School Lunches that pack a punch… by nutritionist Oliver McCabe (Select Stores Dalkey)
It may come as little surprise to learn that according to recent research in Ireland that the most popular items in a lunchbox are a sliced white bread sandwich with a filling of ham, cheese or chicken; crisps, a chocolate bar or biscuit; and a yoghurt or cheese snack. While, there’s nothing wrong with any of these foods on an occasional basis, if a child eats them every day, they will not get the range of nutrients they need for good health and energy. As a child gets older they can develop tendencies for sugar and savoury cravings leading to morning jaunts to the local sweet shop before school starts. Let’s prevent this. The key to a healthy packed lunch is nutritional balance and a wide variety of foods.
Fruit and Vegetables:
Many of us struggle to get our kids to eat enough fruit and vegetables a day, yet the lunchbox provides the perfect opportunity to boost a child’s consumption of fresh produce. Choose different types and consider presenting fruit in many ways.
Mixed Fruit Salad, Fruit Compote, Puréed Fruit, chopped, sliced and so on.
Mini packs of dried fruits with no additives (sulphur is used to make apricots orange for presentation purposes) or added sugar. Read your labels. Shop in nearest health food shop. Better still make your own dried fruit mix with your children and use dried coconut, nuts and seeds, which add vital minerals.
Fresh fruit smoothie with Rice or Soya Milk will keep for a school day when made fresh in the morning. Use frozen berries with banana and some grounded flaxseed. Rice or soya milk will not ferment with fruit like dairy does leading to upset stomach.
Children often prefer raw vegetables to cooked: try cherry tomatoes or sticks of carrot, cucumber and pepper are popular, slices of fennel have a liquorice flavour, florets of broccoli and cauliflower, fresh peas, whole mange touts, sugar snap peas, baby corn.
Green beans, beetroot and asparagus are best cooked for the lunchbox.
It is important to provide good sources of calcium as about half of adult bone density is laid down during adolescence. Along with absorption from magnesium which can be found in nuts, seeds and greens. Calcium can be found in Greens and grains as well as dairy products remember.
Stay away from processed cheese. Buy farmhouse cheese or organic for your child. These types of cheeses can be found in the most reasonable of supermarkets, you just need to look and don’t be lazy. Goats or Sheep’s are excellent, high in protein and low fat. Brie, Mozzarella, Gouda are lovely too. All lovely with organic oatcakes or rice cakes.
Make your own fresh fruit yoghurt with probiotic natural yoghurt and some pureed fresh fruits such as mango, pear or blueberry. Add a little honey or maple or agave syrup to sweeten. Add some toasted oats on top for a breakfast idea. All of these ingredients are great for your child’s stomach to strengthen the immune system.
Protein foods are fantastic for staying away from hunger pains and they work together with carbohydrate foods to create energy for your child. This also helps to boost concentration, memory and attention span. Use protein rich foods in sandwich fillings, savoury dishes and salads or to nibble on. Good examples are lean cooked free range or local chicken, turkey or beef; cooked fish and prawns; cooked eggs; nuts, nut butters and seeds, seed butters, pulses and hummus, vegetarian sausages and nut cutlets; tofu.
Children in particular need omega 3 essential fatty acids for their developing brains, eyes and nerves. Omega 3 has also been shown to improve mood and benefit those with dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is found in oily fish such as herring, salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and tuna, which all make great sandwich fillings especially blended with a little crème fraiche, pates, savoury dishes and salads.
Whole grains are the body’s main source of long term energy and should be at the heart of every lunchbox.
Try and stay away from the sliced pans as they have no wholegrain and are just water and sugar.
Try Granary, Rye or Spelt bread for a change.
Try Whole wheat baps, rolls, wraps or pittas.
Try and go to your local bakery and buy their Whole wheat fresh breads.
Try Brown rice and rice noodles in salads or savoury dishes.
Try Whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce and corn for lunch.
Try cous cous, quinoa or millet in a vegetable stir-fry.
Try a make a homemade potato salad with chives, onion and some low fat mayonnaise.
Children need to drink more fluids at school. Dehydration can affect concentration and intellectual performance as well as transportation of fluids around the body.
Provide bottled water, diluted fresh fruit or vegetable juice, fresh fruit smoothie or milk. With milk just watch out for any sensitivity or intolerance signs such as skin rash, eczema or sinus flem problems. Try Rice, Oat or Soya milk instead.
Avoid carbonated sugary drinks at all times.
Ideally, lunchboxes should be appealing and inviting, never boring. And remember it’s about quality not quantity. Portion control as always is very important too. Remember the food you prepare for your young child is not for you.
Friday Treat Recipe : Fast Food Made Healthy
Italiano Free Range Chicken Burrito
1/2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 free range chicken breast, cut into strips
40g (11/2 oz) red onion, thinly sliced
1 small clove garlic, crushed
1tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 small cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
4 sunblush tomatoes, chopped
3 basil leaves, torn into pieces
A drizzle of olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large wholemeal flour tortillas
Dob of light Mayonnaise
A little shredded iceberg lettuce
1. Heat the oil in a small frying pan and saute the chicken, red onion and garlic for about three minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar, oregano and season to taste.
2. Mix together the cherry tomatoes, sunblush tomatoes and basil, drizzle over the olive oil and add a pinch of black pepper.
3. Spread the tortillas with a little mayonnaise. Divide the chicken and tomato mixture between the two tortillas and top with some shredded lettuce. Roll up the tortillas and wrap tightly in cling film.