Food plays such an important part in all of our lives and especially the loves of our young developing children. What they put into their bodies literally fuels them. They say ‘you are what you eat’ and in a sense it is true, often our eating habits will affect our moods, concentration and energy levels. So it makes sense to take care of what you are giving to your child to eat, especially around school time.
If you are home educating your children then you’re going to have a lot more control and choice over what you children can eat during the day, as you don’t have to make sure it’s lunchbox size, but there still will be occasions where you children will take a lunch box to other external classes they may be doing or on home school organized field trips, so we’ve put together some ideas for both home and lunchbox ideas so you can make sure your kids are eating healthy foods that help their brains function at the best level they can be.
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. When you think about it, it is your body breaking it’s fast after often twelve hours without food, so you can see why it’s ready to be refueled and it needs to be with just the right stuff. Breakfast is also the first thing your child will eat before heading out, or staying in and beginning their learning for the day so it stands to reason that you would be wanting them to be focused, energized and full enough that there stomach isn’t grumbling come nine AM and distracting them from what they are meant to be doing.
Most breakfast foods that are marketing to parents and young children these days are cereals, milk and chocolate-based drinks and white breads for toast and spreads. These often have clever packaging in the supermarket aisle and even more clever ads on television claiming to be what your child needs to start the day just right, but if you turn over the packets and look at the ingredients you’ll find that most of these contain a very high sugar content.
Now if you’ve ever taken your kid to a birthday party where there are stacks of lollies and sweets laid out on the table, as well as coloured drinks and cake, you will have noticed that the energy level of the kids hits a massive spike and they are all running around hyperactive and then within the hour they hit a huge slump and that’s when the tantrums happen! You’ve no doubt had to deal with at least one screaming or crying child at the end of the party, so exhausted from the games and having a major sugar crash meltdown! So you know what excess sugar can do. Now think about a child going starting off their learning day with even a quarter of that sugar buzz and imagine how hard it must be for them to focus and then how bad even that smaller sugar comedown can be, well that is what is happening when children consume most cereals, spreads and sugary drinks first thing in the morning. The front side of a cereal box aimed at kids will often give you statements you may take at face value, ‘great for growing kids’ ‘high in fiber’ and other such slogans that really don’t mean much when you turn that packet over and actually read the ingredients list.
Cereal or toast and jam may seem like the easy option, especially if you are rushed in the morning, or just not a morning person, it’s great just to leave them out of the counter and let the kids go for it. But if you are really wanting to make a change and give your kids a better healthier start to the day then it’s worth putting a little extra effort and research into what is best for them in the morning. It may seem too hard to change your already functioning morning routine but after a while, new healthy breakfasts will become just as easy and natural.
Here are a few ideas to get your mind ticking over with different breakfast possibilities.
Most kids do love yogurt and it can be a delicious and filling staple to start off the day. There are however so many different yogurts, snack size, and big tubs that are also laden with sugar, so if you are wanting to use yogurt in the mornings for your children it’s best to choose a non-sweetened plain or Greek-style yogurt. On its own, it’s not very interesting, but throw in some berries, fresh or frozen, some delicious nuts and seeds and even a sprinkling of homemade muesli and you’ve got a delicious filling breakfast bowl that is actually quite simple to make. You can get as creative as you want with these, often different fruits and healthy toppings and lay it out so the kids can make up their own mixes.
If your kids are more into savory breakfasts then there is still a lot you can do here. Eggs on toast are a classic and eggs themselves are great brain food, filling and sugar-free! If you are going to go down the toast road then make sure you are doing away with sugary white bread, which provides next to no nutrition and replace it with some good quality wholemeal sourdough or seeded bread that are free from nasty preservatives. As your children get older that can make their eggs themselves and get creative with scrambled, omelets and fried.
Another great idea for toast toppings is avocado, so full of good fats and deliciously paired with tomato and some herbs.
Home Made Muesli
If you and your kids do prefer the ease of cereals than how about making your own. You can make your own muesli with a base of oats and then add into it other seeds, cereals, nuts and dried fruit for a bit of extra flavor. This way, you know exactly what your child is putting into them, you can top it with natural yogurt and fresh fruit too to make breakfast time extra special.
Morning Recess and afternoon snacks
Most schools have both a morning recess period, or a first lunch as some now call it, and an afternoon recess. Morning breaks usually between 10:30 and 11 am which can be when children’s energy starts to fade and they need a little extra fuel and often an outdoor break. And afternoon break is usually around 1:45 to 2 pm. If you’re schooling your child at home it’s a great idea to still offer small snack breaks at similar times to give them a bit or respite and keep their minds ticking away.
A lot of parents tend to go for shop bought muesli bars or snack packs as they are easy to fit in lunch boxes and don’t require much effort. These, as we’ve talked about before and more often than not filled with sugar and other ingredients that are really not as nutritious as they make out to be. For recess snacks it can be great to plan ahead, so you do not have to put together something new every day. Here are some of our favorite recess snacks that can fit in a lunchbox as well as be eaten at home.
Now this one is a bit obvious but a nice piece of in-season fruit is the perfect mid-morning pick me up, a nice crunchy apple, pear or banana fits easily into a lunch box or is easy to grab out of the fruit bowl and is about as natural as it comes.
Tree nuts are a great source of brain fuel with their good oils. Some schools ban then as children can have allergies but if you’re at home then there is no trouble. A handful of nuts paired with some fresh fruit or even a few sultanas can be a great little snack, and even something kids can munch away on while they are working if they can’t wait until break time.
Veggie sticks are always a winner. Cut up carrots, celery, and capsicum into strips and serve with some homemade hummus. Another great natural snack, which will give kids a little, pick me up. The old celery and peanut butter combination is also always a winner. But look for natural peanut butter brands. Most major supermarkets now have a health food section where you can find natural peanut butter with no added sugars, oils or preservatives and the taste is even better than the regular sugar-filled brands.
A nice little sweet treat can sometimes make a great snack. If you get organized you can make your own healthy versions of fruit or savory muffins. Then freeze them and pull them out in the morning so they can naturally defrost either on the kitchen bench or in a lunch box in time for snack time. Research a few healthy recipes and make a big batch that will last you weeks. Make the muffins relative to the size of your child also. Sending off a five-year-old with a giant muffin can often just be a waste or they will overeat. You can get different sized muffin trays, so keep remember that smaller kids eat less than big kids and make your treats and snacks accordingly.
Lunch is where things can go very wrong in a child’s lunch box. Parents always have the best intentions when it comes to feeding their children, but unfortunately, marketing for so many kids foods and snacks is incredibly manipulative and misleading. Even if you’re not giving your kids a pre-packaged lunch, often what we’ve all been bought up thinking is healthy for kids isn’t. The sandwich is one of the biggest offenders, with kids being told at schools to eat their sandwiches first because that is the healthy part when many sandwiches consist of sugar-filled white bread, jams, sugar, and salt filled spreads or processed meats. None of which are conducive to keeping your child’s brain focused and ready for learning. It can be hard to think of easy lunch alternatives if you take basic sandwiches out of the mix, so here are some options that are simple yet full of the good nutrients your child needs to learn.
Wraps are a great twist on the traditional sandwich. Plump op your kids wraps with vegetables and hummus and even a little cheese, to make something filling and delicious. You can do so many different variations of these, using leftover roasted veggies from last nights dinner, fresh raw veggies cut into thin strips or even plain hummus wraps with some veggie sticks on the side.
The grazers box
All kids, just like adults have different ways of eating, some prefer one big meal for lunch while others are grazers and prefer to nibble at things. If your child is a grazer then chances are if you give them a big meal for lunch they will only end up eating part of it. That’s why the grazers box or plate for the home can be perfect for them. Pop together some veggie sticks, dip, a few berries or pieces of fruit, a half or whole boiled egg and a few pieces of pita bread. You can make so many different variations of this, according to what is in the fridge and your child’s taste, but the main theme is only having a small amount of each thing. This way your child doesn’t get overwhelmed at the sight of a big meal and can eat things in their own order and at their own pace.
The Left Over Lunch
Leftovers can be a great lunch idea. Last night leftover pasta can easily be reheated at home or taken out and eaten cold from a well-sealed container. You could add some avocado, baby spinach, and tomato to leftover brown rice or quinoa and there is a nutritious and filling salad.
Who doesn’t love guacamole? Avocado is one of those amazingly versatile foods, and when mixed with some lemon juice, tomato, corn and a pinch of salt you have a delicious dip, which is a meal on its own. Few natural unflavored corn chips, some veggie sticks and even some delicious beans and there is a simple lunch that your kids will eat up in no time and still feel full.
As you can see, there are so many alternatives when it comes to children’s lunch boxes. Don’t waste like on rolling out white bread to make the perfect looking Nutella sushi, or cutting faces into sandwiches or fruits so you think children will be more likely to eat them, instead take time explaining to your children what brain food is, good whole foods that will help them concentrate and learn, as well as to grow strong and give them good energy, not the kind that turns them hyperactive and leads to meltdowns half an hour later! Take the time to give your children nourishing foods and by preparing most of it your self you will know exactly what is going into it. Always be wary when buying pre-packaged food. Little treats and pre-packaged snacks can have their place on the odd occasion but they certainly shouldn’t be a staple of your child’s lunch box. If you feel yourself struggling with ideas, take a look online or even turn it into a fun experiment with your kids, brainstorming and coming up with new ideas for their lunches, have fun with it and feel good knowing you’re giving your child the best support for their growing mind.