digested and keeps the bowels working properly.
A portion of fibre at lunchtime will help your child avoid digestive issues. It’s also very filling, so they won’t feel the need to snack between lunch and dinner.
A splash of colour
They say you eat with your eyes and this applies no matter how young you are. If you look at the colours in our healthy lunch boxes, you’ve got a wide range of colours in there.
Instead of something bland and beige, your children will sit down to a visual feast of orange, green, red, yellow and pink. Who wouldn’t want to tuck into that?
A range of textures
Food is about more than just taste. Different textures will make these lunch boxes more fun for your children to eat.
In our lunch boxes, you’ll find crunchy carrots and crackers, juicy grapes and tomatoes, soft bread and hard cheese. There’s plenty going on to prevent your kids getting bored.
What goes in your child’s lunch box?
Would you make any changes to our healthy school lunch boxes? Perhaps your child has a particular healthy favourite they enjoy? Are there some things they simply won’t eat?
Tell us what goes into your child’s lunch box using the comments below and help send your little ones back to school in style!Find more children's health advice