The school morning bustle of packing school bags, remembering sports kits and ensuring the children eat some breakfast before leaving the house can leave one overwhelmed. Let’s take a look at how to keep packed lunches healthy yet still interesting, whether for scholars, students, businessmen or mom’s playing taxi all afternoon.
Eating regularly is one of the cornerstones of maintaining good energy levels and concentration throughout the day. For a scholar participating in extra-mural activities after school, or a businessman needing to be on top of his game for an afternoon meeting, nutritious snacks eaten during the day will prevent energy slumps and sugar cravings.
The key to a successful lunchbox is making it interesting, but of course with healthy lower fat and low sugar snacks. A packed meal should be no different to any other balanced meal eaten at home. In other words, the meal should include a large proportion of vegetables and fruit (half the meal), a protein serving (the size of the eater’s palm) and a starch (the size of his/her fist).
Now for the HOW-TO
Children (and most adults too!) love the surprise of opening many containers, so stimulate more interest by packing numerous little tubs into a small cooler bag. Try to pack the fruit and vegetables on top, so they catch the hungry eyes first.
Pack at least 2 different colours of fruits / vegetables to fill half of the lunchbox
Broccoli florets, gherkins, cucumber wedges, mange tout
Grapes, kiwi slices
Cherry tomatoes, strips of red pepper, baby beetroot
Strawberries, guava wedges, black grapes, watermelon
Carrot rings or fingers, baby corn, yellow pepper strips
Peach, pineapple fingers, mango wedges, banana, naartjie segments
Pack protein to fill one quarter of the lunchbox
For an interesting addition try mini meatballs, shaved cold meats, a small packet of biltong, boiled egg, low fat cheese wedges, low fat fruit yoghurt.
Fill the last quarter of the lunchbox with starch
Slice of seed loaf cut into fingers, mealie bread, provita or ryvita lightly spread with margarine, homemade popcorn, bran muffin, leftover macaroni or rice mixed in with the other components.
The protein and starch portions can also simply be combined to form a sandwich. Try some of these different combinations: leftover meat and hummus spread, biltong and avocado, grilled bacon and mashed apple, mashed sardines mixed with chopped celery, lemon juice and mayonnaise, fishpaste with chopped hard-boiled egg and mayonnaise.
Children find it easier to eat sandwiches cut into small wedges or quarters. Cookie cutters can also be used to make fun shapes that will be sure to entice.
Use spinach leaves or shredded cabbage as an alternative to lettuce. Line the bread with these leaves to prevent the sandwich from becoming soggy.
Mix 1 part of low fat mayonnaise with 4 parts of mashed baked beans or butter beans to make a sandwich spread for bread instead of using plain mayonnaise or margarine. This adds a great new flavour to an otherwise ordinary sandwich!
This may sound like a whole lot of effort and fuss! I won’t deny that it takes more planning than a simple jam sandwich! To cut down on time spent preparing lunchboxes, prepare the vegetables in advance and keep them in a bulk storage container in the fridge. The protein portions can also be prepared in advance and kept on hand in the fridge. Having the components ready before the morning rush will make packing a healthy lunch much more do-able! Your improved concentration and performance during the day will make you glad you went the extra mile! Not to mention the reward of better health.
Always remember to add a bottle of water to the packed lunch. Try to use water as the regular lunchbox companion. If a flavoured drink is needed from time to time, a flavoured milk drink will sustain energy and concentration much more successfully than a sugary sports drink.
With a little bit of forethought, an interesting packed lunch will be gleefully devoured. Happy lunchbox planning!