Among the many child rearing duties and tasks of parents, arguably one of the most perplexing and stressful is preparation of the daily school lunch box. That’s why perhaps most parents — already juggling work and family — opt for convenient ready-made alternatives including fried, processed and sugary foods. For instance to beat the morning rush, a growing number of parents give children a breakfast comprising sweetened flakes, sugary cereals, bread-butter-jam, milk etc. For lunch too, it’s becoming common for parents to give children pocket money to purchase food from school canteens, which are notorious for selling junk items such as deep fried samosas, bread pakodas, chips and white bread sandwiches. Meanwhile there’s a plethora of studies which say that fast foods enhance the risk of digestive ailments, obesity, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes in children, apart from adversely affecting their cognitive development.
Given that dietary habits formed during childhood, tend to be carried over into adult life, it’s important for parents to take pains to prepare home-made tiffin comprising fresh and healthy ingredients for their children.
Simultaneously it’s important to educate children about the benefits of healthy eating.Some unhealthy and harmful processed foods which parents and caretakers commonly pack in children’s lunch boxes, are:
Cream biscuits: loaded with artificial sugars and preservatives
White bread sandwiches: refined flour is difficult for children to digest and are devoid of nutrients
Potato chips: high in fat and preservatives
Hot dogs: refined flour with corn flour and excessive flavouring
Tetra pack juices: filled with artificial flavours, sugar and additives
Ready-made cakes: excess sugar, fats, emulsifiers and preservatives
Chocolate milkshakes: too much sugar, additives and flavouring
Children’s growing bodies need food rich in protein, fibre (carbohydrates), healthy fats, calcium, iron, folate, Vitamin A and C. Make sure you include dark leafy greens (rich in iron, antioxidants and other micronutrients), colourful berries (vitamin C), dark yellow/orange coloured food (vitamin A), nuts and seeds (healthy fats) in children’s lunch boxes. Since children get easily bored with a repetitive menu, you will need to take pains to vary the food and also make it visually attractive.
Here are some easy-to-make healthy alternatives which parents can quickly rustle up for the school lunch box:
Homemade egg frankie (use multigrain flour) — rich in protein and fibre
Moong dal pancakes with green chutney — protein, fibre, vitamin C and iron
Sprouts with multigrain chapati — protein, fibre, Vitamin A and C
Grilled paneer or soya chunks roll — protein and calcium
Stuffed vegetable paratha with yogurt or homemade dip — vitamin A, vitamin C, fibre, protein and calcium
Oats patty with chutney — protein, fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C and antioxidants
Oatmeal smoothie with nuts — protein, fibre, healthy fats and calcium
Yoghurt with trail mix (a combination of granola, dry fruits, nuts) — Calcium, protein, healthy fats, fibre and antioxidants
(Afaaf Shaikh is a nutritionist at Dr. Muffi’s Digestive Health Institute (DHI), Mumbai, promoted by the well-known bariatric surgeon Dr. Muffazal Lakdawala)