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Eat Play Heal: How to make a child-friendly healthy packed lunch

September 21st 2015 / Rosemary Ferguson


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Can you make a sandwich healthy and should you give up on the kale? Rosemary Ferguson shares her top ideas for a realistic kids' packed lunch

A child’s packed lunch isn’t as straightforward as it seems, is it? You have to give them something that is well balanced, healthy, portable - but most importantly, something that they will actually eat. Let’s face it, you can give them kale with seeds as much as you like, but if they don’t eat it then there isn’t much point!

Let’s start with the good old sandwich. You can improve the quality and nutrition of a sandwich really easily by making some simple changes. First of course is the bread; white to brown being the most obvious, but if you are already there then what about trying a rye sourdough? They come in lovely bloomer-style loaves; the only downside is that the crusts can be a little bit tough, so maybe let them off their crusts to start with.

If you are trying to move from white to brown, then a wheat sourdough may be a good idea, or try going to a more farmhouse style white. You could also make your own white and add some seeds into it so the texture begins to change, and this in turn will help their palettes to change. If you build up a change slowly, then it is far less likely to be met with absolute refusal!

What you put in the sandwich is probably more important than the bread. Try to focus on fresh ingredients, and squeeze in as much goodness as you can. Chopping salad bits up seems to help - cucumbers are popular and tomatoes go down better when they are smaller! Think about what vegetables your child does like and go with that, such as sweetcorn or peas (mash them up with mint, yummy!). Include good proteins like salmon or tuna, chicken or turkey. Try to avoid sweet sandwiches; sugar is overused, and we need to be steering their tastebuds and bodies away from sweet tastes and sugar cravings.

There are lots of alternatives to the classic sandwich; I use a variety because it keeps them from getting bored and that goes for me too. I sometimes use wholewheat wraps or coconut meat wraps, and I usually use a hummus base with peppers, salad leaves and falafel. You could also do strips of chicken, fajita style or roasted vegetables with pesto. Pesto is a great addition as most children love it. If you are so inclined, making your own is a way of tailoring it to what you like; rocket and kale with parmesan and olive oil is a good mix, and before the little darlings know it they are eating kale as much as you are!

Recently we were inspired by the Big Feastival, where we got some brown rice sushi - they are brilliant for lunches and I’ve found tamari sauce is a great help when it comes to feeding the children as they all seem to love it. Simply wrap brown rice, sliced avocado, cucumber, spring onion, carrot and sesame seeds into a sheet of nori (seaweed) with the help of a sushi rolling mat. The tamari helps it all stick together and voilá, a great slow burning lunch which is fun, quite messy and has been very popular with the little ones!

The hard part when it comes to packed lunches is the sweet snacks and crisps. I would recommend that you have a look into rice cakes - you can buy small ones in a crisp-like packet from Rude Health. Or how about carrots sliced?

For the ‘pudding’, yoghurts are renowned for their high and deceiving sugar content, so be careful with those. For the simplest option I would go with fruit; it is full of fibre, antioxidants and phytonutrients, plus there is so much choice! Again, cutting an apple up or an orange may make it more appealing. Berries and grapes are so easy and in my experience most children like them. For something more substantial, bananas are brilliant as long as they haven’t got squashed on the way to school.

Other options could be something like a flapjack - yes, high in sugar but they do have oats and the fibre in those oats should help slow the sugar absorption. They’re also a slow burner, so will help keep up those energy levels in the afternoon. I also like the Munchy honey seeds, again yes they contain sugar, but it’s fine to have them when balanced with good things.

Remember, being realistic and balanced is the key to a good packed lunch; it’s better that some fuel is going into their tank than none.

What do you put in your children's packed lunches? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @GetTheGloss!

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