As parents or caregivers, we are the single most important influence on our children’s food choices.  Thus, we have the amazing privilege to be role models when it comes to laying foundations for lifelong healthy habits.   

Preparing our kids’ lunches and snacks can be a fun opportunity to spend time with them, equip them with new skills, and bring inspiration.  But some parents may find it challenging to put lunch together.  Maybe your child brings back his packed lunch untouched or trades with friends at school.  Your kids may be keeping you busy when you are trying to prep lunch and things get chaotic or exhausting.  Perhaps you are not exactly sure what to pack to meet your child’s nutritional needs or you have run out of ideas.  Here are some concepts to keep in mind that will get you going in the right direction…

Honour your child’s food preferences

Including foods that you know your child already enjoys is very helpful when you want to get them to try new foods as it creates a comfortable and familiar environment at mealtimes. 

Kids seem to prefer raw vegetables over cooked vegetables.  So if you know your child likes cucumber, start by introducing other raw or lightly cooked veggies together with the cucumber.  Children’s mouths are more sensitive than ours and so they prefer foods that are warm, but not hot.  Flavours should also not be overwhelming but rather mild as children have more taste buds than adults. 

Kids do not have to be persuaded or coerced to try new foods.  Rather offer a variety of healthy foods one by one, in small amounts and allow your child to determine how much they want to eat.  This teaches them self-confidence and independent thinking.  The more food is presented to them with gentle persistence, the more likely they are to accept it. 

Focus on making mealtimes fun.  Set a small table for them with their siblings or friends, cut foods out into interesting shapes and give them silly names. 

Help kids learn new skills through participation

When children plan and prepare food with you, it becomes a fun and entertaining experience and encourages them to eat what they have made themselves.  When they assist you with age-appropriate and safe tasks like measuring, stirring, pouring, shaking, arranging foods or washing, they learn new skills and take pride in their work. 

You can also bring your child to the shops and let them help you pick out fruits and veggies.  Remember to get excited yourself for grocery shopping and prepping meals, or even the season’s first avocado’s, mangoes or berries!   Remember, you are their biggest influence!    

Keep it simple

We do not need to use exotic ingredients or complicated recipes to be healthful.  Kids will much rather prefer simpler foods.  Foods also don’t even have to go together or be considered a typical “lunch” meal.  You can simply offer your children various healthy food items to make up a meal. 

Offer a variety of nutrient-dense foods

A healthy lunch aims to provide nutrient-dense food that is rich in calories, vitamins and minerals.  The lunch box that has been put together should look at fueling your child’s brain and body, provide energy for after-school sports and activities and prevent them from overeating snacks and treats with poor nutritional value.  You may find it helpful to focus on the following three food groups to include all the major nutrients needed for growing kids (while remembering to still be cautious of choking hazards for the younger children):   

  • Building foods

Milk, yoghurt, beans, peas, lentils, bean-based spreads like hummus, nuts & seeds (especially walnuts, chia seeds and ground flaxseeds are high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids), nut and seed butter, eggs, cheese and low-fat lean meats like chicken or fish that have been baked or grilled.

  • Energy foods

Grains and starches like whole-grain cereal, granola, oats, Matabele, pasta, rice, bread, barley, polenta, quinoa, healthy homemade muffins, bars and cookies, whole-grain crackers, wraps, mini pita’s, corn, potatoes, sweet potato, butternut or other starchy veggies. 

  • Protective foods

Fresh fruits and vegetables.  Try to include green veggies and orange fruits daily.  Pure vegetable juices and dried fruit can be used in moderation.  Add-ons include friendly fats like yummy avocado!

Here are some lunch ideas to get you started:

  • Pita with hummus and cucumber rings.
  • Boiled or scrambled egg mixed with mayo and lemon juice, placed on a wholegrain/seeded/rye bread with tomato and lettuce.
  • Almond butter or any other nut butter and berries on bread.
  • Peanut butter, sliced bananas and strawberry jam sprinkled with chia seeds and rolled in a wrap.
  • Pasta tossed in a tomato-based sauce with some mashed tinned lentils, broccoli and a sprinkle of cheese.
  • A quick pasta salad made of cooked pasta, chickpeas/white beans, a vegetable of choice and either pesto, mayo mixed with yoghurt or some sort of salad dressing.
  • Salads with nuts/cheese/beans and grains like rice/couscous/barley.
  • Leftover rice, chicken and stir-fry veggies.

The following can be used as side dishes or snacks:

  • Fresh or dried fruit.
  • Raw veggies (cucumber rings, carrot and celery sticks, raw green beans, sugar snap peas) with olives or hummus.
  • Trail mix including sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, raisins or cranberries.  You can make any variation with different types of nuts, seeds and dried fruit.
  • Fruit kebabs dipped into plain yoghurt with cinnamon and seeds.
  • A smoothie made with plain yoghurt, milk, fruit, ground flaxseeds and nut butter.
  • Apple slices dipped into peanut or almond butter.
  • Granola.
  • Date balls made with soaked dates, blended with pumpkin, sunflower and chia seeds, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla essence.  Then rolled into balls and coated with shredded coconut.
  • Plain avocado slices or mashed avocado on toast strips with sesame seeds.
  • Roasted potato or sweet potato cubes with some mustard.
  • Homemade baked polenta fingers with sweet chilli sauce.
  • Three bean salad (rinsed tinned beans, olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar and Italian herbs).
  • Chia pudding made with two tablespoons chia seeds, ½ cup of milk, vanilla essence, golden syrup, and let it thicken overnight.  Top with fresh fruit.

Snacks and treats

If you find that your child enjoys snacking during the day, and is not hungry at mealtimes, it is a great opportunity to teach them how to snack, instead of not allowing them to snack at all.  Snacks can make up a meal since you can serve the individual foods throughout the day, instead of all at once.  These foods should be as nutritious as the ones you would have served at mealtime. 

Limit access to candy, soft drinks and other processed, salty snacks to ensure your child has a healthy appetite at mealtimes.  Does this mean that they can never have these foods again?  Of course not.  It is perfectly fine to have these types of food from time to time. Sweet treats and processed snacks can be part of a healthy diet if consumed on occasion and in moderation!  However, it should not become part of the daily diet as they provide loads of calories, but little nutritional value.  You can even redefine the word treat to include fresh fruit and nuts, dried fruits or guava strips, popcorn, sparkling water mixed with 100% fruit juice or popsicles made with blended fruit and yoghurt.  You can find some options with slightly better nutritional value to have in moderation like caramelized almonds, chocolate peanuts, chocolate raisins or yoghurt covered dates. 

Get inspired!

Hey, if you are still in need of some inspiration, check out YouTube, Pinterest or creative cookbooks to get inspired.   Find meals and snacks that work well for your household, budget and schedule. 

We hope that you have found this blog helpful and inspirational! 

Bibliography

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2019. Making the Grade at Lunchtime. [Online] Available at: https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/eat-right-at-school/making-the-grade-at-lunchtime [Accessed 20 June 2021].

Davis, B. & Melina, V., 2014. Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition, The complete reference to plant-based nutrition. Tennessee: Book Publishing Company.

Davis, B. & Shah, R., 2020. Nourish: The Definitive Plant-Based Nutrition Guide for Families. Florida: Health Communications, Inc.

English, W. & Caspero, A., 2019. Back-To-School: Easy Plant-Based Lunch Ideas for Kids. [Online] Available at: https://plantbasedjuniors.com/plant-based-lunches-for-kids/ [Accessed 20 June 2021].

English, W. & Caspero, A., 2021. 5 Tips for Planning Plant-Based Lunches for Kids. [Online] Available at: https://plantbasedjuniors.com/5-tips-for-planning-plant-based-lunches-for-kids/ [Accessed 20 June 2021].

Whitney, E. & Rolfes, S., 2011. Understanding Nutrition. 12th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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