As a foster carer who often fosters children with special needs or ‘challenging behaviour’ I spend a lot of time in schools. I know that lunchtime supervisors, and teachers are often appalled by what children regularly bring for their packed lunches. Two packets of crisps, a couple of chocolate biscuits and a brightly coloured fizzy drink is not unheard of. While this type of food will give a child a short burst of energy it does not contain the protein and carbohydrates necessary to sustain them through the afternoon. Concentration falls and they can become restless and irritable.
As with many issues if the child can be educated then the parent is likely to be educated too. Children and young people of all ages like to prepare food and nutritious packed lunches need not be difficult, time consuming or expensive to make. Here are some suggestions for activities that incorporate a cross curriculum approach to healthy eating. These and other healthy eating ideas can be found in my book Happy Mealtimes for Kids.
Make A Snack Pot:
Each child will need a small stay-fresh polythene pot or box with a snap on lid that will fit into a lunch box and some fruit to share. Talk about the diversity of fruit available, the nutrients fruit supplies and why our bodies need these nutrients to stay healthy:
Fresh fruit: apple, pear, banana, kiwi, orange, clementine, satsuma, mandarin, grapes, peach, pineapple, melon, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, red currants, gooseberries, raspberries.
Dried fruit: raisins, sultanas, apricots, apple, cranberries, mango, pineapple, banana, pitted dates and prunes, mixed dried fruit and yoghurt-coated dried fruit.
Canned or frozen fruit. Most popular fruits can now be found canned or frozen as well as some lesser-known tropical fruit. Discuss why it’s useful to can or freeze foods.
Prepare the fruit by washing, peeling and dicing fresh fruit and straining canned fruit. Frozen fruit will have thawed by the time it is needed.
Display the fruit on plates and talk about the range of colour, shape and size. Each child then selects different pieces of fruit for their pot. Once all the fruit has been used the children can eat the fruit from their pots or close the lid and save for later.
Each child will need a pot as above and a piece of salad to share. Discuss the many different types of salads available: lettuce (cos, iceberg, rosso, round etc), tomatoes (different shapes and sizes, red and yellow), peppers ( red, green, orange and yellow), cucumber, celery, leaves (spinach, kale, rocket chicory etc), radishes, water cress, land cress, shredded carrot, olives (pitted) etc.
Wash the salad, then chop or slice into manageable chunks. Arrange the salad attractively on plates and talk about the range of salad and why eating it is good for us, i.e. the vitamins and minerals it contains and their function. Each child then fills their pot with salad.
For older children try experimenting with different combination of salad, e.g.:
chopped tomato and sweetcorn
chopped celery and grated cheese
diced cucumber and tinned kidney beans
tomato, yellow pepper and pineapple
cucumber, chives and sweetcorn
Make a healthy sandwich to go with the pot.
The children will bring in bread and a filling or their choice which will be for their own consumption. Talk about the different types of bread available: white, wholemeal, multigrain, soda bread, rye bread etc. In addition to the traditional sandwich of two slices of bread, a sandwich can be made from tortilla wraps, bread rolls, bagels, pita bread, English muffins, chapatti, Naan, croissants etc. Discuss why a sandwich is a good component in a packed lunch, i.e. that bread contains the carbohydrates we need for slow release energy and the filling contains protein.
Talk about various protein fillings:
Cold meats: sliced or diced chicken, sliced ham, pork, beef, bacon, salami, sausage, shaved Italian antipasto meats, chorizo and other cured sausages.
Cheeses: sliced or grated hard cheese, for example, cheddar and Edam;
cream or cottage cheese, mozzarella, cheese spreads.
Fish: tuna, taramasalata, wafer-thin smoked salmon, prawns, crab or fish paste
Eggs: hard-boiled and sliced, scrambled, or chopped and mixed with a little salt and pepper, or mayonnaise, chives, dill, onions, tomatoes, cress, chutney, tomato or brown sauce, salad cream or a little curry powder or soy sauce.
Hummus, peanut butter etc.
Each child makes their own sandwich from the bread and filling they have brought in to go with their pots for lunch.
It is essential a packed lunch contains a drink, ideally water. The human body is 63 per cent water and the brain 77 per cent. Trials have shown that if children take a bottle of water into school and are encouraged to drink at regular intervals during the day, there isn’t the dip in concentration and learning that is often experienced in late morning and afternoon. Discuss the importance of drinking water and why fizzy or brightly coloured drinks should be saved for special occasions.
Children can investigate what constitutes a balanced diet: Calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats, sugars, vitamins and minerals etc. Produce a pie chart or a bar graph showing our average daily requirements. Do the packed lunches we have made meet these requirements?
Children can design a questionnaire base on the food facts they have learnt, for example, does an orange contain vitamin C or protein? They could try the questionnaire on their family and friends and then discuss their findings in class.
Children can investigate the different parts of the world our food comes from; how the food is harvested and transported to our stores.
Cathy Glass is a best-selling author. Her latest book Happy Mealtimes is out now.