Type of Lunch-box
To support your child's developing independence let your child choose a lunch-box container he/she likes. Often this is one that appeals because it has a picture on it e.g. of the Wiggles or Dora the Explorer.
It may not always be a box that you would prefer your child to have - but the only really important thing to make sure about the choice of box is that your child can open and shut it without adult help.
At home with a non-washable felt-tip marker ask your child to draw a small picture (a scribble), write some letters of his/her name (if able to), or stick on some stickers so it can be more easily spotted / identified amongst other children's lunch-boxes at the ECE service.
Number of Foods
For lunch only keep the amount of food items limited to four. Enough items but not too much for your child to eat in one sitting and not too little that your child will still be hungry after eating.
If the lunch-box needs to include morning and afternoon tea then include one or two extra items of food for each.
Large portion sizes make it difficult for small hands to handle and small mouths to eat. Instead of cutting sandwiches into halves, cut into smaller finger or triangle or square shapes.
Reduce the Possibility of Choking
At least until your child has the majority of his/her baby teeth do not include foods that are considered a high choking risk – namely meat/sausage, peanuts, apple and grapes.
To reduce the risk of choking do not give small pieces of hard food. Remove skin and fibres from food. Give cooked instead of raw apple and carrot if your child is under 3.6 years.
Include a piece of fruit. Some days it may be a standard banana, or kiwifruit. Try to vary this by sometimes including a container of fresh strawberries, melon, mandarin slices, or pineapple.
Avoid the temptation of the ease of putting in a soft-lid plastic container yoghurt (unless the adults at the service check that it is binned after eating and not returned to the lunch-box). Children don't like it when yoghurt spills and the box which may still have other food in it to eat later becomes messy when the opened yoghurt container is returned to it.
Some popular choices include:
- Crackers and cheese slices
- Savoury muffin slit at the top with a slice of cheese or tomato
- Toasted cheese bread
- Small treat size container of cereal e.g. Nutri-grain or Honey Puffs with raisins or sultanas (only if your child is not likely to choke on these items and if you are happy with the sugar content in the cereal)
- Container of fresh macaroni cheese or other pasta
Allergies and Banned Foods
Check with your ECE service if any foods are banned due to children's allergies.
If peanuts are banned, there are many alternatives to peanut butter. Try Marmite, Vegemite, honey, and jam as spreads.
How do you know if your child is eating enough and what your child is eating?
Request that the food your child does not eat is left in his/ her lunch-box to take home so you know how much your child is eating.
If your child is not eating enough then ask how much time children are given to eat lunch and if you consider this to be too short then ask for your child to be given more time.
If a rolling lunch-time operates at your ECE service instead of a set time for everyone, then ask if your child could be reminded to stop playing and have his/her lunch.
What about your child's long-term health?
Giving your child healthy, more plant-based and less processed food to minimise the risk of diseases such as heart disease and various cancers is something to consider.
The World Health Organisation recommends limiting or not eating animal meat. Twenty-two experts from 10 countries reviewed more than 800 studies to reach their conclusions. They found that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. That’s the equivalent of 1 hot dog. For eating red meat (such as lambs, pigs, and goats) there was evidence of increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. Read more.
According to a 2014 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition the mortality rate for meat-eaters is almost 20% higher than for semi-vegetarians and non-meat eaters.
Most adults find it not possible to change their eating habits established over a lifetime. But can we help our children to think about food, where it comes from (that animals have feelings too), and health value??