It's that time again. For the past few weeks, my social media newsfeed has been flooded with other parents' relief (and some woes) about getting their kids ready for school.
With this comes the various 'nutrition tips' from parents who are keen to ensure their children are healthier and brighter for the next school year.
The intention is to ensure they are fighting fit... but frankly, some of the ideas are more fad than fact. Cartons of fake 'mylks' (that have been nowhere near a cow and are packed with additives), protein-enhanced bars and sugary vitamin waters... I can't even make out what some of the foods are!
I've talked before about 'feeding our children smarter', but they need to be educated about food too. Many children are growing up these days not knowing where the food they eat comes from. In a recent survey by The British Nutrition Foundation, nearly a third of five to seven-year-olds among the 27,500 children who took part didn't even know that cheese came from milk, not plants.
Every time we put something in our children's lunch boxes, we have an opportunity to teach them good nutrition habits and enhance their knowledge about food. So here are my top five tips to feed their bodies and minds, making their new school year their best yet.
Make it interesting
The old tricks are the best! Making shapes out of sandwiches, presenting fruit in small colourful containers, adding a fun curly straw to drink their milk with - it all helps to make sure they actually eat everything. After all, children don't get any nutritional benefit from food that never leaves the lunchbox.
Include some slow release energy foods
A gradual release of energy over the day aids concentration and keeps their activity levels high. Rather than refined carbohydrates like white bread or pasta, think wholegrains and slow-release starches such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, wholegrain rice, pasta, bread and 'skin on' potatoes. They all release energy slowly and make for a nutritious, filling lunch.
Smash the added sugar and go naturally sweet
National statistics show children still over-consume on added sugars from biscuits, fruit juices and even some seemingly 'healthy' snacks such as cereal bars. Added sugars cause havoc with kids' energy levels and contribute to tooth decay. Why not try naturally sweet fruits such as cherries, apple slices or banana, small pots of unsweetened dried fruit or even natural yoghurt and fruit.
Involve your children in the preparation
It might be messy getting the kids involved with prepping their own lunch, but research indicates that it's really good for them. The earlier children develop confidence in cooking and food preparation skills, the better their long-term nutrition is. If children have been involved in choosing their own packed lunch components then they are more likely to eat them too.
Don't forget the protein
Kids need protein for strong bones, muscles and other tissues. However, most kids' convenience lunch items are low on nutritional value and protein. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and cubes of cheese are great protein packed additions to lunchboxes. And let's not forget about milk! It's rich in protein, calcium and even iodine and vitamin B12 for brain health. For children who don't get on with regular milk, a2 Milk which contains only the easy-to-digest A2 protein is a great alternative. Many schools and nurseries can also sign up to the Cool Milk scheme to ensure they get free or subsidised milk.
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