A recent UK government-commissioned report revealed that school dinners were more nutritious than the packed lunches kids bring in. According to this report only one per cent of packed lunches were as nutritionally well balanced as school meals.
The report suggested that packed lunches be banned or that parents could be incentivised to bring in healthier alternatives. Many lunchboxes contained (shock horror!) crisps, chocolate and sweets.
As any parent knows, getting children to eat what we want them to eat is a challenge, as is packing a healthy lunchbox that they'll actually eat.
In the September issue of BBC Good Food Magazine we've come up with a few simple rules for easy-to-prep packed lunches that kids and teens will enjoy. (And there are guidelines for your own take-to-work lunch too.) It's important to offer variety (many kids get bored easily, haven't you noticed?) as well as keeping meals high in protein, veg, fruit and fibre, and low in fat, salt and sugar. A child's lunch should provide at least a third of his or her daily nutritional requirements. Without a good midday meal youngsters struggle to concentrate in the afternoon.
Below are some tips for two key problems: dealing with a fussy eater and getting kids to eat the right stuff.
Dealing with a fussy eater
•Involve your child in planning and preparing their lunchbox. Kids are more likely to try foods if they've been involved in selecting and making a dish. This is something we are championing with our Cooking with kids campaign.
•Picky children are happier choosing from a small range of foods. If your child selects just one or two favoured things every day, this is not unusual - gradually introduce more options but be prepared to be patient.
•If they refuse wholegrains, like wholemeal bread, don't worry - some small children find fibrous foods too filling and difficult for small stomachs to digest. Instead, supply fibre with beans and pulses puréed into a creamy dip, or add them to salads or sandwich fillings. Introduce brown versions of rice, pasta and bread when your child is older.
•Talk with other parents and use their child's healthy appetite as an example for yours to follow. Don't use food as a reward - this reinforces the idea that sugary, fatty foods are better options than whole fruit or dairy products.
Getting kids to eat the good stuff
•Make fruit more exciting with a fruit slaw. Cut apple, firm mango, peaches and plums into fine matchsticks, add a few blueberries and toss together with a little lime juice. Serve in tubs.
•Freeze berries, banana slices or grapes before packing into containers - they will defrost by lunchtime but keep the lunchbox cool.
• Swap tuna mayonnaise in their sandwiches for tinned mackerel or salmon mixed with mayonnaise - these provide a higher amount of essential omega-3 fatty acids.
•Instead of a sandwich, give them a little tub of houmous with blanched broccoli, raw carrot, red pepper or cucumber sticks for dipping.
•Make it fun and make it personal! Write a message or your a child's name onto a boiled egg or a banana skin.
With a bit of planning and know how, a packed lunch can be a treat for your child as well as a good, nutritious meal that keeps them on top form throughout the day.