With the start of a new school year, the top question on our minds is often: ‘What do I pack in my child’s lunchbox?’ That question is hard enough to answer without the added complexity of having a child with allergies. A successful lunch box is not one that costs the most or looks the fanciest or most trendy, it’s the lunchbox that comes home empty because your child actually ate the food. So, let’s unpack some key principles to make you the lunchbox champion.
L – let your child assist, compile a list of safe foods (see example below) that are free of your child’s allergens
U – utensil-free food; keep it easy and simple, think picnic
N – nutrition is important but it doesn’t all have to be included in the lunchbox
C – colour, encourage your child to ‘eat the rainbow and see how many colours they can include in their lunchbox
H – healthy but practical, fresh fruit is great, but after a few hours in a hot lunchbox is not very appetizing
B – beautiful, it needs to look appetizing and say ‘eat me – I am yummy’, remember you are competing with soccer, games and playtime.
O – over the top; avoid this, it is not necessary to spend hours, keep it simple
X – extra mural food should be included in a separate lunch box so that you can help your child pace their food and avoid overeating at one meal and then being ravenous when they get home as they haven’t eaten since 10 am.
Some food lists to present to your child (leave out their allergens)
Protein: chicken, tofu blocks, egg, fish, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, hummus, biltong, droewors, yoghurt ( dairy, coconut, soya, almond ), cheese ( dairy or dairy free), nut butters, mini meatballs, mini sausages, chipolatas, cold meat ( ensure these are free of your child’s allergen).
Carbohydrates: wraps, rice cakes, bread, rolls, bagels, croissants, crackers (gluten free, standard, or rye), muffins, banana bread, digestive biscuits
Veggies: any of your child’s favourite, cut in bite size pieces eg baby carrots, crudités,
Fruit: depending the season and whether the lunchbox can be kept cold, you might need to send a cut up fruit salad or rather some sugar free dried fruit
Treat: keep this small and in line with the school policy. A treat also doesn’t have to be food, it can be a sticker, or a ball card for a card collection. Treats are not an everyday necessity and they can be included just once a week.
Water, water and more water – the best investment you will make is a water bottle that can keep water cool. This will encourage drinking and a well hydrated child is able to learn and concentrate better.
Birthdays ( especially for preschool and junior school children)
Planning for birthday rings ahead of time by baking some allergen-free alternatives and freezing them. This will go a long way to prevent your child from feeling left out. Ask the teacher on a Friday what birthdays are planned for the week ahead so you can send your child’s safe treats on those days.
Tuck shop days:
This needs to be managed by the school in the early grades and you can have a voice by asking questions and finding out what is available and safe for your child. Older children may be better equipped to self-manage their allergy needs, however, it is always wise to check with the school about what is available. In children who react to trace exposure, cross-contamination could be enough to cause a reaction and you will need to determine the risk of buying foods from the tuckshop.
The bottom line is don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for your child’s safety.
In the younger grades, this is more controlled. However, in the older grades children eat independently and this is when education is key. Empowering your child from early on helps to keep them safe and minimizes anxiety. This is an important part of allergy food management. A message like we can’t swap lunch food but if you see something you like, we can see how you can either make something similar at home.
Open communication is one of the keys to lunchbox success. Let your child feel they can be honest about what they liked and what they didn’t. Encourage them to leave their uneaten lunch in the lunch box so that you know what their days intake was. For older kids, encourage them to say what they liked or didn’t and stress the importance of regular meals and snacks from a young age.
All the best for this new school year and happy lunchbox packing