Back to school: healthy packed lunches for kids

Make sure your kids get all the nutrients they need when they head back to school this September.

Get your kids to eat healthy food
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September is here, the summer is coming to an end and it's time to go back to school. If you have kids, you will probably have spent the past week frantically buying school uniform and stocking up on stationery – but have you given much thought to lunch?

School puts all manner of social, emotional, and mental stresses on children, and nutrition plays a vital role in helping them face up to the day-to-day demands of school life with strength and confidence.

To ensure your kids get everything they need from their diet, read our expert tips with help from Holland & Barrett nutritionist Elizabeth Wall:

Are packed lunches healthier than school dinners?

The days of Turkey Twizzlers are over and some schools have great food on offer for kids, but the best way to ensure your children eat a healthy and nutritious diet is to prepare their packed lunches at home. Poor nutrition can lead to physical and mental fatigue, and this can lead to difficulties in concentration, slower cognitive development and even behavioural problems.

'Preparing a packed lunch enables the parent to have an input and an element of control over the foods their child is consuming and this can be of particular importance if a child has allergies or food intolerances,' says Wall.

'Providing a healthy packed lunch also requires organisation and preparation. While this can be enjoyable for some, for others it can be an additional burden. Choosing the option for school dinners puts the responsibility in the hands of someone else.'



What should I include in my kid's packed lunch?

Children require anywhere between 1300 and 2000 calories depending upon their age, rate of growth and lifestyle.

'An ideal lunch would be healthy, nutritious and balanced meal consisting of important macro and micronutrients,' advises Wall.

An ideal lunch would be healthy, nutritious and balanced meal consisting of important macro and micronutrients.

'Slow releasing complex carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, whole wheat pasta and whole grains help to regulate blood sugar and release energy throughout the day.

'Protein is also needed for growth and repair and include sources such as meat, fish, dairy, soya, beans, pulses and chickpeas.

'It also is important for school-age children to meet the recommended intake levels of all essential vitamins and minerals,' adds Wall. 'Calcium and vitamin D are considered to be of high importance as these nutrients are necessary for proper bone growth and maintenance of bone density.'

💡Essential fatty acids – which boost mood and promote memory – are always a good choice for learning children. These can be found in oily fish, nuts and seeds, avocados and omega 3 rich eggs.



What makes a healthy packed lunch?

For examples of a healthy, well-balanced packed lunch, try the following ideas:

Sandwiches


Egg salad sandwich with lettuce and cherry tomatoes
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A wholemeal or wholegrain sandwich with tuna and sliced cucumber, a teaspoon of mayonnaise and a teaspoon of cooked sweetcorn or free range omega-3 boiled eggs mashed in olive oil and cress makes an all-round healthy lunch for little ones.

Healthy wholemeal chicken wraps


Healthy lunch snack. Three tortilla wraps with grilled chicken fillet
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If your kids are happy to experiment with flavours, try chicken and spinach with mashed avocado spread or a mixed bean and lentil wholemeal wrap with feta cheese and olive oil, herb and lemon dressing.

Hummus dip and veg sticks


Clean Eating Series: Fresh Veggies and Red Pepper Hummus
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Crudités such as carrot sticks, cucumber, pepper with a small pot of hummus are a fab way to make sure your little ones hit their five-a-day quota and get some protein to boot.

Healthy homemade flapjack


tasty vegan fruit and nut flapjacks
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Homemade seeded flapjack or a healthy vegetable muffin make a great break time snack for hungry kids.

Don't forget portions of fruit!


Fresh, organic strawberry, grape, apple fruits
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Include two portions of fruit, such as one apple and handful of seedless grapes to snack in throughout the day.

💡The Department of Health recommends all children from six months to five years old are given supplements which contain vitamins A, C and D[4].

How can you get kids to eat healthy food?

We all know how hard it can be to get the little ones to eat healthy food. By making the process fun and interesting you boost the chances of helping your kid maintain a balanced diet. Use bright colours and interesting shapes to draw children in, and disguise boring foods as tasty treats.

'Try homemade meat or cheese and vegetable kebab sticks as an alternative to boring sandwiches or mashed avocados or cold pressed oils as an alternative to spread,' suggests Wall.

'Using vegetables or dried fruits as ingredients in home baking is another great way to increase intake of micronutrients, while kids just think they're getting a sweet treat. Carrot and courgette muffins, chocolate beetroot cake and homemade flapjacks made with dried fruits and oats are all good examples of this.'

🍎 To make mealtimes more exciting, get your kids to help prepare their packed lunch with you.

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