A guide to perfect packed lunch boxes
With children eating at least 1 meal at school it is vital to provide a healthy and balanced food.
The UK faces an ongoing childhood obesity epidemic.
According to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, one in every three children in the UK are obese by the age of nine. This in turn brings an increase in cases of type 2 diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure in children.
While encouraging more physical activity is part of the solution, La Española will be remaining true to our food-first approach and focusing on ways to tackle childhood obesity through a more nutritious, balanced, healthy diet. And with children eating at least one of their main meals each day at school - many in the form of packed lunch boxes - it is vital to ensure the food we provide for our children is healthy and balanced.
Public Health England’s Eatwell guide
The Eatwell Guide is a “visual representation of how different foods and drinks can contribute towards a healthy balanced diet.” Based on a model of 5 food groups - from fruit and veg to starch and more - the Eatwell Guide shows you what proportion of our diets should come from each of the food groups.
1. Fruit and vegetables
The guideline of eating ‘5 A Day’ is widely accepted as a basis for a healthy diet. Yet most of us still are not eating enough fruit and vegetables. Colourful fruits and vibrant veg can certainly create a feast for the eyes as well as our stomachs, and should be making up over a third of the food we eat each day (40%).
For an adult, the World Health Organisation advises that 1 portion is 80g of fresh, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables (or 30g of dried fruit). The amount of fruit and vegetables that children should eat depends on their size and age – there are no set rules. By the age of 10, it is recommended that children are eating the same size fruit and vegetable portions as adults (5 x 80g portions = 400g per day).
While many packed lunch boxes do contain some form of fruit, it is vital that children have access to the variety and quantity of fruit and vegetables required for a healthy, nutritional and balanced diet.
TOP TIP: A rough guide to a portion size for a child is the amount of a fruit or veg can fit into the palm of their hand!
2. Starchy food
Starchy foods are a great source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet. As well as containing the obvious starch, starchy foods are a source of fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins. Starchy food should make up just over a third of the food we eat (38%).
Where possible, our recommendation is to choose higher-fibre wholegrain varieties for your child, such as wholewheat pasta and brown rice. At dinner time, you could leave skins on potatoes, but for packed lunch boxes consider swapping out the white bread for brown and seeded varieties.
TOP TIP: Pasta pots, while an amazing starchy food, can sometimes be a little plain - especially for children. Why not transform your pasta portions by treating the pasta with a tasty trickle of our truffle oil?
3. Dairy produce
Dairy has long been recognised as a cornerstone for healthy growth. From milk and cheese to yoghurts and fromage frais, dairy produce is a superb source of protein and various vitamins. Dairy produce is also an important source of calcium, which helps build and maintain bone strength. Roughly 8% of our daily intake should come from milk and other dairy products, according to the Eatwell Guide.
And for those families or children with intolerances, restrictions or specific dietary preferences? Dairy alternatives such as soya or nut milk are fine too - they can still count towards your daily dairy intake.
TOP TIP: Be mindful of unnecessary added sugars or high-fat dairy foods, such as cream and some cheeses. We’ll come to the best sources of good fats further down the page, but when shopping for dairy it is advised you look for low fat, low salt and low sugar options!
4. Pulses, Meat, Fish and Eggs
The building blocks for growth and repair, these foods are excellent sources of protein, vitamins and minerals. Advice from the Eatwell Guide is to avoid processed meats and aim for at least 2 portions of fish every week. Your meals should contain around 12% pulses, meat, fish and eggs.
Remember that the type of cut or meat product you choose, and how you cook it, can make a big difference. To reduce bad fats always choose leaner meats, cutting away skin or fats. Try to grill meat and fish instead of frying and have a boiled or poached egg instead of fried.
What are pulses? Pulses consist of beans, peas and lentils, and are fantastic alternatives to meat because they're low in fat but high in fibre and protein. They are also very cheap to buy and will count a little towards your 5 A Day for fruit and veg!
Incredibly high energy values in fats mean that we only require a small amount in our diets, around 1% according to the Eatwell Guide. This makes it all the more important to choose the right fats for yourself and your family, to ensure you gain the maximum nutritional benefit from your daily allowances.
Overall, children and adults in the UK consume too much saturated fat. These ‘bad’ fats are present in foods such as chocolate bars, butter or crisps - all foods commonly found in packed lunch boxes.
Eating too much saturated fats in your diet can raise ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol in your blood, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke in later life. ‘Good’ (HDL) cholesterol has a positive effect by taking cholesterol from parts of the body where there's too much of it to the liver, where it's broken down. Try to include more unsaturated fats in your children’s meals to help protect their hearts by maintaining levels of "good" HDL cholesterol while reducing levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol.
TOP TIP: Swap out the shop bought potato crisps in your child’s packed lunch box for a healthier alternative - sweet potato crisps! We all know homemade tastes better, but it also affords you full control of the ingredients. Choose La Española Pure Olive Oil for roasting your veggies into crisps.
Healthier and happier children
Childhood obesity is a challenge we must not ignore. Initiatives such as the Eatwell Guide provide us with valuable guidance to help make informed food choices, for children and ourselves. However, as school packed lunch boxes are not governed by school food standards this is an area of great risk. Please help us ensure that the lives and lunches of children around the UK are as healthy as they can be by joining us in spreading this message.
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