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Nutrition

A Nutritionists Tips for Packing a Balanced Lunchbox

Fennies are proud to be accredited by the Early Years Nutrition Partnership (EYNP) for our menus and contribution to supporting good nutrition in the early years. We are delighted to bring you regular nutrition updates and evidence-based articles written by our Registered Nutrition Professionals from EYNP, Janet Aylott and Catherine Lippe.

healthy children's lunch box

Packed lunches can be a great option for outings, picnics or for preschool but it’s not always easy to achieve variety and you can find yourself sticking to the same old trusted sandwich time after time. In this blog, I will be sharing my top tips for creating a healthy, balanced and varied lunch box that is both practical and appealing for your little ones.  

When planning your lunchbox there are 4 main food groups to think about:

healthy lunchbox

Bread, cereals, potatoes and other starchy foods

Aim for at least 1 item from this food group in your lunchbox. This can include sandwiches, pitta bread, wraps, pasta salad, bagels, potato salad, pitta bread pizzas, savoury mini muffins, cous cous, bread sticks, crackers, rice cakes and oat cakes. Why? These foods will provide energy, fuel for vital tissues and organs including the brain. They also contain fibre, B vitamins and other minerals.

Top Tip! If your child loves sandwiches in their lunchbox, try adding variety by sometimes using pitta bread, bagels, tortilla wraps or flatbreads instead of bread. This is a great way to introduce variety and expose your child to something new. 

lunchbox with fruit and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables

Aim for at least 2 items from this food group in your lunchbox. For example fresh fruit, tinned fruits, dried fruits, salad items, any type of vegetables. You could include vegetable crudites such as carrot, cucumber or pepper sticks for dipping or add veggies to salads, pasta, rice or cous cous dishes Why? Fruit and vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.

Top Tip! Presentation is everything! Aim for a variety of colours when it comes to your fruit and vegetables and think about how they are presented in the lunchbox. Finding small colourful pots or muffin cases for each fruit and vegetable might just be enough to encourage your little one to try something new. 

girl eating pizza

Milk and dairy

For example, Babybel or other snack cheeses, sliced cheese, grated cheese, cheese spread, melted cheese on pasta or pizza, macaroni cheese in a thermos, a carton of milk, yoghurts or yoghurt drink, custard, rice pudding, milk or yoghurt-based smoothies. It's a great idea to include a form of dairy in your child's lunchbox because this will provide a source of calcium, protein, vitamin A and iodine.

Top tip! Adding chopped fresh fruit or dried fruit to plain, natural yoghurt is a good way to avoid the added sugar that is found in some popular children’s yoghurts.  

Find out more

Learn more about the importance of calcium for under 5s
humous and vegetable plate

Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein

Aim for at least 1 item from this food group in your child's lunchbox. This can include chicken, turkey, pork, beef, lamb, beans, fish, shellfish, lentils, chickpeas, pulses, soya products such as tofu, quorn, nuts, seeds and hummus. These foods provide protein, iron and zinc. Iron is particularly important as our bodies cannot make iron so we rely on obtaining it solely from the foods we eat. Iron also supports your child’s physical and cognitive development.

Top tip! Particularly during the colder winter months why not try some hot dishes served in a thermos? Warm pasta bakes with tuna or beans, soups with lentils or warm noodle dishes with chicken, pork or tofu can be a nice break from sandwiches and are an easy way to include protein as well as carbohydrates and vegetables. 

mixture of sweetd

Foods high in sugar

It's best to limit foods that are high in sugar for your child. This includes biscuits, cereal bars, chocolate, sweets and other confectionary, fizzy drinks or juice style drinks such as Ribena, Fruit Shoots, Capri-sun, Sunny Delight Foods that are high in sugar can contribute to tooth decay.

child drinking orange juice

Drinks

Milk and water are the best drinks for children. If your child likes juice make sure you offer a pure juice (either freshly squeezed or pure juice made from concentrate) and dilute it well with water. For children under the age of 5 years old, juice should be diluted 1 part juice:1 parts water. For children over 5 years old, juice should be diluted 50:50.

Make sure you avoid fizzy drinks or juice drinks such as Ribena, Fruit Shoots, Capri-Sun, Rubicon, Oasis. They are not pure juices and often contain added sugar or sweeteners which can be more damaging for teeth.

Now you’ve got the hang of how to create a balanced lunch box you can consider some of the more practical elements which might help your child enjoy their lunchbox. Such as:

  • Have I covered the 4 main food groups? 
  • Will the food travel well? Will it stay in one piece? 
  • Are the contents colourful and appetising/appealing?  
  • Is there a variety of small amounts of different foods that will tempt small appetites? 
  • Has my child been exposed to at least some of the food at home first? 
  • Is the food manageable/easy for little ones to eat? 
  • Is anything a choking risk? For example, pieces of sausage, chunks of apple, whole cherry tomatoes, popcorn, grapes? Make sure food is cut into smaller pieces. Cut grapes and cherry tomatoes lengthways to reduce choking risk. 
Catherine Lippe

Catherine Lippe

EYNP Nutritionist

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