Colourful Lunchboxes are the Healthiest
You’ve no doubt read about the importance of fruit and vegetables to help us remain healthy and live for longer. While this universal message is important for adults, especially as we age, it’s even more important for children, for two reasons: firstly, children need the vitamins and minerals in fruit & veg for good strong healthy bodies as they grow up; but also, if you help them to develop the good habit of eating healthy foods when they are young, this will usually stick with them as they grow older. They in turn pass this good knowledge onto their children.
Sadly, this message is lost on most youngsters. Obesity in children is increasing at an alarming rate in South Africa, with almost 4 million children expected to be overweight or obese by 2025.
What makes the colours so important?
Put together, the colours ensure that you’re getting a balanced meal with all the necessary nutrients your body needs to function. Also, these superfoods have natural fibre, to keep you regular and clean out your system, as well as phytochemicals, which are known to protect against diseases like cancer. The antioxidants in fruit & veg also help to bind up the free radicals in the body and ensure better heart health as we age – and it’s best to start young.
The rule of thumb is that we should eat five portions of fruit & veg every day. This equates to about 3 cups of veggies each day, and 1.5 cups of fruit. A 140ml glass of fresh-squeezed fruit juice can also be regarded as a portion. For dinner, at least half the plate should contain veggies, with a small portion of carbohydrate and then your protein. A good start is simply to eat green, yellow and red peppers.
Dark green vegetables like spinach and kale are filled with folate and vitamin C, which enrich the blood and help with energy. Greens also protect the retina of the eye.
Practical tip for lunchtime: include some lettuce or green herbs (e.g. rocket or parsley) on your child’s sandwich.
Orange & Yellow
Deep yellow and orange fruit & veg like oranges, sweet potatoes and carrots are loaded with beta carotene, an important anti-oxidant which helps to prevent disease in the body. And yes, it’s true – yellows help with healthy eyesight and night vision.
Practical tip for lunchtime: put 6 segments of peeled orange or a handful of carrot sticks into a tub for a school snack.
Red, blue, purple and even white fruit & veg like berries and cauliflower are stacked with goodness, while tomato has lycopene, an important amino acid for the immune system. Reds also reduce the risk of osteoporosis and diabetes, and retard cholesterol formation.
Practical tip for lunchtime: include slices of tomato or red pepper with that lettuce on the sandwich.
Have a chat with the nutritionist at your doctor’s practice, for a full breakdown on the benefits of the various fruits and vegetables.
How to cheat & still get the goodness into your child’s body
If you have a child who absolutely cannot stand fruit and vegetables, there are still ways to coax them into being healthy and doing the right thing for their bodies. Not all of these will be suitable for the lunchbox, but you can always get them at breakfast and dinner. Here are some tips:
- Blitz the food into sauces, and then mix these with other tasty elements of a meal. We know a fabulous caterer at a school who purees her vegetables into her Spaghetti Bolognese. Youngsters can barely taste the difference, and they love the food.
- Incorporate. If you’re making a wrap for lunch, make sure the filling is at least 50% salad, together with the chicken pieces and mayo. Stews and curries can be laden with veggies.
- Smoothies and shakes. If children believe it’s delicious, they will eat it and come back for more. Blend strawberry and banana into smoothies that look and taste like milkshakes; peanut butter & banana smoothies are divine and very healthy. Mix strawberries and other fruit with low-fat yoghurt to make it look and taste like pudding.
- Mix good and bad together. A triple-stack flapjack that’s laden with blueberries and honey instead of chocolate chips and syrup can still be decadent and delicious. A custard tart with reduced sugar and a fruit topping can easily slip down the hatch, no problem! Spinach is delicious when creamed and topped off with grated cheese and a poached egg. Cauliflower and broccoli are heaven when smothered in cheese sauce. Practice moderation…
- Substitutes: fruit juices & vitamins. Pure fruit juices are high in sugar and if you can’t juice your own fruit at home, they can be expensive, but they are a better option than fizzy cooldrinks or energy drinks.
Tip: if you are juicing your own fruit at home, sneak in something green (like a few leaves of spinach, a chunk of cucumber or a tablespoon of chopped parsley) or orange (a carrot) or red (a few chunks of raw beetroot) to boost the nutrients and reduce the sugar content.
Vitamin supplements can also help, but they may not always provide the right quantities or come in the right format for best absorption by the body. Have a chat with your doctor if your child is particularly challenging.
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Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.