I'm a nutritionist- here are the cheap things you should put in your kid's lunchbox

TRYING to make your kids' school packed lunches creative, varied AND healthy can be a hard slog.

It can be hard to find inspiration when making sarnies every day, and as a result your children can get bored and whiny – especially if their friends are nibbling something more exciting.

However, it doesn't have to be so hard.

Here, qualified nutritionist Jenna Hope exclusively provides her top tips for healthy and cheap ways to mix things up a little bit, equalling happy kids – and parents.

Getting fruity

Children often think plain fruit and vegetables can be boring and unappetising and therefore getting creative without much effort can have a big impact on what children are willing to eat.

To encourage children to eat their fruit, try using a small shaped cookie cutter to cut out fun shapes.

Frozen fruit blended into an ice cream texture can be far more exciting for children, and frozen fruit such as berries are far cheaper than fresh berries too.

Use celery to make 'ants on a log' whereby you fill the celery stick with peanut butter and top with a few raisins.

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Additionally, getting creative with names of snacks and meals can also increase enjoyment around eating healthy foods. 

Yes, chocolate is OK…

…But it really depends on what else the child is eating.

If the rest of the lunchbox is packed with nutritious foods then by all means a few squares of chocolate is no issue.

Where possible, opt for lower sugar chocolates and dark varieties, should the child enjoy them.

Rather than offering a whole chocolate bar, try incorporating the chocolate into a fruit salad or yoghurt or simply portion out a few squares. 

You can also incorporate small chunks of dark chocolate into a fruit salad – the sweetness from the fruit can also help to increase the sweetness from the dark chocolate which is not typically loved by children. 

Alternatively, grate chocolate onto yoghurt pots – grating the chocolate means the child will consume far less than if they were having a whole bar but equally means they still get the chocolate flavour. 

Overnight oats

It’s easy for parents to make the same lunchboxes every day however, variety is so crucial to supporting the child’s gut health and micronutrient needs.

First and foremost, ensuring the child has a variety of foods from different food groups is essential, ensuring there’s a source of calcium such as natural/ low sugar dairy or soya yoghurt or soft cheeses are brilliant sources of calcium.

Overnight oats are often considered a breakfast food but they can be a healthier alternative to rice pudding as a ‘lunchbox dessert’.

Simply add one part oats with one part milk to a bowl, add in a handful of raisins and a dash of cinnamon and allow the oats to soak up the milk in the fridge overnight.

Combat 'crisp' cravings

There should also be at least one portion of fruit, and one portion of vegetables.

Parents can opt for cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes or an apple sliced up as a convenient and affordable nutrient source. 

Sweet potato crisps are healthier alternative to crisps, and can be considered as one portion of vegetables too!

Finely slice a sweet potato, spray with a dash of olive oil and salt and then bake in the oven at 180°C for 20 minutes.

Fabulous fillings

Rather than opting for the same sandwich filling, try mixing it up with different protein sources such as egg, pre-roasted chicken or peanut butter for a well rounded sandwich. 

Eggs are also a brilliant sandwich filler as they’re rich in nutrients such as choline and Vitamin D which play an important role in cognitive function, they’re quick to cook and can be a cheap protein option. 

Also try to incorporate more vegetables into your children’s sandwiches.

If your child struggles with vegetables try incorporating them in using different ways, for example roasted tomatoes and carrots may be more enjoyable than fresh varieties, or try blending peas into hummus and using this as a sandwich filler. 

You could also try a peanut butter and banana sandwich by cutting a banana into coins and sandwich the coins together with peanut butter in the centre.

Snack solutions

Snacks can be a really great way to provide energy, extra nutrients and help to support brain function throughout the afternoon.

Pre-made foods such as hummus, guacamole, pre-cooked chicken fillet snacks and egg pots are all nutrient-dense healthy options which can be added to any packed lunch. 

You can't go wrong with hummus with toasted sourdough soldiers and carrot sticks – simply toast one slice of sourdough and cut it into soldiers so the child can use it to dip into their hummus.

Opting for plain white bread is a common go to, but a simple switch such as using Bertinet Bakery softer sandwich friendly sourdough bread can provide a source of live cultures to help promote a healthy gut too.

The fermentation process of sourdough also increases the amount of zinc we can absorb from the bread too and this bread is pre-sliced which makes making lunch even faster! 

Protein power

A good source of protein also helps to support children’s growth and development.

These can include cream cheese, smashed egg, tuna, lean meats.

Canned beans and peas can also be a very affordable and quick addition to a child’s lunch box or their sandwich. 

Drink decisions

Finally, try to think about the drink that you’re offering at lunch.

Where possible stick to water as fruit juices, squash and milky drinks can often be high in sugar.

If your child complains of not liking water, try to infuse it with cucumber or fresh orange to increase the palatability.

Set them up for success

Getting children involved in their lunchbox and encouraging them to make healthier decisions and including them in the preparation of the lunchbox can be a great to increase excitement and encourage fussy eaters to eat their lunch. 

Jenna adds: "Teaching children about nutrition and healthy eating habits from a young age can help to support not only their physical wellbeing but their mental wellbeing later on in life.

"Additionally, it can set them up for success when they start to make their own decisions about their diet.

"Furthermore, responsibly educating children on nutrition from a young age may help to improve their relationship with food as they get older too." 

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