IT IS that time of year again: school's back!
And with the annual stationery and new shoe run, too comes the influx of ideas for busy parents on how to pack a nutritious and appealing lunch box for small children, which should be said is no easy feat.
Considering though that growing children do consume up to 30 per cent of their total calories while they are at school, what we pack them each day is important.
So here are the easiest steps to take to pack a healthy yet child friendly lunch box, and the best packaged snacks out there if you are looking for some guidance.
The easiest way to pack a nutritionally balanced lunch box is to think of it in terms of compartments or sections. This way you will ensure you have enough items in the lunch but also the right nutritional balance.
A well balanced lunch box will include:
1) Sandwich, wrap or crackers
Remember that wholegrain and wholemeal varieties of breads and crisp breads are best. Try to also include a protein rich filling such as ham, tuna, chicken breast or egg on sandwiches as the protein helps to keep kids full throughout the afternoon.
2) Piece of fruit
Fresh fruit is always best as dried fruit, fruit juice, fruit sticks and straps are high in sugar and digested quickly.
3) Dairy food
Dairy foods including milk, cheese, yoghurt and dairy snacks provide both calcium and protein for healthy bones, teeth and growth. Look for the very few yoghurts that do not contain added sugar where possible.
Aim for snacks to contain less than 400kJ or 100 calories per serve and options that are made from whole grains - see the list detailed below. Naturally homemade snacks such as banana bread or mini muffins are better options nutritionally if you do have time to make them.
Water should always be the drink of choice for children. Fruit juice, cordial and flavoured waters are high in sugar and not consumed regularly.
Research on Australian children's lunch boxes has found that on average children are consuming three packaged snacks such as muesli bars, cheese and dip packs, fruit twists, potato chips and snack bars, which is too many.
Snack foods are often highly processed food choices that offer little nutritionally. For this reason it is suggested that at most children consume one packaged snack food each day. Good snack food choices contain dietary fibre, whole grains and/or protein and contain less than 400kJ or 100 calories per serve.
If you are worried that you child's lunch box does not contain enough "fun" foods, consider letting your child choose his/her snacks once each week and negotiate healthy choices for the remainder of the week.
To keep lunch boxes at the right temperature, look for freezer style cooler packs or try freezing an ice block or tetra style drink and pack with the lunch to keep it fresh.
One of the biggest issues in relation to children's lunch box choices is that they have too much choice. Limit your child's choice to just one or two food items to avoid starting a never ending negotiation about all the different type of food that you can include in the lunch box.
The better packaged snack food options
Found in the health food section, these wholegrain snacks are gluten free, contain just 90 calories per serve and the kids will actually eat them.
A great choice nutritionally thanks to the high protein content - with 3g of protein, 1g of fibre, no sugar for just 70 calories this product is a great balance of a naturally flavoured packaged snack food that kids will actually enjoy eating.
With less than 5g of added sugars (about the lowest you can find in a kids snack), just 80 calories and almost 2g of fibre, this popular brand combines some nutrition with a child friendly product.
In the health food section, a low sugar, gluten free bar option for less than 100 calories.
With less than 94 calories per serve, popcorn is a wholesome snack and a lunch box favourite.
If you can find them, these are a good choice with just 80 calories and a relatively low amount of sugar compared to traditional biscuit style snacks for kids.
With just 4g of sugars per pack and fewer than 80 calories these gluten free snacks are child friendly, nut free and taste great
One of the only yoghurt tubes for kids that does not contain ANY added sugar