The South African toddler's school lunchbox - Part1

Posted by Jenna Richards on 13/01/2015

Toddler’s nutritional needs

By the time your toddler is off to preschool, they should be eating a balanced diet that looks very similar to the food the rest of the family is eating. Compared to the baby years, your toddler actually needs far fewer calories per kilogram, as growth is now slowing down. You should no longer be buying many special “toddler” foods, but feeding them a diet that is balanced in complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, low fat dairy, fruits and vegetables, and a little bit of fat. These meals will need to come from several small meals spread throughout the day, as your little one will not have the stomach capacity (or attention span!) to get all their nutrition from a few larger meals like the rest of your family.

What a lunchbox should look like

When building your little one’s lunchbox, remember where your toddler is in life right now: Not only can they finally get around on their own, but they are now are spending their mornings away from mommy, and – the excitement! – with other toddlers their age!  This is a time for adventure and play, and in your toddler’s mind, there could be nothing less important than a nutritious lunchbox.  The best way to get adequate nutrition into these little explorers is by including lots of small, easy, and interesting snacks that can hold their attention for just long enough before they need to run off and conduct an excavation in the sandpit.

What to include in a lunchbox

This is a great time of life to shape your little one’s tastes and expectations with regards to food, so seize this opportunity to cultivate healthy preferences. As tempting as it is to give older toddlers tuckshop money instead of packing something, this is a stage of life where your child is learning habits they could carry with them for life.

Each lunchbox meal should contain the following components:

  1. A complex carbohydrate/starch will provide slow-release, sustainable energy for all your toddler’s preschool shenanigans, as well as lovely fibre to help tummies work well.  Try these:
    1. ½ -1 slice wholegrain or low GI bread
    2. 3-6 small wholegrain crackers
    3. ½ -1 packet mini rice cakes
    4. ¼ - ½ wholegrain wrap rolled up with filling and cut into bite size.
  2. A lean protein contains building blocks for growing bodies and muscles. They’re also filled with zinc and selenium to support little immune systems. Try to include a dairy occasionally to provide calcium and magnesium for growing bones. Pack in:
    1.  15g lean biltong, South Africa’s high-protein gift to busy moms
    2.  30g cheese pieces, chicken pieces, or meatballs
    3. 1 hardboiled egg
    4. 1 small low fat yoghurt
  3. A healthy fat such as ¼ avocado, a teaspoon of peanut butter or butter will provide essential fatty acids for rapidly growing little brains. Alternatively, 5-6 nuts will provide essential fatty acids as well as antioxidant nutrients like selenium.

  4. A fresh fruit or vegetable will fill your little one with fibre, vitamins and minerals to keep tummies working and defend them against the bugs that abound in preschools. Keep these foods as varied as possible to provide a range of nutrients. Use small fruit and veg (grapes, Rosa tomatoes, baby carrots) or chop up a fruit salad to keep it interesting. Aim for about ½ cup fresh fruit or vegetables in a meal.

Don’t forget the fluid!

The 5th essential component of a healthy lunchbox is water. This is just as important in winter as it is in hot South African summers. Depending on age and size, a 250mL-500mL bottle of water is enough for the morning. While most moms know to avoid sugar sweetened beverages like Coke, many overlook the sugar in fruit juice – a cup of fruit juice can have as much sugar as three fruit! If you wouldn’t feed your child three fruit at once, then withhold this quantity of juice. Dilute 80mL-100mL in water if your child is looking for a sweeter drink.

Toddlers only require about two servings of low fat dairy a day. If your little one is getting milk with their breakfast and yoghurt as a snack sometime in the day, then additional dairy is unnecessary and can contribute to childhood obesity, especially if it is sweetened. Save the flavoured milk for special occasions and rather stick to water.

Read part 2

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