The battle for healthy lunches
- The Schools Food Trust have published survey findings stating that about 40% of children don't have any fruit or veg at all in their lunchboxes. Not even a bruised banana or an unripe apple.
A quick look at the comments from the BBC News coverage of this story won’t reveal any surprises as to why – “any fruit/veg in the lunchbox remains untouched”, “I never had fruit/veg when I was a child”, “fruit/veg is too expensive”. Many people seem to have given up the good fight.
The hard truth is that it’s not something solved in one lunchbox formula. Some children have tastes and attitudes that require constant novelty and interest. Some kids want the same thing in their lunchbox for all fourteen years of schooling. So what can we do?
Some parents go to cosmetic extremes - taking on the processed food industry by doing a little processing of their own. From cutting fruit into shapes with cookie cutters to creating full-on Bento boxes of bunny faces rendered in rice and carrot, desperate times call for desperate measures. I can't imagine going this far, even for my own offspring.
Let's take stock of what we know works:
- Sweet and crunchy veggies are always a winner: raw carrots, cucumber, red pepper are quick to prepare, and quick to consume. A pot of hummous sneaks in another vegetable without notice. Other, less common, raw veg include young broad beans, kohlrabi sticks, sugar snap peas, baby sweetcorn or mangetout.
- Frozen peas and sweetcorn can also be defrosted and eaten raw. (My son eats them straight from the freezer.) A washed-out yoghurt pot covered in clingfilm with a rubber band will keep them tidy.
- Sending hot foods into school requires a bit more effort, but is a handy way to sneak in an extra portion of your 5-a-day . Hot baked beans, tomato sauce to pour over cold pasta, or blended soup are all options for older children who can manage a thermos flask.
- Foods that don’t look healthy can overcome some reservations. Sweet potato wedges leftover from dinner, baked samosas full of peas and carrots, or filo cheese rolls taste lovely at room temperature and could tempt kids’ taste buds.
- Fruit is an easier sell to kids, but can sometimes get left in favour of a sweeter treat. Slicing up an orange or cutting chunks of melon make for easier and speedier eating. Or, if really up against resistance, include fresh or dried fruit in a healthy pudding instead. These banana muffins, plum bread, or fruity flapjacks might not reappear with the lunch box.
It’s tough in the face of pre-packed snacks, desserts and crisps. These foods have an appeal to the human appetite that is almost irresistible – tickling as they do our evolutionary desire for energy-dense foods. Sometimes they will win out over healthy food. But we don't have to stop trying.
What strategies do you employ in getting kids to eat healthy lunches? What's your go-to fruit and veg solution for picky eaters?