Help your kids eat well at school
School-age kids eat a third of their meals away from home. For advice on how to ensure kids get the most out of lunch at school, tbjkids spoke to Nina Lenton, a UK-registered dietician who works as health educator and community liaison at the Bayley and Jackson Medical Center in Beijing.
How can you judge the lunch offerings at your child’s school?
Ask the school to send you a copy of one or two weekly menus. It is often difficult to judge whether food is healthy or not unless you see it or know a little more about the ingredients, such as how much oil or salt is used in the cooking. If you are really concerned, visit the school at lunchtime. Make sure there are vegetarian and low-fat options available, that high-fat foods such as pizza and fries are kept to a minimum, and that there are plenty of vegetable and salad dishes. Some schools publish information about their school canteen and healthy eating policy on their website.
How can you pack the maximum amount of nutrition into your kid’s lunch box?
Provided it’s given some thought, a packed lunch is an excellent way of ensuring your children are getting the nutrients they need through healthy foods that they like. If they are filling up on their boxed lunch, kids are less likely to go for high fat or sugary snacks.
Variety is definitely important if you want to prevent your child from growing bored, so make it a habit to switch things up often. Check that your child is actually eating and enjoying her lunch so you can make the necessary adjustments.
Try to include something from each food group: carbohydrates (choose wholemeal/wholegrain varieties of pita bread, bagels, pasta or rice salads, or noodles); protein (choose lean meats like homemade chicken drumsticks or tuna fish, lean cold cuts, chickpeas, tofu or soybeans); dairy (choose low-fat versions of string cheese, yogurt, milk and soy milk); vegetables (try carrot and cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, salad, cooked veggies or peas); and fruit (apples, bananas, and oranges are nice and portable). Avoid packaged, processed foods – these are usually high in fat, salt and sugar.
What sort of food items are acceptable treats for kids to eat on a regular basis?
It’s important not to impose the idea of any food being completely forbidden (apart from sugary soda perhaps!), but of course there are preferable treats, and ones that it’s better to keep to a minimum. With any type of treat, portion control is really important, especially when it’s a snack, not a meal.
For those who have time, home baking and cooking is good because you know exactly what is going into your food and your children. Low-fat muffins, banana bread, and oaty tray bakes (or flapjacks as we call them in England) make tasty treats and can be adjusted to include grains, seeds, nuts and fruit while minimizing fat and sugar content. Homemade pizza using wholemeal dough or a wholemeal pita bread, plenty of vegetables and lower-fat toppings may provide a perfect fix if the kids are inclined towards fast food outlets, as would homemade burgers made from lean mince and served in a wholegrain bun with plenty of salad.
Fruit of any type is of course an excellent sweet treat – try cherries, small bananas, lychees, grapes and baby mangos. Turning these into a fruit salad for school or a fruit smoothie using crushed ice and a little yogurt can make fruit more appealing. As a replacement for ice cream, you can make your own frozen yogurt or frozen fruit juice lollies. You can also try freezing whole bananas wrapped in cling film with the skin removed. A few squares of good quality (preferably dark) chocolate also make a perfectly acceptable treat – try mixing these with a few nuts and raisins.
How do you ensure that your kids make the right choices when they are eating from the school canteen?
Nutrition education is certainly featuring more and more significantly on school curriculums but it’s really important to reinforce this information and discuss healthy eating at home if you want to encourage children to make sensible, independent food choices from an early age. Try to ensure that your kids understand the different food groups, what food choices are better, and what the consequences of unhealthy eating are. Encourage children to take a real interest in what they are eating. Let them help out with the cooking at home, and if they are older, get them to experiment with preparing a meal for the family each week. Try foods from different countries.
Sometimes kids are unfamiliar with the food on offer and this prevents them from choosing the healthier options. Talking about what is available, what they normally choose and what is on offer can help to highlight any problems. You can try making unfamiliar dishes less intimidating by cooking them at home or sampling them at a restaurant.
by Christina Nicholas
Come rain, come shine, here comes your lunch
Dabbawalla, or tiffin-walla, translates as “box-carrier” or “lunch pail-man.” About a century ago, when India was under British rule, the Indian workers hated the lunch that was provided for them by British companies. Demand was so great for home-prepared food that a service specializing in delivering lunches straight from workers’ homes was established. Today, approximately 200,000 lunches get delivered by around 4,500 dabbawallas every day. Remarkably, especially considering that these barefoot delivery men usually carry the food on long planks of wood balanced on their heads, mistakes are said to occur at an average of only one in 6 million deliveries.
A modern twist on an old favorite
These elegant lunchboxes first came into existence during the Kamakura period (1185-1333) in Japan. In a traditional bento you would find rice, fish (or meat) and a side dish of pickled vegetables, all separated into different segments of the box. Bento boxes are now a common sight at Japanese schools, and a current craze has creative parents competing to fill the tiny compartments with the most aesthetically pleasing and unusual food possible (think edible cancan dancers and electric guitars); a frenzy of Internet blogs dedicated to displaying their handiwork are a recent development.
Tacos in space?
Ever wonder what astronauts eat? Well, one of the answers is tortillas! These Mexican wraps were traditionally made with maize, but nowadays wheat flour is also popular. Easy to handle in zero gravity, tortillas are perfect for space travel because they don’t make any crumbs, and their internal ingredients don’t easily escape and float into the rocket’s equipment. They’ve been a staple on NASA shuttle missions since 1985.
During the 1700s and 1800s, pasties were the standard lunch of the tin miners in Cornwall, England. These handy pastry parcels contained a savory filling in one end and a sweet apple mixture in the other, so both main meal and dessert could be enjoyed in a single package. Common ingredients for the savory side included chopped meat-and-potatoes and other veggies. Nowadays, people prefer the simplicity of a single filling, with ham and cheese being the most popular variety to appear in the lunchboxes of British kids.
Sun-proof sandwich stuffing
Ugali, sometimes called sima, originated in Kenya, and is often served as part of a traditional African meal. Made from water and maize flour, which can last a long time in the stifling heat of south and east Africa, it’s an ideal lunch food for kids who have to walk to school in the sun. People like to eat ugali the same way most people in the West would eat a sandwich, but if the ugali is firm then it’s often eaten with a knife and fork.