I’m a dietitian – here’s what your kids should eat at school to fuel their bodies and brains
And this week, International School Meals Day put a renewed focus on child nutrition.
The aim of school meals is to ensure that children have a good, healthy meal to support their physical and mental health.
Government guidelines say they should include one or more servings of fruit and vegetables each day as well as a serving of starches, such as bread or pasta, and milk or dairy products.
Meat or poultry should be served three times a week in school canteens and fatty fish, such as salmon, at least once every three weeks.
In England, every child is given a free daily school meal, regardless of household income and background, at reception, year one and year two.
And around 1.9 million older children – nearly a quarter of pupils – were eligible for free school meals last year because their parents were on income support, a job seeker’s allowance. income-based employment or an income-related employment and support allowance.
This figure is ten percent higher than the previous year. Scotland and Wales have pledged to provide free school meals to all primary school children.
In England and Wales, free school milk – a third of a pint – is available for under-fives and children receiving or entitled to free school meals through The Nursery Milk Scheme (see nurserymilk.co. uk).
Under the Scottish Government’s scheme, children cared for in nursery are entitled to a third pint of milk and a healthy snack of fruit or vegetables each day free of charge. See mygov.scot/school-meals for more information.
Pediatric specialist dietitian Rachel Wood, who works in the NHS and runs children’s nutritionist RW Dietetics, says a healthy lunch should include all the main food groups and not processed foods which are low in nutrients and can contribute to allergies and intestinal problems.
She told Sun on Sunday Health: ‘On a school menu we would like to see calcium from dairy products or dairy alternatives like cheese, yoghurt or milk, for bone growth. There should be carbohydrates from bread, crackers, pasta, potatoes or rice to provide energy and keep the brain active.
“In addition, there should be protein for growth from meat, fish, eggs, legumes and beans, which also contain iron for energy levels. Fruits and vegetables, containing fibre, vitamins and minerals, should make up a good percentage of school meals.
“A healthy school meal means children get all the vitamins, minerals and calories they need to focus, be active, and develop and maintain healthy relationships with food. Giving them the right foods in childhood gives them a head start that allows them to make healthy choices as adults.
But many children opt for a packed lunch, and a University of Leeds study found only one in 60 of them were healthy.
After a decade of research, results revealed in 2022 that many children ate jam sandwiches, sausage rolls and chocolate, and frequently ran out of fruits and vegetables.
Rachel added: “If you’re packing a packed lunch, it’s important to get that balance.
“Kids love tough foods, so for an idea to make it exciting, chop fruit and cut vegetables and sandwiches into different shapes.”
Ideas for packing their lunch with nutrition
HERE, Rachel Wood offers a week of nutritionally balanced and healthy school lunch packs for children aged five to ten. Servings can be increased for older children.
Rachel says, “These ideas can vary depending on affordability. A lunch box with sections can make healthy options appealing and exciting to kids. »
CHEESE and ham sandwich, cherry tomatoes, cucumber sticks, sliced blueberries and apple and a handful of popcorn.
ROASTED chicken, shredded, in a wrap with salad and cut into bite-size pieces. Cubes of babybel or cheese, bell pepper cut into strips, strawberries cut in half and a little yoghurt.
HUMMUS with sliced pita bread, carrot sticks and cucumber sticks. Boiled egg cut in half, orange slices, grapes cut in half, a handful of pretzels.
BAGEL with soft cheese cut into wedges, rolled up slices of chicken or ham, cherry tomatoes, halved banana with skin, apple slices, a handful of raisins.
Tuna and corn sandwich cut into triangles, cucumber and carrot sticks, Ritz crackers or breadsticks, cheese cubes, blueberries and apple slices and a little yogurt.