Q&A: Healthy Lunchboxes for Children

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Dr. Antonella Grima interviewed by Daniela Allen for A&H magazine

What should we include and what should we avoid giving children in their lunch boxes?
When preparing school lunches, one should try and include as many fresh ingredients as possible and keep away from pre-packed or ready-made lunches and snacks as these tend to have a higher salt, fat and sugar content. Reducing the salt content of lunches is also beneficial and one may look for low salt bread, spreads, ham or cheese.
Make sure to include plenty of water to cover your child’s fluid requirements, especially on active or sports days. Needless to say, sweets and junk food should be kept away from the lunch box, especially since most schools have strict policies regarding these foods.

How should we cope with fussy eaters and should we worry if they don’t eat everything?
Try and involve your children in the preparation of their lunches and include food choices that you know they like. Do not be afraid to experiment with ways of preparing and presenting the lunch. This may be by adding new ingredients, such as herbs, to enhance flavour, or by including new food, such as, pasta or rice instead of the classic sandwich. It is more likely that a lunch is eaten if it looks and smells appealing.
Unless your child’s doctor is concerned about his or her growth, do not feel stressed if your child returns home with most of the lunch. Children tend to auto-regulate much better than us adults, and eat more on days or at times when they really need it and less when they perceive less hunger.

Any practical tips to ensure healthy and nutritious lunches?
It would be a good idea to use compartmentalised lunch boxes and use the different sections to include a variety of food groups, such as bread or pasta, vegetables and fruit, a protein source, like beans or chicken strips, and dairy, such as a soft cheese, rather than offering only the carbohydrate-rich options, like for example sandwiches.
By offering a variety of food choices on different days of the week, you introduce an element of surprise and make lunchtime less boring. In addition, you would be making sure that your child is receiving a healthy variety of nutrients.

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