Good food habits set early in childhood can last a lifetime. Lunches provide around one third of our daily nutritional needs, so it’s important to put some thought and planning into them.
Neema Shosho, a Nutritionist based in Dar es Salaam tells Your Health that selecting foods to pack for your school children is always a challenge to many. “I get a lot of questions from mothers and caregivers on what they should include in a lunchbox for their children. Many complain that it is hectic and tiresome to do food/snacks selection and to even understand healthy choices for their children,” reveals Ms Neema.
As a result, most parents opt for easy options such as sausages, chips, andazi, bread plus a bottle of fizzy drink. Ms Neema has also come across parents who pack for their children candies, chocolates and high-sugar snacks almost every day.
“This really saddens me. Yes we go for easy, quick and unhealthy ways but we jeopardise our child’s growth, development and learning,” says Ms Neema.
The right things to pack
Make sure you select foods from different groups:
• Carbs - Your child needs carbs preferably wholegrain for energy and fibre. Include a small portion of brown rice, brown bread etc.
• Include protein rich foods- Your child needs protein for physical and cognitive (brain) growth. Protein builds, maintains, and repairs the tissues in our body. Include a piece of fish or legumes such as beans and peas etc.
• Include plenty of vegetables and fruits. These provides fibre, minerals and vitamins-very crucial for the immunity system and optimum growth of your child. Remember to use fruits and vegetables of different colours as different colours stands for different essential nutrients.
• Include dairy products such as reduced fat milks, cheese or homemade maziwa mgando (yoghurt). These are excellent sources of calcium, which is important for strong, healthy bones.
• Use water as the main drink- it is the healthiest choice. Just make sure it is safe and clean. Water has a lot of health advantages, from digestion of the food to detoxifying the body.
Make sure you involve your child during shopping and preparation of healthy foods and nutritious snacks. They should learn while young that healthy meal is the way to go!
The nutritionist’s message to parents and caregivers
Preparing healthy foods isn’t hard and doesn’t require lots of money. It just needs commitment. What is missing is the knowledge.
As parents, we also forget that we lead by examples and that our children copy and follow our eating habits. This means we should also adopt healthy eating habits.
Remember to include locally available foods - kiazi, muhogo, ndizi etc. Stop sweating and googling for foods that aren’t even grown in your country. Here is to my fellow parents and caregivers who kept asking where they can get asparagus and the alike for their child: “Explore local choices first, they are actually the best!”
If your child receives meals from school, make sure you have visited school canteen to get a sense of what is been provided to your child.
If we aspire to raise a healthy individual, you should invest carefully in the meals consumed while they are still children.