Healthy tips for your child’s lunch box – Daily Trust

It is important for children to have healthy lunches especially because of how active they are.

Healthy eating enhances the overall development of children and also helps them concentrate and learn. In spite of this, children are usually not drawn to the healthy foods and would often go for the sweets, sugary foods and drinks instead. As parents and caregivers, the onus is on us to not indulge them but to guide them to eat right.

According to Omore Orifa, a Nutrition/Infant and Young Child Feeding Officer at Manna Resource Development Centre, Jos, Plateau State, when it comes to children, healthy eating change is not always easy to make. “But adults could try by setting good examples with their own lunch habits and involving their children in the preparation.”

She said many children have limited times when they eat during the day, especially during school hours and may prefer to go out to play rather than sit down to eat.

Against this backdrop, while they are encouraged to eat before going out to play, it is important that what has been packed in their lunch boxes cater to their energy, vitamin and other needs.

A healthy lunch box, according to Orifa, should include carbohydrate foods, protein, dairy, vegetables and fresh fruits combined in various attractive ways that give the child a balanced diet.

“These food components do not all have to be in one lunch box but could be varied on the different days of the week,” she said.

A typical Nigerian lunch box for a child is plantain, vegetable or stew, fresh oranges squeezed or cut in wedges.

‘Such foods are difficult to digest,’ says Orifa, a Nutrition & Infant and Young Child Feeding

Analysing the content of this meal and its benefits, Orifa said, “In nutrition, it is a four star diet, because it is rich and contains the classes of food a child needs for growth and development. Plantain is a staple food and is rich in carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. It also contains fibre which is especially important because it promotes bowel regularity.”

She added that, “Fibre softens the stool and increases stool’s overall size and weight. Bulky stools are much easier to pass and therefore prevent constipation. Fibre also increases fullness, slows digestion and could help manage cholesterol.

“Plantain is filling and makes one satisfied for a long while after the meal which helps keep children from unhealthy snacking.”

Orifa also analysed some of the components of another typical lunch box combination – meat pie and/or donut with packaged juice.

She said, “These are processed food and are more difficult to digest. Meat pie and donut could have some nutritional benefits for a child if the concerns about hygiene and cooking processes are taken care of. However, rather than make these a part of their regular lunch diet, they could be reserved for occasions like birthday parties and similar events.”

She added that, “Meats pies and other baked confectionaries are not too suitable for children under age five because they slow down digestion and could cause stomach upset especially when they are not fresh.

“A lot of parents simply go to any of the fast food spots to buy from them without being sure of their freshness. I as an adult, react badly to donut that is older than one day, regardless who made it. I have stomach upset for at least a week. I can only imagine what it would do to a child.

“The preservatives in packaged juices are not healthy. The sugars in them also destroy children’s teeth as do fizzy drinks. Instead give water or fresh fruits for juice or even zobo (hibiscus) which are highly nutritious options.”

With reported cases of strange particles found in branded packaged juices, in Nigeria, Orifa cautions that, “Many children take ill as a result of consuming such juices and the diagnosis are not always immediately made, thereby compounding the child’s situation.

“Our control standard for goods is still porous and parents need to be very careful about what their children consume.”

As a way of helping parents make the right choices for their children’s lunch boxes, she offered easy tips on lunch box ideas parents could use as a guide.

  • –  Keep the meal simple and interesting.
  • – Cook foods like yam, rice, plantain, beans, potatoes and the likes in different ways to give variety sop that children don’t get bored.
  • – Use different types of breads and vary the fillings using eggs, peanut butter, cheese, butter, carrots, cucumber, avocadoes and sardine among others.
  • – Include fruits and vegetables whether as juices, smoothies or simply cut up in fun interesting sizes, colours and patterns and get children to participate in the process.
  • – As often as possible, children should be part of packing their lunch boxes. It would help their sense of responsibility and confidence.