The month of September means Back to School for children, and is a good time to think about your children’s nutritional needs to see them through the academic year in good health. After all healthy children are not only more likely to grow into healthy adults, but are more likely do better in school too (1).
We all know that children need a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg, but putting this into practice can be a struggle for many parents. Fortunately there are a few lunchbox ideas that can encourage even the fussiest of eaters.
Suzannah Olivier, author of “Healthy Food for Happy Kids” suggests that making food fun and offering variety is key to encouraging your child to eat healthily (2). “The best way to avoid faddiness is to give your child a variety of foods, tastes and flavours from a young age”. Here are some quick and easy alternatives to the traditional sandwich:
• Use leftover pasta, couscous or rice for a salad in a box with chopped sausages, tomatoes or black-eyed beans and red peppers.
• Try oatcakes with hummus and cherry tomatoes
• Make some Bircher Muesli: in a container mix 2 tablespoons of oat flakes, chopped nuts (if your school allows these), half a grated apple and some milk or soya milk and seal. By lunchtime the mixture will be soft and sweet and utterly delicious.
• As most kids love finger foods, this can be great way of boosting their veg intake. Try baby carrots or carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber wedges, baby sweetcorn, cooked green beans, red and yellow pepper strips, cooked asparagus spears, raw sugar snap peas. Provide a dip to dunk them into, such as hummus or a yoghurt dip.
Even ‘anti-veg’ children can be persuaded to eat their greens with a few inventive lunch options. Suzannah suggests small cubes of vegetable omelette, onion bahjis, mini vegetable pizzas or quiches, vegetable samosas or spring rolls and mushroom pate.
Karen Bali, author of “The Art of Hiding Vegetables” agrees that when dealing with fussy kids, a little stealth can go a long way (3). “All you need to do is disguise or conceal healthy food and your children’s won’t notice – or even know – they’re eating it.” Karen offers the following ideas for packed lunches:
• Include smoothies made with yoghurt and fresh fruit (and no added sugar)
• Warm some vegetable baby food and add to tomato soup, for veggies with ‘no lumpy bits’. Keep it warm until lunch in a flask.
• Disguise carrots by grating them finely and mixing them with finely grated red cheese (such as Leicester) in sandwich fillings
• Choose vegetables with mild flavours – watercress, thinly sliced cucumber and finely shredded lettuce can work well.
For parents interested in nutritional supplements for their children, there are a number of ranges now specifically designed with children’s nutritional needs in mind. While supplements are not intended as a replacement for healthy food, they can help to ensure that your child is meeting his or her nutritional requirements.
Parents often ask me which supplements I recommend for children. There are in fact three types of supplements that I have come to refer to as the Children’s Healthy Trinity: probiotics, essential fatty acids and a broad spectrum multi-vitamin and mineral formula.
Alongside a healthy diet, these basic supplements can go a long way towards supporting your child’s digestion and immune system, and safeguarding against any nutritional deficiencies in his or her diet.
1. Kleinman et al (2002) Diet, Breakfast, and Academic Performance in Children. Ann Nutr Metab. 2002; 46(Suppl 1): 24–30
2. Suzannah Olivier. Healthy Foods for Happy Kids. Simon & Schuster 2004.
3. Karen Bali & Sally Child. The Art of Hiding Vegetables: Sneaky Ways to Feed Your Children Healthy Food. White Ladder Press 2005.