You know the morning drill: the bathroom run, the breakfast-and then your kid's lunch, packed in a box. It is the last thing you probably hand over as they leave home, and maybe the most important.
The only thing more important than the lunch box itself is what's in it."It isn't just a bit of what the entire family eats that they go out with," says John Azu, father of two nursery-school-age children.
"We take time to prepare something different just for them to take to school-mostly noodles and eggs, rice, even when that's not what the rest of us want to eat."
Noodles command a large share of kids' food market, right next to ever ubiquitous biscuits, juices and fizzy drinks.
But just because they are readily available doesn't mean your little ones should be wolfing them down every lunch time at school.
"For the early years, you are not looking at just education, you are looking at care and development," says Emem Opashi, an early childhood development expert and chief of Student Resource Centre.
"And if the child is not fed the proper nutritious food in early years, they are not properly nurtured."Nutrition for children begin even before they are conceived-a woman's nutrition before, through and after pregnancy matters, even before breastfeeding.
The torture for parents comes with infant and young child feeding-at an age when little ones start getting picky eaters with growing minds of their own.Food comes in six classes: protein, carbohydrates, fats and oils, minerals, vitamins and water. The trick is to find the right combination.
But you don't have to rack your brain remembering those six. Nutrition experts have boiled them down to food groups you can remember: protein, grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables.Now the trick is to find out what in your pantry goes where and how much of it should be in your kid's lunch box.
"The most important thing to consider should be nutrition; nutrition is number one," says childcare expert Eya Ayambem. She runs wivestownhallconnection.com, a lifestyle blog that devotes an entire section to lunch box ideas.
"Children spend more time at school than they do at home. So to pack their lunch box, you ensure that what you give them is balanced."
Some schools may offer lunch packs and have parents pay extra. Without that, parents have to pack their own kid's lunch.Noodles are a safe fallback for busy working parents, and some brands even come as "mixed vegetables" targeted at children.
Ayembem recommends a variation in presentation."A lot of parents just pack things like Indomie [noodles] and eggs," says Opashi. She discourages prepackaged lunches-they are high in calories and fat, low in nutrients and quite expensive.
"You have to take into account the varieties of a child's need, because having a healthy meal is also part of what helps you develop," she says.A proper lunch box should enable children have fruits and vegetables in their meal, while throwing out artificial juices and fizzy drinks.
From age two to three, boys and girls generally have similar daily dietary requirement-up to 1,400 calories, 113g protein, up to three cups combined of fruit and vegetable of choice [one cup banana is, well, one banana], and two cups dairy.
Dietary requirements start to vary for boys and girls beyond this age, so you might be better off getting a stricter medical guide or seeing a nutritionist or dietician, if your kid has special dietary needs.
But careful moderation remains key though. "If you think you are doing nutrition and then you pack [all kinds of vegetables], pack carrots, apples, everything, that child may end up not eating and then the aim is defeated," says Ayembem."Pack what the child likes to eat, and when you do, make it nutritious and attractive."
The writer is a multimedia journalist
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