Fuel up for the day ahead!

As you see your little ones run back to school gleefully, you give a huge sigh of relief. A summer of finding fun things to do everyday has you totally exhausted. Back to reality, you then have to organise school uniforms, shoes, and fuel for their day ahead. Nutritious meals containing all the major food groups such as fibre, protein, carbohydrate, healthy fats and vitamins are essential to a child’s growing bones and to give them a healthy dose of brain power for the classroom.

Packed lunches, apple on pile of books

What to include in a perfect packed lunch…

Carbohydrates

These starches are tummy fillers and will give them the energy they need to run around, and you the energy to chase them. The usual contender is bread, and while a nice sandwich filled with protein is suitable for a packed lunch, you can also mix it up with a wrap, pancake or potato cake. Pasta salads, rice salads, potato salads, tabbouleh, noodles and couscous dishes are all excellent choices too. Choosing wholewheat pasta and brown rice will balance both you and your child’s sugar levels and release energy slowly throughout the day. Savoury muffins with vegetables and cheese are one of my favourites. You can make homemade flapjacks with oats and control the amount of sugar that goes in them.

Packed lunches, muffin in a yellow lunch box

Protein

These are the essential build and repair components of a meal and should be included in every meal. Leftover meat  from the meal the night before, slices of cheese, quinoa, sardines with tomato, tuna mixed with mayo and sweet corn or boiled eggs are all excellent sources of protein. Beans and pulses can be made into delicious dips such as hummus or bean pate.

Packed lunches, lentil salad in a bowl

Healthy fats

Fats are important to feed the brain and keep the cells in the body pumped up. They are also needed to absorb Vitamins A, D, E and K, and to keep us warm. Omega 3 essential fatty acids are an important part of a child or adults diet and should be included at least twice a week (3 to 4 for adults). These include salmon, sardines, mackerel, herrings, anchovies, trout, flaxseed/linseed or walnuts.

Packed lunches, walnuts with a cracker

Tuna is also included but because of the mercury content, I would only recommend having tuna once a week. Try making your own salmon fish fingers the evening before and popping those into your child’s lunchbox.

Also included in the healthy fats section are eggs, avocados, nuts and seeds, and oils such as olive and sesame.

Most schools won’t allow nuts and seeds, so these will have to stay at home. Sliced avocado are delicious in a lunchbox but be sure to squeeze them with lemon and keep the stone with it, to stop it from becoming brown, or you can make guacamole. Eggs are a perfect meal to fit in the lunch box as you can make an omelette, frittata or place them in whole as boiled.

Packed lunches, green avocados

Vitamins and minerals

Probably the most important and the most difficult to get into children. Fruits and vegetables are vital for a child to grow properly and stay healthy. Adding chopped up or bite sized pieces of fruit or crudités such as raw cucumber, carrot and celery are great to add to a lunchbox. If your still struggling, try making a jelly with pure fruit juice (not concentrated) and add chunks of fruit to it. Children emulate their parents, so if they see you eating plenty of fruit and veg, they will soon follow. Often if you grow something yourself and involve the children in all the processes of growing and picking, they are keen to eat them.

Packed lunches, tomatoes on the vine

My top three children’s lunchboxes:

 – Hummus wrap, carrot and cucumber sticks, apple and a flapjack.
– Savoury muffin, small bunch of red grapes, guacamole with celery and carrot sticks.
– Tuna, wholewheat pasta salad, pot of cut fruit, banana and pancake wrap with honey.

Not forgetting the adults packed lunch:

 – Left over brown rice with vegetables cut into small pieces, mix in some coriander or parsley, chillies and avocado oil. Pop a piece of trout or salmon on the top, and grapes.
– Frittata with asparagus, spinach and edamame beans, banana, and vegetable crisps.
– Buckwheat noodles with sardines and vegetables, apple, and homemade sweet muffin.

Packed lunches, noodles with vegetables

A well planned meal will not only keep yourself and your child healthy, but also mentally alert and full of energy.