I was  just coming back from walking the dogs in the fields when I turned on Steve Wright in the afternoon and they were talking about a new report about unhealthy lunchboxes and semolina !

It made me smile and brought back memories of being on Lunch Duty as a teacher – I really could never make kids eat stuff they hated as I always remember being made to eat Arctic Roll  as a child and nearly choking on the sponge and hating it ….. I still  can’t touch it to this day !

But despite Jamie Oliver’s brilliant campaign for healthier food in school it’s still a problem
for lots of families – so here is an article I wrote for a magazine to get you pondering and inspired !

Lighten up your lunchbox!

There has been a lot of media coverage recently about getting children to eat healthily but getting children to “eat their greens” has always been a problem since time began!

A staggering five million children’s lunchboxes are prepared in British homes every weekday, yet a Food Standards Agency survey discovered that three out of four of these were likely to contain foods that were too high in saturated fat, salt or sugar and that almost half of these lunches failed to include any fruit. Most of them though did include crisps, chocolate, biscuits, sugary drinks and other heavily processed snacks!

A diet that’s high in fat, high in salt, and high in refined carbohydrates greatly reduces your child’s mental alertness and ability to concentrate at school, and a child eating these kinds of foods is also likely to end up tired towards the end of the day and grumpy. So a healthy lunchbox will really help to improve your child’s attention, behaviour and learning throughout the day and into the afternoon.

So it’s quite simple really. You just need to be totally clear about why you want them to eat a healthy, varied, balanced diet.

So just stop what you’re doing for a moment and get a pen and paper and ask yourself:

Why do I want the kids to eat a healthy balanced diet?

If you are totally clear in your own mind you will then naturally stand your ground, be clear with your kids and make sure you have lots of healthy things in the fridge and in the cupboard to offer them.

But it’s also about “walking your talk” too and not just tucking into a large plate of chips and leaving your carrots while your kids sit opposite you noticing what you do rather than what you say. It’s about being a positive and natural role model for your kids in the way you eat too!

If you are stuck for ideas on how to provide your young energetic kids with a healthy packed lunch (that they will actually eat) then here are a few ideas to get your youngsters taste buds tingling.

• Start to involve your children in preparing their school lunches as much as possible as kids just love to get involved in the process. It makes them feel independent and in
control of their lives which is also great for their self esteem.

Encourage them to choose what they would like to eat and allow them a healthy and varied selection of options like raw carrots, cucumber, radishes or red peppers – kids
love colour so experiment with making the lunch look exciting. Also try chopped, dried and fresh fruit and explore all the different seasonal fruits available too, and include yoghurts and cheese sticks for variety.

Children often need to try a food a few times before they feel comfortable with it, so I think it’s very important to relax and stay calm but keep offering the food gently a few times until they get used to it. It’s not about making a fuss as they will soon turn away from a food you are trying to force (that’s just the nature of kids!)

• Try to avoid foods that go soggy, like tomatoes or strawberries, because they will usually be found festering in the bottom of their lunchbox at the end of the day which is not very appetising! Instead pop a small pot of cherry tomatoes, raspberries or grapes into their lunchbox to keep them fresh and fun to eat.

• Try to aim to get at least one of the following food groups into your child’s lunchbox every day: fruit, vegetables, a dairy product, a protein food, a starchy food and plenty of fluids.

• Remember young kids have small hands and small tummies and low patience! Fiddling about trying to peel an enormous orange is a real chore and a massive hurdle for some children while chomping on a handful of blackcurrants or a few dried raisins and a banana is much more manageable.

• There’s so much choice available in the supermarkets so why not explore and help your children widen their palates by trying bagels, pitta breads, focaccia, tortillas and wraps and discovering healthy choices like houmus, guacamole mashed banana, peanut butter, cottage cheese, or tuna and sweet corn.

• Why not have fun giving them a surprise in their lunchbox every day and add a personal touch. Tuck a surprise like a note, some stickers or joke in your child’s lunchbox or hide a special treat at the bottom. Pack fun napkins, decorate lunch bags with stickers, or draw a silly face on a banana with a marker pen and they’ll look forward to discovering what’s in their lunchbox when they open it (and don’t make it chocolate!) Peel clementines and cover them with plastic wrap, or cut kiwi fruit in half or make colourful skewers with bite sized-pieces of fruit for them to enjoy.

• Cut down on junk food and avoid too many processed foods as they tend to contain too few nutrients and too much salt, sugar, additives and saturated fat. If your child likes
crisps but you don’t want them to fill up by eating a whole bag, put some in a small bag or wrap some crisps in foil so they don’t feel they are missing out or are too different from the other kids!

• A great tip is to invest in shape cutters, as sandwiches and snacks seem to take on a whole new meaning and appeal to young kids when they’ve been cut into shapes. So get
creative and have fun yourself sending your kids to school with bike shaped sandwiches or dinosaur shaped cheese – it’s amazing how kids will eat more when their food has a new dimension to it! (And for you working Mums it really just needs you to make them the night before and doesn’t take very long honestly!)

• Learn to trust your child and to build on their personal tastes within reason and start to ask them what they enjoyed in their lunchbox. Look at what comes back untouched and ask them (without being defensive) why it wasn’t eaten and ask if there are any foods that other children are bringing to school that they would like to try.

• And finally a great little tip I picked up from a Mum when I was a Reception Class teacher is to freeze a carton of fruit juice (choose pure fruit juice or fruit smoothies, not fruit juice ‘drinks’ which tend to be high in added sugar) and put it in their lunchbox. It keeps the contents of the lunchbox fresh, crisp, tasty and cool which is so lovely for your kids to open at lunchtime but it also reduces the spread of the harmful bacteria salmonella.

• For more ideas and recipes go to http://grub4life.org.uk

Getting your children into a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be a difficult task. It’s just about getting into a Healthy Eating Mind-Set and having fun exploring all the wonderful choices available to you and your children and teaching them about a healthier way to live.