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Packing your child’s lunch box

News
MOST schoolchildren in Zimbabwe have long days. Our children wake up early, some endure long walks to school, the academic day starts at 8am, ending at 1pm. In most cases this is followed by an afternoon of sport, so the food we send our children to school with is very important.

Liz Small MOST schoolchildren in Zimbabwe have long days. Our children wake up early, some endure long walks to school, the academic day starts at 8am, ending at 1pm. In most cases this is followed by an afternoon of sport, so the food we send our children to school with is very important.

It is vital that children have a sound breakfast; carbohydrate food for energy, protein to sustain them and a drink. Good examples will be: Porridge with peanut butter or with milk and sugar, or breakfast cereal with milk or yoghurt. Time permitting, a cooked breakfast or even something simple like peanut butter with bread is an equally good option.

Nutritionally, there is a sound reason why schoolchildren have a mid-morning break. After having eaten a balanced breakfast, their levels of blood sugar rise — improving their concentration. It has been clinically proven that when blood sugar levels are low, for example in the early morning before a meal, people do not have the same speed of thought or ability to concentrate as they would after a meal. So starting the day well is essential.

By mid-morning most children, especially the little ones, require an energy “top-up” to sustain their concentration and get them through to lunch. In a typical lunchbox bread is usually included as the main food, but bread itself is quickly digested so the sandwich filling is important in helping to slow down the digestion.

Ideal fillings are savoury and protein-based like peanut butter, meats and cheese. If you want to include some salad vegetables, try not to put them into the sandwich as the bread will go soggy — rather pop them into a plastic bag and the child can add them to the roll themselves.

It’s also important to give your children things they like to ensure they actually eat the food. With little ones, tell them that mum made this specially for them, so that they don’t swap their food with friends.

One category of foods which are very slowly digested are dairy products, so yoghurt and milk are good additions to the lunchbox. During the hot months, try freezing the yoghurt the night before and then put it into the lunchbox frozen stiff. This will prevent it from spilling onto the other packed foods and by breaktime or lunchtime the yoghurt will mostly be defrosted and ready to enjoy eaten cold.

Fruit is always a good addition, but try to avoid fruits which make the hands sticky. A banana will usually be eaten, but an unpeeled orange will not. Remember time is short and everyone wants to play, so the food you pack has to be easy to eat.

Regarding drinks, steer clear of coloured syrups or fizzy drinks. Water is the best option, or fresh unsweetened juice with a little water added: 1/3 water to 2/3 juice. Sweets should be avoided especially if they are brightly coloured, and remember — potato crisps and other processed starches also have colouring and artificial additives.

When your child stays for sports practice, then the lunchbox becomes even more important. Energy is needed for sports and so extra carbohydrates are essential. Remember, if they were at home they would probably be having a full lunch. So you should put an equivalent amount of food as a substitute. Try to include muffins, oats, wholewheat biscuits or homemade energy bars for sustained energy.

Extra drinks are also required as the children will sweat during sport. Rehydration is particularly important when doing water sports as most people don’t appreciate that they are sweating.

Adolescent children need a lot of food as they are growing very quickly. Girls in Forms Two and Three and boys in Forms Three and Four tend to have growth spurts. This time in their lives coincides with when they are doing important exams, so they need to be concentrating efficiently and the sports activity in Zimbabwe can be intense if they are talented. Added to this is that the length of time given for them to eat, particularly at lunchtime, can be very short. Food should be convenient and easy to eat, not heavy or too fatty.

Be aware, especially with teenage girls — growing children should not be dieting unless it is under the supervision of a qualified dietitian — one needs to eat a balanced diet to reach full potential both physically and intellectually.

Finally, when you pick up the child after sport, always have a snack and drink in the car. Their blood sugar will be low making them irritable and they may have a headache from dehydration. If they eat and drink, you will all have a pleasanter ride home.