Packed Lunches Overview
Your child must have a healthy diet in order to perform well both academically and in sports at school. A good diet also helps their overall physical and mental well-being. Many children are overweight or obese (one third in the United States) and it is important to make an informed decision on whether to give your child a packed lunch or a school meal. Read our articles here for more information on 'SCHOOL MEALS' and 'HEALTHY NUTRITION OVERVIEW'.
If you decide to give your child a packed lunch then it is really important to CHILL your child's food before school and encourage your child to immediately put it in the school refrigerator. If the school cannot provide access to a refrigerator then we would strongly recommend you go for school meals unless there are other overriding reasons not to. In depth studies at numerous schools and nurseries have shown that over 95% of packed lunches are stored at unsafe temperatures. This is a real health hazard and particularly dangerous due to food poisoning. For young children e.g. under the age of four this is of particular concern.
One thing you should bear in mind is that recent studies in the United States have proven that children who don't eat school meals (for example those that eat packed lunches) tend to be more overweight. The advantages of school meals are that typically that have to meet certain nutrition requirements. In the United States school meals are based on the DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR AMERICANS 2015 and the UK have similar standards that allow a weekly maximum of two deep fried food portions per week and no crisps (chips), chocolates, sweets or fizzy drinks. The rest of the food is made up of nutritious items such as lean meats, poultry, oily fish and plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Irrespective of your choice for food, it is advisable to give your child a bottle of water each day for taking to school. Ask them to sip it and top it up regularly throughout the day. If the weather is hot or they are exerting themselves physically then this becomes even more relevant. Check out the articles here on 'HYDRATION' and 'SUN AND HEAT SAFETY'.
Again, regardless of your choice for food, provide a healthy snack for your child to eat in between meals. They are then less likely to overeat at meal times too thus maintaining the body's metabolism. A good choice might be fruit and nuts, for example.
If your child suffers from any food allergies or intolerance and has special nutritional requirements then immediately consult their school and health professional.
Our recommendation is definitely to have your child eat the school meals but just take some additional fruit and a few nuts for snack times.
For most children, school meals are the healthiest option. Refrigeration issues at school, keeping the lunchbox cool in transit and making up a balanced nutritionally rich lunchbox are quite a challenge. The challenges are not insurmountable but it takes much more time and thought to get right than contracting out all the hassle to the school. Supplement this with water and some healthy snacks that will not require refrigeration.
The benefits are that physically and mentally your child is more likely to maximise their potential now and in the future.
Contains subsections on 'Preparing your childs lunchbox', 'Low-fat snacks for kids' and 'Making healthier food' with further links to 'Food and diet', 'healthy starchy foods', 'healthy food swaps', '5 A DAY and your family','Food and labels' and 'Change4Life: healthy lunchbox ideas'.
There are some fantastic links too to some other informative sites.