Packing healthy meals for recess

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EVERY year parents worry about what their children will eat in school. Is the canteen food healthy and nutritious? If you pack lunch for your children, will they eat the food or will it just go to waste?

Consultant dietitian Goo Chui Hoong says that parents must first eat healthy if they want their children to eat healthy. She suggests that parents stock up the home with readily available healthy options such as a variety of dried fruit, high fibre crackers, and fresh vegetables and fruits.

For packed lunches and snacks for school Goo says, “Get a cheerful looking food container – that’s sure to get your kids excited about packing their food to school. Children love it when their food is packed in separate compartments like airline food.

“Get children involved in packing their own healthy meals from home. They will feel like they’re going on a picnic and feel positive about having their own packed meals at school.

“Make children feel excited about their own packed meals. If they packs it themselves, they are more likely to eat it. Make it colourful and compartmentalise it with separate containers. If you have the time and patience you can even turn it into food art. Children love to play with their food after all.”

What should you pack? Here are some ideas from Goo:

1. Savoury snack – Chicken/tuna/egg/cheese sandwich. Cut it into small triangles. Or it can be a pie, curry/sardine puff/bread. You can also pack crackers/crudites (carrot, cucumber, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes) with a dip (made with avocado + yoghurt, cream cheese + chopped tomatoes + fresh herbs), but make sure they are in separate containers. Baked sweet potatoes or lightly-steamed sweet corn cobs are easy to pack too.

2. Fruit – Buy a large pack (cheaper) of dried fruits (raisins, dried apricots, dried cranberries, dried mango, dried blueberries) and pack a small portion. Alternate with cut fruits soaked in citric juice to prevent discolouration. For example, grapes or sliced apples and pear.

3. If you want their snack box to remain cool, you can freeze flavoured water (water with lemon/lime/orange/cucumber slices) in a small container which fits into their small cooler bag.

According to her, parents should follow the same principles as in the plate model (½ plate fruits and vegetables, ¼ plate carbs, and ¼ plate protein). She believes it is important to have lots of variety so that each meal is different. Kids do not get bored if you pack different foods each day.

Just because it’s packed doesn’t mean it has to be cold finger food either!

“You can get good quality thermos containers which keep food warm. You can pack porridge, fried rice or pasta. Pack boiled short grain rice mixed with some salmon/tuna flakes. Or use seaweed wrappers to wrap the rice into small mini sushis.”

To ensure they are eating healthy, she suggests their favourite pasta or fried rice. You can add a variety of chopped vegetables into it and the kids might not spot it. Parents can even make a pasta sauce with lots of chopped pumpkin, capsicum and green peas. “The more colourful, the better. Kids love colours,” says Goo.

For those worried about the rushed breakfast, or no breakfast, now that children and parents are struggling to wake up and make it to school in time, Goo says parents can even pack something to have on the go, such as a cheese toastie, cereal bar or sandwich. Otherwise, have a decent breakfast or snack mid-morning.

“Breakfast doesn’t have to be complicated. Oats porridge takes three minutes to make, a bowl of high fibre cereal requires no effort. It takes 5-10 minutes to make a half-boiled or hard-boiled egg. A tuna/egg/ham/cheese sandwich is really quick to make. Other spreads include peanut butter, jam and cheese. To make it even easier, you can even make your sandwich the night before.

“You can also make bircher muesli or chia seed puddings the night before. If you have a slow cooker, you can pop the ingredients together into the slow cooker before you go to bed. The porridge will be all ready for breakfast the next morning.”