Pack a lunch that packs a punch

The power of a balanced diet

12 January 2021 | Health

Ensuring children get all the essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.

Dietary influence on performance

Eating a healthy diet and being physically active can balance kids' energy levels for optimal attentiveness, increased focus and improve their overall academic performance.

Items that should be in their lunchbox:

It depends on individual circumstances, of course, but every child can benefit from the following in their lunchbox:

· A small amount of protein which is preferably plant-based like peanut or other nut butter, peanuts or other nuts or seeds and any form of legumes such as hummus or baked beans. Animal protein such as eggs, meat or chicken strips or dairy products are also good options.

· Any wholegrain foods such as whole-wheat crackers or bread.

· Any vegetables and/or fruit. The more variety that can be provided, the better.

· Dairy products such as milk, cheese or yoghurt.

· Healthy fats such as peanut or other nut butter or peanuts or other nuts.

Food items to avoid

· All ready-to-eat processed foods sold in packets such as sugary beverages, crisps, biscuits and sweets - they are excessively high in calories but very low in essential nutrients.

Food for energy

· All foods provide the body with energy in various amounts. Children can generally only eat small portions of food at a time, therefore it is important for them to eat three meals a day, with two to three snacks in between meals.

· Children who are very active will naturally have a bigger appetite and consume larger portions at mealtimes. They should be offered and encouraged to eat an extra snack before or after sport to help them obtain extra energy and nutrients required.

· Ideal snacks are fruit, peanut butter sandwiches and dairy products such as milk or yoghurt.

Food to help with focus

Healthy eating habits are even more important during potentially stressful times. Eating enough and eating a good variety of foods helps with a general feeling of well-being, helps to support the immune system and helps with concentration.

There is a strong link between low iron and poor mood and concentration. Iron is found mostly in animal flesh foods such as liver, meat and chicken. Only very small portions are required for sufficient iron intake.

There is also some evidence that Omega 3 fats help with attention. Eating two portions of pilchards per week can help children obtain sufficient Omega 3 fats from their diet.

Children need to consume at least six of the following nine food groups per day to meet most of their vitamin and mineral needs:

1. Starchy foods (e.g. cereals, potatoes, rice, etc)

2. Fish, chicken and meat

3. Eggs

4. Dairy products (milk, yoghurt and cheese)

5. Beans, lentils, nuts and seeds

6. Organ meats (liver, kidneys, etc.)

7. Green leafy vegetables

8. Orange vegetables and fruit

9. Any other coloured vegetables and fruit.

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