On the Menu: Send them off to camp with a winning lunch

Steer clear of lunches that remind them of school days during the summer

Children are often fed up with sandwich bread and the same old fillings that remind them of school days. Think about colour to entice them, with their lunch boxes and the food you put in them. Photograph: Thinkstock

Children are often fed up with sandwich bread and the same old fillings that remind them of school days. Think about colour to entice them, with their lunch boxes and the food you put in them. Photograph: Thinkstock


Last month Michelle Obama undertook yet again to fight attempts to delay enforcement of US school lunch nutrition standards. The Washington Post reported that the First Lady expressed surprise and regret at proposals to allow some school districts to seek waivers from meeting the requirements.

“I find myself surprised that we’re here because just a few years ago, everybody was around the table celebrating this victory, that school nutrition standards had been improved for the first time in 30 years. And everyone was on board.”

“Of course it’s hard” to wean students off pizza, French fries and other high-fat, high-sodium foods that had been staples of school lunches before passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, she added.

“We expected those challenges, particularly among our oldest kids, who’ve grown up eating junk food. But what we did not expect was for the grown-ups to . . . go along with them and say ‘well, this is too hard, it costs too much money. So let’s just stop.’ ”

Apparently more than 90 per cent of schools have improved their school lunch offerings and children are eating more fruits and vegetables as a result.

Obama said the administration was looking for ways to knit in cooking classes into the school curriculum because children eat out so frequently that they simply don’t know how to cook.

Americans now spend almost half their food dollars eating outside the home where they have little or no control over what goes into their meal choices.

Closer to home, the University of Essex carried out research on the impact of the Jamie Oliver healthy dinners campaign in 80 Greenwich schools. It found that Jamie’s changes were positively associated with an improvement in the academic performance of students aged 11. Results demonstrated an 8 per cent improvement in science and 6 per cent in English in Greenwich schools.

No national policy

Here at home, we are without a national school lunch policy but many primary schools draw up their own healthy lunch guidelines and run programmes such as Food Dudes to broaden children’s food tastes.

In October 2013, a three-year, all-island campaign by Safefood, in partnership with the HSE and Healthy Ireland, was launched to remind parents about the negative health impacts of excess weight in childhood and how this can impact on a child’s quality of life.

One in four primary school children is overweight or obese, which equates to 327,000 children. It’s estimated that this figure is increasing by 11,000 children every year.

Summer camps are a great opportunity for children to reap the health benefits of structured activity or exercise, which make up for some of the time spent in front of the TV, computer or in other sedentary pursuits.

Providing the camp lunch can be challenging because it frequently competes with sugary alternatives from a vending machine or nearby tuck shop.

Children are often fed up with sandwich bread and the same old fillings that remind them of school days. Think about colour to entice them.

There are fabulous yet affordable flashy water bottles and bright lunch boxes in most supermarkets now.

An attractive mini-sectioned container with a luminous spoon can transform a pesto pasta and veggie salad into something more exotic.

Brown or wild rice, pasta, cous cous, new potato or quinoa salads with their favourite roasted vegetables and some shredded chicken can be assembled after the Sunday dinner ensuring more time for breakfast on a harried Monday morning.

Vary the carbohydrate

To help broaden children’s tastes, try to vary the carbohydrate regularly. Try different themes like Italian day with pasta, Mexican day with soft tortillas or wraps, South American day with quinoa.

Ask the camp organisers to draft recommendations for parents to help promote a healthier camp environment if necessary. This could cover several issues; lunches, snacks, drink options and the use of sweets as rewards in the camp.

Encourage discussion about the nutritional quality of snack options served after games and sports.

Get fussy and faddy children involved in making their own camp lunch. The goal is to pick one food from each of the four main groups. An incentive chart and gold stars with a non-food reward works well with younger children. A carbohydrate food (wholegrain if possible) such as a wrap, pitta pocket, bread sticks, crackers, small rolls and baps

A protein food such as slices of turkey or chicken breast, egg, tuna, cashew butter or hummus

A vitamin- and mineral-rich food such as fresh fruit, dried mango, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes

A calcium-rich food such as small cubes of cheese

Treat foods are occasional foods. Make them count nutritionally

For the more adventurous palate, you can try out various fillings for pitta pockets or as salad portions:

Shredded chicken, avocado, sweetcorn and mayo

Turkey breast, chopped grapes, celery, dried cranberries and a little zero fat Greek yoghurt

Sliced beetroot, zero fat Greek yoghurt and toasted almonds

Tuna with chopped peppers and mayo

Peanut butter with grated carrot and raisins

Soft goat’s cheese mixed with strips of cucumber and smoked salmon

Boiled egg mashed with spring onions and mayo

Younger children like additional finger foods. Making sweet stuff an occasional treat rather than an everyday entitlement is challenging.

Make up your own healthy snack list with your children. Stick it on the fridge or notice board as a reminder. Paula Mee is a dietitian and a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute. pmee@medfit.ie Tweet @paula_mee

Free from . . .

Gluten-free snacks * Rice cakes with hummus or tahini Dried apricot, mango, pineapple Unsalted nuts and seeds Cold gluten-free pasta pesto Hard prepacked cheese portion Vegetable crisps (check label) Unsalted popcorn with Parmesan sprinkles

For the peanut-free snack *

Rice cakes, breadsticks, crackers, flat bread, crispbread (hummus/tahini only if not allergic to seeds) Dried apricot, mango, pineapple Cold pasta salad with garlic butter Unsalted popcorn with Parmesan sprinkles Hard prepacked cheese portion Vegetable crisps Unsalted popcorn with Parmesan sprinkles

For the milk-free snack *

Rice cakes, breadsticks, flatbread, oatcakes, (hummus/tahini) Dried apricot, mango, pineapple Unsalted nuts /seeds Cold pasta pesto Popcorn Vegetable crisps

*Suggestions provided by Paediatric Dietitian Ruth Charles. Check all food /snack labels for children with an intolerance or allergy, and provide the camp with the appropriate advice on how to manage and treat a reaction.

Instead of chocolate or sweets, try . . .

Unsalted popcorn with Parmesan sprinkles

A pot of guacamole with strips of wholemeal pitta for dipping

Fresh herbs in yoghurt with red pepper strips for dipping

Cubes of Edam mixed with grapes

A small bag of pretzels

A small portion of beetroot, parsnip and carrot crisps

A small pot of dry wholegrain breakfast cereal

A pot of mixed fruit berries

A pot of fruit puree mixed with yoghurt

Salad of peach, pineapple and grapes

Raisins or dried mango

An orange cut into quarters

A homemade flapjack or bran muffin

A slice of homemade carrot cake

Yoghurt-coated rice cakes