In South Africa, the importance of child nutrition cannot be overstated, especially in a context where many families and schools rely on feeding schemes to ensure that children receive at least one nutritious meal per day.
For guardians looking to provide healthy lunch box ideas for their children, affordability and nutrition are key.
The expert-recommend balanced lunch box ensures that a child has energy throughout the school day and gets essential nutrients.
Here are some practical lunch box ideas that are both economical and nutritious, with a nod to the local South African palate and nutritionists' advice:
Boiled eggs are an affordable source of protein and are easy to prepare. Peanut butter sandwiches on wholewheat bread also provide protein and fibre.
Fruit and vegetables
Seasonal fruits, like oranges, apples, bananas or mangoes, are often more affordable and provide essential vitamins.
For vegetables, carrot sticks or cucumber slices are a crunchy and hydrating option. Buying fruits and vegetables in season or from local markets can cut costs.
A small serving of brown rice, wholegrain bread or corn on the cob can be included for energy.
These hold more nutritional value and keep the kids full for longer.
A small tub of plain yoghurt or cheese slices can help meet the calcium needs of a growing child.
It's the best drink to hydrate children; it's best to stay away from sugary beverages.
For students benefiting from the South African government's National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), which provides meals to underprivileged kids, guardians can supplement this with simple, nutritious snacks.
If a child is receiving a meal from the feeding scheme, then perhaps focus on fruit and a protein for their lunch box, to complement what they're likely receiving at school.
The NSNP aims to contribute to enhancing the capacity of learners to learn, provide an incentive for parents to send their kids to school and address nutrient deficiencies.
This guide, while aimed at guardians managing the delicate balance between tight budgets and nutrition, also aligns with public health strategies to improve children's health outcomes.
For guardians, remember that a bit of preparation can go a long way in ensuring that your lunches are not only nutritious and tasty but also cost-effective.
For more information and tips on healthy eating on a budget, guardians are encouraged to reach out to local community centres and nutritionists and to follow the guidelines set out by the government's school feeding schemes for nutritional advice tailored to South African children's needs.
A weekday lunch plan might look something like this:
Brown bread sandwich with lean chicken and avocado.
A small apple.
Water or unsweetened fruit juice.
Mini maize meal muffins with spinach and feta.
Sliced carrots and cucumber.
Water to drink.
Lentil and vegetable stew with brown rice.
Pure water or home-made iced rooibos tea.
Wholewheat pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, tuna and sweetcorn.
A banana or a handful of mixed nuts (if not allergic).
Water or diluted fruit juice.
Vegetable and cheese quesadilla made with wholewheat tortillas.
A pear or mixed fruit salad.
Water or home-made iced hibiscus tea for a refreshing end to the week.
Including fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, lean protein and staying hydrated with water is crucial.
These meals provide the energy children need without the risk of unwanted sugar spikes or lethargy.
For parents on a tight budget, the school feeding scheme offers a silver lining.
Established to counteract the effects of poverty on child nutrition, this programme ensures every child has access to a nutritious meal, at least once a day.
The school feeding scheme is more than just about food. It's a bridge to education, allowing children to focus on learning rather than their hunger.
Guardians strive to complement these lunches with similarly wholesome meals at home, reinforcing the habits of good nutrition.
With the guidance of nutrition experts, guardians can be savvy shoppers, choosing seasonal and local produce, which is often more affordable and nutrient-rich.
After-school snacks can take the edge off hunger and boost nutrition. Parents can help their children choose healthy after-school snacks while still leaving room for dinner.
As guardians, it's our responsibility to make sure our kids have the energy they need to learn and play after school. With busy schedules, it's tempting to give kids any snack they want, but a focus on health can go a long way.
Here's a guide to providing your little ones with nutritious snacks that they'll love, as recommended by experts.
Make healthy choices visible
According to KidsHealth, an organisation dedicated to children's health and well-being, kids are naturally inclined to munch on what they see first. They advise:
– Display fruits on the kitchen counter.
– Store yoghurt and sliced veggies at the front of the fridge.
– Prepare snacks in advance and pack them in easily accessible containers.
Involve kids in snack prep
Engaging kids in making their snacks can be fun and educational.
Simple snack ideas include:
Ants on a log: fill celery sticks with peanut butter and top with raisins.
Egg boats: create little boats using hard-boiled egg wedges with a slice of cheese as a sail.
Fruit kebabs: Skewer pieces of fruit and serve with a side of yoghurt for dipping.
For older children, encourage them to blend their smoothies, mix up some home-made trail mix or make Parmesan popcorn.
Communicate with caregivers
If a caregiver or after-school programme is involved, it's essential to communicate about your child's snack needs.
Make suggestions for healthier options or pack a snack for your child.
Nutritious and easy-to-pack options include
– trail mix with a mix of nuts and dried fruits;
– low-sugar, wholegrain cereal or pretzels; and
– fresh fruit or vegetable sticks.