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Updated 31 August 2016

Great snack and lunchbox ideas

Run out of ideas for your kids' school lunches, or your own lunchbox? Check out these attractive, delicious and healthy suggestions.

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Are you a Mum who has to pack lunchboxes and make snacks for your children every day of the week? And are you at your wits' end trying to strike a balance between healthy food options and your child's picky eating habits?

Here are some ideas to make your life easier and to ensure that your children have good, wholesome food to take to school and to have in-between meals.

The basics

There are certain basic principles that you need to keep in mind:
  • It takes planning - you need to plan ahead so that you buy the correct foods for making snacks and lunchboxes
  • Resist the "easy" option to buy cold drinks, chips and chocolate bars - in the long run this is going to ruin your children's health
  • Resist your children's demands and manipulations for high-fat snacks and fizzy cold drinks
  • Remember that children are different to adults - they have a much smaller stomach capacity, so they need regular snacks and some children have a much higher energy requirement because they're more active than adults
  • Remember that children are similar to adults - they also like interesting and tasty food that looks good enough to eat, but they may not appreciate very sophisticated foods
  • Lunchboxes may have to replace three to four meals a day - that breakfast that wasn't eaten, the mid-morning snack, lunch and the mid-afternoon snack - a whole menu in one box!
  • Packaging is important - buy a sturdy plastic container that's big enough to accommodate the food you want your child to take to school without getting squashed, and consider buying a small non-breakable vacuum flask or vacutainer for keeping cold foods and drinks cold, and hot foods and drinks hot
  • Eating a variety of foods gives children and adults the best chance of obtaining a balanced diet

Select foods from all the food groups every day:
- Milk and dairy products;
- Fruit and vegetables;
- Breads and starches;
- Protein foods like meat, fish, eggs and legumes; and
- Fats and oils, including nuts.
Children need healthy foods and drinks to snack on or to take to school. Here are some suggestions:

a) Food

Cereals, breads and starches

  • Low-GI, wholewheat, brown or rye bread or buns, various healthy breads, crisp bread (rye or wheat), wholewheat biscuits
  • Pita bread, or hot dog/hamburger rolls, or pancakes/pikelets, or mini pizzas, or bagels (buy the wholewheat varieties if possible)
  • Wholewheat muffins or muffins made with fresh fruit like banana, dried fruit like raisins/sultanas/dates, or nuts; cheese muffins
  • Health or energy bars (only for children who are very active and who don't have a weight problem as these foods are quite high in fat)
  • Granola cereal or unbuttered popcorn
  • Muesli or bran based cereals
  • Rice cakes (buy various flavours)
  • Baked potato with a filling (keep warm in vacutainer)
  • Potato salad (use lite salad dressing or dilute mayonnaise with fat-free yoghurt)
  • Cooked corn on the cob


Protein foods

  • Lean cold cuts (ham, beef, chicken)
  • Grilled chicken pieces (wings or drumsticks)
  • Cooked, chopped or minced meat or chicken/turkey
  • Cooked sausages (only for thin and very active children as sausages contain quite a lot of fat)
  • Homemade hamburger patties (use lean mince)
  • Boiled eggs
  • Canned fish such as tuna, salmon or sardines
  • Cooked, minced legumes, baked beans or tofu

    Milk and dairy foods
  • Yoghurt (plain mixed with honey and nuts or fresh fruit, or read-made, flavoured, low-fat varieties)
  • Cottage cheese (flavour plain cottage cheese with tomato sauce, mashed banana or avocado, nuts or dried fruit, or buy ready-made flavoured cottage cheese - check the fat content and buy the fat-free versions)
  • Cheeses (all types, use grated or cut into cubes)
  • Cheese spread


Fruit and vegetables
  • Fresh fruit - apples, pears, oranges, plums, peaches, grapes, litchis, mango, pineapple or melon pieces, figs
  • Dried fruit and fruit rolls, dates
  • Carrot or celery sticks, baby tomatoes, cucumber wedges, lettuce
  • Vegetable muffins (grated carrots and baby marrows can be added to a basic muffin mix)
  • Pumpkin fritters
  • Potato cakes

    Fats and oils
  • Mono- or polyunsaturated margarine or lite margarine as a spread on breads, etc
  • Nuts, peanut butter
  • Nutella spread
  • Crisp bacon (crumble and add to fat-free cottage cheese)
  • Avocado - mash and use instead of margarine
  • Low-fat or lite salad dressing, or mayonnaise diluted with low-fat yoghurt

(Use this category sparingly to ensure that inactive children don't gain weight)

Flavourings
(Add taste, colour and variety to lunchboxes and snacks)
  • Chutney - try different varieties
  • Tomato sauce - the best source of lycopene, an antioxidant that protects against cancer
  • Mild mustard or pickles
  • Gherkins
  • Olives
  • Vinegar (add to mashed sardines for extra flavour)
  • Lemon juice (add to mashed banana to prevent discolouration)


b) Drinks and liquid foods
  • Milk, plain or flavoured
  • Homemade milk shakes (puree fruit with low-fat milk, add honey and/or vanilla flavouring)
  • Drinking yoghurt
  • Milk/fruit-juice blends
  • Fruit juice, still or sparkling
  • Soda water - flavoured, still or sparkling
  • Hot chocolate or cocoa made with skim milk (keep warm in vacutainer during winter)
  • Soups (keep hot in vacutainer during winter)
  • Cold water and ice for sports meetings

Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Health24.com. Read more of her articles.

 
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