Health Agency’s healthy lunchbox suggestions

WITH the new school term just around the corner, parents are naturally turning their minds to school uniforms, schoolbags, lunchboxes and the many other preparations for the return to school.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) offers some suggestions for making packed lunches full of goodness for kids.

Jennifer McBratney, Health and Social Wellbeing Officer, PHA said: “Providing a healthy lunchbox can be a challenge, especially when it comes to offering choice, but by making some simple swaps to the contents of kids’ lunchboxes, we can help them eat better while also keeping things tasty.

“People may be shocked to learn that around one in five Year 1 children and about a quarter of Year 8 children in Northern Ireland are overweight or obese. Along with getting active, the best way to avoid this problem is to ensure that children eat food which gives them sustained energy but is not loaded with fat and sugar.

“Helping children learn and enjoy healthier eating habits early in life can produce health benefits which last for years. Once we become overweight or obese it’s very difficult to reverse it. Research shows that adults who have been obese since childhood are at a greater risk of having weight-related ill health, and have a higher risk of facing an early death than those who may have only become obese later in adulthood. This shows how important it is for kids to get used to eating well.”

The PHA has found that a typical child’s lunchbox containing a ham sandwich with white bread, a packet of crisps, a chocolate muffin, a yogurt and a 250ml bottle of cola is high in fat and sugar, coming mainly from the muffin, fizzy drink and crisps. This lunch will provide 26g of fat and 52g sugar (more than seventeen sugar cubes).

It also contains no portions of fruit or vegetables, known to be good for health.

Jennifer McBratney explained: “While there is a temptation to please children and fill lunchboxes with foods and beverages such as sugary drinks, crisps and chocolate bars, healthier alternatives are readily available and just as quick to prepare.

“For example, parents could try to replace the crisps and muffin with fresh or tinned fruit in natural juice and consider some finger vegetables like tomatoes, carrots and cucumber. Try to keep treats to once a week in lunchboxes or include healthier options such as a mini fruit muffin, small slice of fruit cake, banana cake or carrot cake, or sugar free jelly pots.

“An alternative lunchbox could contain a wholemeal chicken sandwich, a handful of cherry tomatoes, a low fat fruit yogurt, a bunch of grapes and a bottle of water, which provides half the amount of fat compared with the other lunchbox, at 13g, and just 9g sugar, equal to three sugar cubes.

“In making all the preparations for a happy return to school it’s also important to think of children’s health.”

For further information on eating well, check out the www.enjoyhealthyeating.info which includes a leaflet – ‘Are you packing a healthy lunch?’ – produced by the PHA and safefood. The leaflet is also available to download from the safefood website at www.safefood.eu