It’s a challenge that continuously faces parents of school-going children – how to create nutritious, easy-to-prepare school lunches five days a week that kids will love too.
And although the school year is still young, some parents might already welcome a little help. Healthy Heroes, the popular lunchtime nutrition programme from the Irish Bread Bakers Association and Bord Bia, offers plenty of simple suggestions.
Their latest programme is already underway in hundreds of primary schools around the country aiming to help children improve their eating habits for the better and increase their fitness levels. Studies show that just one in ten Irish children (13 percent ) meet the national physical activity guidelines1, while at least one in five nationally are still overweight or obese2.
Created by teachers and behaviour change experts, with the support of Dr Mary McCreery, one of Ireland’s leading consultant nutritionists and dieticians, the schools-based lunchtime programme recognises the importance of intervening early so children develop healthy eating behaviours before they leave primary school.
It aims to increase the nutritional value of the lunch box with useful tips and suggestions on ways to include fruit and vegetables in lunch boxes as well as easy – to- understand information on the food pyramid and the contents of the ideal lunch box.
The programme involves a novel peer learning approach with sixth class students mentoring younger students on the importance of nutrition and being active. This provides the younger children with important role models, while the older children have an opportunity to foster valuable leadership, teamwork, and communication skills.
According to Dr McCreery, school lunchtime is an important opportunity to develop positive attitudes towards food choices and nutrition, leading to life-long eating habits. She offers the following tips to parents when it comes to school lunches:
Set a good example by eating a variety of foods yourself and make your own lunch at the same time so your child knows how much you enjoy them.
Introduce new foods without any special comment so your child can make their own mind up if they like them or not.
Make sure you have a wide range of foods available at home. Try to offer different foods every day. Shopping in advance is the best way to ensure you have plenty of variety for lunch boxes.
Include a carbohydrate, a protein, dairy, fruit, and veg in their lunch boxes.
To provide a balanced diet educate your child that treats are for weekends and special occasions.
Involve your child in the food shopping to encourage them (with the right guidance! ) to pick healthy options for their school lunch.
And here are some balanced lunch suggestions from the latest Healthy Heroes programme:
Easy Egg Sandwich
• 2 slices of wholemeal bread
• 2 teaspoons of low-fat butter
• 1 boiled egg
• 1 chopped spring onion (bulb only )
• 1 teaspoon of low-fat mayonnaise
Energy content - 500kcals; Carbohydrate: 44.7%; Protein: 18.6%; Fat: 36.7%; Fibre: 6.5gms
This lunch provides children with all their requirement of Vitamin B12 which is needed for red blood cells
Sweet Chilli Chicken with Yellow Peppers Sandwich
• 2 slices brown and white bread
• 2 teaspoons of low-fat butter
• 2 slices chicken
• 2 teaspoons of sweet chilli sauce
• 2 rings chopped yellow pepper
Energy content - 475kcals; Carbohydrate: 55%; Protein: 23%; Fat: 21%; Fibre: 9gms.
This lunch is high in Vitamin C which helps protect against infection.