It's just as important to make sure the lunchboxes that children take to school provide a healthy, balanced lunch.
This means plenty of foods that contain the nutrients that children need, and fewer foods that are high in sugar and saturated fat.
Packing the lunchbox
A balanced packed lunch should contain:
- Starchy foods. These are bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, and others.
- Protein foods. These are meat, fish, eggs, beans and others.
- A dairy item. This could be cheese or yoghurt.
- Vegetables or salad, and a portion of fruit.
Starchy foods are a good source of energy, and should make up a third of the lunchbox. But don't let things get boring. Instead of sandwiches give kids bagels, pitta bread, wraps and baguettes. Use brown, wholemeal or seeded bread, not white bread.
Children often like food they can eat with their fingers, so chop up raw veggies such as carrots or peppers, and give them houmous or cottage cheese to dip the veggies in. Breadsticks and wholemeal crackers are great finger foods and they can be spread with low-fat soft cheese or eaten with reduced-fat cheddar and pickles.
Replace chocolate bars and cakes with fresh fruit, dried fruit or unsalted nuts. Vary the fruit each day and get them to try new things, like kiwi or melon.
You could also make up a tasty fruit salad. Be inventive and encourage your children when they try something new.
Making the change
It may take a while for your children to get used to a healthier lunchbox. But it will be worth it for their health, so keep trying.
You can help by eating a wider range of foods at home, as a family. For ideas on how to introduce more fruit and vegetables into your family's diet, read 5 A DAY and your family.
Reading supermarket food labels can help you to buy healthier foods for your child's lunch, and for family meal times.
Chocolate and cakes can be saved for occasional treats. Remember to praise your child when they've tried something new, to show your encouragement.
Ideas for packed lunches
It's easy to slip into offering your child the same food every day in a packed lunch.
There are many types of bread that can add variety to sandwiches. Try pitta bread, chapattis, crusty rolls, muffins or bagels with one of these healthy fillings:
- Chicken with a low-fat dressing and salad
- Grated cheese and pickle
- Bacon, lettuce and tomato
- Tuna and tomato
- Salmon and cucumber
- Hummus and red pepper
Other suitable items include:
- Fruit, both fresh or dried
- Cheese cubes
- Pot of yoghurt or a yoghurt drink
- Cherry tomatoes or sticks of vegetables
- Small pot of potato, pasta or rice salad
- Hard-boiled egg
- Fruit juice or soup in a flask
Some children need a snack between meals, often around the time they arrive home from school. Encourage healthier options rather than filling up on crisps, savoury items or sweets.Try offering the following:
- Crunchy muesli and yoghurt
- Toasted crumpet or teacake
- Fresh fruit
- Low-fat yoghurt or fromage frais
- Nuts, seeds or dried fruit
- Small carton of milk
- Fruit smoothies
- Cheese and crackers or oatcakes
- Slice of fruit loaf or malt loaf
Source: The BBC Health