School is now in full swing and with it comes a plethora of things for parents to keep thinking about and planning for – lunchboxes being one of them.
Vivienne Cameron, a director of Met-S Care and specialist in metabolic syndrome, says while it may seem challenging to ensure your child is eating the right things at school, the result is a lifelong understanding of health and making good food decisions.
“21st century children are exposed to far more processed foods when compared to 30 years ago. This is a very real problem parents face as children are becoming sicker, more over-weight than ever before and developing metabolic disorders. More and more of our fresh food source options are being replaced by processed and convenience foods to keep up with our fast paced lives,” she says. “Childhood obesity is more prevalent than ever as a result of chronic inflammation which is associated with a poor diet of highly processed foods. This chronic inflammation leads to diseases such as Type II diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and even depression, sleeping and attention deficit disorders. Removing highly-processed foods containing sugars and starches from your family’s daily diet will reduce the potential of your children developing these diseases.”
So how do you tackle this issue and make sure your child’s school lunch is nutritious but still practical? She says an ideal lunchbox should include energy sustaining, brain boosting foods from a variety of food groups.
“There are healthy carbohydrate sources to fuel your children as they grow which include items such as vegetables, whole fruits, nuts, whole grains and tubers. Teach your children about vegetables and encourage them to try different varieties with loads of colour. In terms of fruit, go for whole fruits like berries, apples, pears, peaches and so on. Skip the juices, 100% juice included. With nuts, go for almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, and pistachio nuts. Try raw or dry roasted versions. Sweet potatoes are also a great source of energy so consider even popping these in a lunch box but make sure they aren’t deep fried,” says Cameron.
She points out that a good rule of thumb is to include these good carbohydrate sources more frequently if your child is very active. If your child is less active and struggling with their weight then it would be preferential to use these carbohydrate sources sparingly and include more healthy fats in their eating approach. Healthy fats would include full cream dairy products (yoghurt, cheese and milk); nuts and seeds; avocados, eggs and fatty fish like tuna and salmon, to name a few.
Beneficial protein sources are also a must and items such as chicken and turkey (not deep fried or crumbed); and non-processed red meats including biltong, droëwors, bacon etc; nuts and legumes, dairy products and quinoa, are good options.
Cameron highlights that a good protein-based breakfast is essential for a good start to the day. “Eggs in any form are an inexpensive source of protein and good fats. Remember that breakfast cereals are refined carbohydrates and often loaded with added sugar and should NOT find a place on a child’s menu. If the child has had a good breakfast then it may not be necessary to pack a meal for first break. A piece of fruit, some nuts, biltong or droëwors is all that is needed. For second break and after school sport, choose a selection of foods from the food groups mentioned to ensure sustained energy throughout the day,” she says.
And how should parents deal with the tuck shop? Cameron says obviously the first step is educating our children from as young as possible so that they are fully equipped to make the right, healthy choices. “If they are exposed to these principles in their everyday life at home, there is a much better chance that they will make the right choices at school.”
“Having said that, while we can educate our kids on the right food choices, we cannot always ensure that those ‘right choices’ are made available. One would have to start by putting pressure on the school to get sugar and refined carbohydrates out of school tuck shops so that children have healthier options available to them. Perhaps consider rallying up a number of parents who have similar concerns to address this issue with the school.”
Basic healthier options could include using food alternatives such as whole-wheat bread, sugar-free drinks, fruit, vegetables, nuts, biltong, cold meats, cheese portions etc. “There is already awareness in some of the schools in South Africa who have started the trend by eliminating the purchase of sweets and chips during the first break. Essentially packing a healthy school lunch is a better option but the allure of the tuck shop will always be there so perhaps the answer lies in limiting the number of visits to the tuck shop per week and encouraging your children to make healthy options when making a purchase,” she adds.
Birthday parties at school are also becoming a controversial issue. Cameron agrees saying most party food provided is probably bought from a local supermarket on the way to school. “Most retailers don’t cater for low-carb packaged foods, eliminating the convenience factor for parents. However, if parents are prepared to put a little more time and effort into party goodies there are many low-carb, sugar-free recipes out there, including cake and muffin recipes, for example, that would be more than suitable.”
“Kids love novelty so there’s no reason why parents can’t do something healthy and novel. Cheese, veggie sticks, fruit sticks and other healthy foods can be transformed into fun creations perfect for parties or party packs for school.”
She says that while getting all parents to buy into this idea is unlikely even if there are only a few parents giving it a try there will be a less cake slices offered to your child per year at school. “This type of initiative has to start somewhere. Why not take the initiative and make a difference? E-mail your child’s class teacher with a proposal to contact other parents and start building the awareness for healthier foods and smarter brains,” concludes Cameron.
Low-Carb Lunch Box 5-Day Meal Plan
1-2 Crustless Mini Quiches (www.ditchthecarbs.com)
5 Cherry Tomatoes
1 Kiwi Cheese Portion
Peanut Butter on 4x Life Bake Grain-Free Crackers
3 Cream Cheese Stuffed Meatballs (www.ditchthecarbs.com)
1 Hard Boiled Egg
Chicken Mayo on 4x Life Bake Grain-Free Crackers
2 Gherkin & Cheese Mini Kebab Sticks (use toothpicks)
1 Kiwi Fruit
1 Met-S Care Chocolate/Berry/Caramel Munch Bar
½ cup Gooseberries