Associate registered nutritionist: Sophie Cameron
Q. What should a healthy breakfast look like?
Breakfast largely contributes to a child’s energy and nutrient intake, therefore it’s important to encourage children to eat breakfast each day. Children are still growing and developing, so breakfast should serve to kick-start their day and provide them with the long-lasting energy they need to learn and play. Children need to eat a variety of different foods throughout the day to be healthy, and breakfast should contain foods from the four main food groups: fruit and vegetables; breads and cereals; milk and milk products; and lean meats, chicken, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds. These offer a mixture of carbohydrate, fat, and protein components, along with the essential vitamins and minerals children need for a nourishing start.
The nutrient requirements for children vary slightly depending on their age, with older children requiring slightly more energy. An example of a healthy breakfast for a 6-year-old could be two wheat biscuits with half a cup of low-fat milk (125ml), half a banana, one slice of toast, one teaspoon of margarine, one teaspoon of jam and a glass of water (150ml).
The same breakfast for an 11 year-old would require adding an extra half a banana (one banana in total) and swapping the jam for two teaspoons of peanut butter to give them the extra calories they require for their age.
Q. What should a healthy lunchbox look like?
A healthy lunch box should likewise contain a range of foods from the four main food groups to ensure children receive the essential nutrients they need to go, grow and glow throughout the day.
– GO foods are the grain foods that will give your children energy to fuel their body and brain and could include a whole-grain bread roll, a cup of cooked pasta, or two slices of whole-grain bread made into a sandwich.
– GROW foods are meat and dairy foods that contain important nutrients for building strong muscles, bones, and teeth. Milk and milk products could include a pottle of yoghurt (choose low sugar varieties) or two slices of Edam cheese, while meat and meat alternatives could include a small tin of tuna in freshwater, a hard-boiled egg, or two slices of lean roast meat.
– GLOW foods are the colourful fruits and vegetables which offer essential vitamins and minerals for a strong immune system, as well as skin, hair, and eye health. Offer one piece or equivalent of fresh fruit, for example, an apple, some pineapple chunks, kiwifruit halves, or several strawberries, and aim for two handfuls of vegetables. Examples could include crunchy vegetables such as carrot, capsicum, cucumber and celery sticks, or leftover roasted vegetables, cooked corn cobs, broccoli, or edamame beans.
Q. What foods should you limit at either of these times?
There are certain foods you should limit in a child’s diet, especially at breakfast and lunchtime. These include foods and drinks which are highly processed, as they often contain excessive salt, sugar, and fat which can displace healthier options in their diet. Swap cordial and sugary drinks for water or plain low-fat milk, swap potato chips for low-fat crackers and hummus or plain popcorn, swap sweet biscuits for plain pikelets or homemade muffins, and swap confectionery for healthy trail mix containing dried fruit, nuts, and seeds (check your school’s policy on nuts). Foods such as lollies, potato chips, and fast food can be included in a healthy diet but need to be eaten in moderation and not in place of your child’s main meals. We suggest these foods be eaten occasionally as they can contribute to excess energy intake and tooth decay.
Top tips for helping children eat healthily and enjoy their food:
A common problem faced by parents is children bringing their lunch boxes home from school uneaten. However, there are some easy ways to help children enjoy their food, while also eating healthy meals.
1) Involve your children in the shopping and preparing of food. When you are shopping, allow children to choose their vegetables, and encourage children to participate in the preparation of breakfast and lunch by cutting up some fruit and making their sandwiches. Children love to help and are more likely to enjoy their food if they have some choice. You could also bake some lunchbox items with them, for example, homemade savoury muffins or vegetable fritters. Involving children makes food fun and provides tasty new options for lunch.
2) Educate your children on why we eat certain foods. Explain that milk and cheese help your bones to grow, or that carrots help you to see better in the dark, rather than just because they are healthy and we need to eat them.
3) Offer different lunch options during the week. Children need variety, so changing up their sandwich fillings and offering different fruits and snacks will prevent children from getting bored and allow them to enjoy eating healthy meals.
— Sophie Cameron is studying for a master of applied science degree — advanced nutrition practice.
Mother and chef: Alison Lambert
The dreaded breakfast and lunch box dilemma!
Even though my three children are now teenagers and they direct us to what they like and don’t, it still can be a headache to get them eating an energy-packed breakfast and lunch.
Over the years we have had to navigate our way through, and many a day the lunch box came back untouched.
Breakfast can be hard as often the children are tired and getting them to sit and enjoy a breakfast all the while trying to get yourself ready for the day ahead can be a challenge in itself.
Listen to your children and work around that. Fruit is a great way to start, whether it be in a smoothie, stewed and served alongside cereal, oats or yoghurt. Try to add some protein, whether it be from seeds or nuts.
We often whip up an omelet or poached eggs, which keeps them going through to morning break at school. If your children are still struggling, try to make the toast or fruit more fun. Cut it up and place it around the plate so the children feel as though they are making their own choices, by mixing it up to make their own creations.
Lunch boxes can become expensive if you find you buy bars, crackers with dips, pre-cut cheese which are often packed with unnecessary sugars and additives. I suggest buying bags or large pottles of ingredients and decantering these into your own containers. Certainly cheaper and better for the environment.
They need to be exciting when opening, have a variety whether it be a little pottle of yoghurt, chia pudding, top it with some berries or honey, cut up raw vegetables like carrot and cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes etc.
Sandwiches often come home uneaten and to be honest I don’t blame them. We navigated around this by making quesadilla, which are wraps sandwiched together with cheese, corn, ham, capsicum etc, toasted in a pan until golden, cut into wedges. These worked a treat.
To finish I always add a homemade treat such as a biscuit or energy balls and piece of fruit which if need be can be cut and peeled. Anything to make it easy and enjoyable for the children.
Don’t give up and let the children help you assemble their lunch boxes. Best of luck!
— Alison Lambert also writes Fresh’s In Season column.
Budget adviser: Andrew Henderson
It is extremely difficult times with the cost of food prices making it difficult for everyone right now to cut costs when doing the weekly shop. It is also creates a dilemma for people facing financial pressures as sometimes the cheaper options are less quality or come from countries with questionable ethical practices.
With breakfasts it is best to stick to the tried and true options like toast and porridge rather than processed and single-serve options which might be convenient but cost more and sometimes come with extra additives.
Lunchboxes are also tricky as you have to balance your child’s likes and dislikes with what is cheaper. Again, avoiding pre-packaged and single-serve foods is always a good start as they are often more expensive.
Leftovers from the night before make a good lunchbox filler. Also you could cook more so you can use the extra in sandwiches or toasties the next day.
To save money on grocery bills at the moment it requires time and people always need to be reviewing where they shop. Rather than just going to one supermarket, shop around. Big-box retailers are moving in to the food market and can sometimes have cheaper prices, especially for the basics. Ethnic food stores are also good sources of cheaper options for staples and spices and greengrocers for vegetables.
Do a shopping list not only for the main meals but lunches as well so you do not reach for the convenient things. Sticking to the list is important as supermarkets are set up to tempt you.
Only go to the supermarket once a week, if you can, as you end up spending more money each visit. And avoid Ubereats or food delivery services and takeaways as they all add up. There are plenty of nice recipes online for “fakeaways”.
Shopping in season is also important as fruit and vegetables are cheaper when abundant.
Also look at the protein you eat. You could try cheaper sources than red meat some nights such as beans or tin fish.
At the end of the day having a healthy diet is important, so families need to do the best they can but if things become unmanageable there are services like Budget Advice and foodbanks that are happy to help out.
— Andrew Henderson is the executive officer of Dunedin Budget Advisory Service.
Sophie Cameron says this recipe is a good fit for breakfast or lunch.
Makes 24 slices
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup wholemeal flour
½ cup desiccated coconut
2 tsp cinnamon
¾ cup sultanas or other mixed fruit
½ cup canola oil
½ cup honey
2 bananas, mashed
Preheat oven to 180degC. Line a slice tray with non-stick baking paper.
In a mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients and mix through.
Add the remaining ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until fully combined.
Place mixture into a lined slice tray and press down firmly.
Cook for 30 mins until golden.
Allow to cool before cutting into squares.
Alison Lambert’s chia pudding
Chia puddings are a fantastic way to get protein-packed goodness and are delicious at the same time. You can add any fruit (I use frozen fruit a lot). You can make it chocolatey by adding cacao and it can still be healthy. I also make a vanilla-based chia pudding and add fresh or dried fruit, nuts and seeds to mix it up. Chia seeds need time to absorb so you will need to allow at least 1 hour or ideally overnight before enjoying.
Total time 20min
2 cups coconut cream
½ cup chia seeds (black or white)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 Tbsp coconut sugar or maple syrup
Pour the coconut cream into a large bowl, add the chia seeds, vanilla extract and sweetener. Whisk together until combined.
Pour into a sealable container and store in the fridge (ideally overnight).
2 cups fresh or frozen berries
2 Tbsp raw cacao powder, 6 prunes
Dried fruit such as apricots, dates, cranberries, seeds and nuts