With children about to head back to school for 2022, Central Coast Local Health District is encouraging parents and caregivers to fuel their kids for days filled with learning and play.

Lesley Marshall, public health nutritionist for Central Coast Local Health’s District Nutrition Services, said packing healthy foods for kids is one of the best ways to support them through school.

“This is a time when their bodies are growing and developing so nutritional needs can be high,” Marshall said.

“It also helps them to learn healthy eating habits that they will hopefully continue into their adult life.”

One of the biggest challenges with kids’ lunches can be making sure it gets eaten, which is why Marshall recommends involving your children when packing lunchboxes.

“Giving children a choice from a selection of healthy options allows them to have some autonomy over what they pack in their lunchbox.

“Involving children in age-appropriate food preparation is another way to encourage healthy eating and independence.

“This helps ensure the healthy foods packed in the lunchbox will be eaten and do not end up in the bin.”

In the warmer months, freezing things like yoghurt and fruit pieces can help ensure they stay cool until it’s time to eat them.

“You can freeze the yoghurt and it will be ready to eat by recess or lunch.

“Frozen fruit like grapes or watermelon pieces will also help keep the lunchbox cool and are great to eat on a warm day.”

Planning ahead and preparing some things on weekends or the night before can help ensure a nutritious lunch is packed even with busy mornings.

“Cut up vegetable sticks and make your own snack packs from fresh ingredients that can be bought in bulk, make lunches in advance that can be frozen, like cheese and vegemite sandwiches or lean meat in a roll,” Marshall said.

“Keep healthy pantry staples that can easily be put in the lunchbox when you are short on time, like long life milk poppers and fruit in natural juice.”

When it comes to packing drinks, Nina Kingon, dietitian and health promotion officer at Central Coast Local Health District’s Health Promotion Service, said water was the way to go and plain milk was another good option.

“Water is the best choice as it is readily available, great for hydration, contains no sugar and when fluoridated, can help strengthen teeth,” Kingon said.

“Milk provides protein and calcium, important nutrients for growing children, just remember to keep it cold.

“Fruit juices, cordials and other sweetened drinks are not recommended as everyday options due to their sugar content and relatively low nutritional value.”

Kingon said adapting to new routines and making healthy changes can take time, but support is available.

“The beginning of the school year has many demands for families and school staff, perhaps now more than ever.

“Central Coast Local Health District Health Promotion is offering a new program, ‘SWAP IT’, for primary schools this year that supports schools and families to pack a healthy lunchbox,” Kingon said.

For further information and lunchbox inspiration visit: www.healthpromotion.com.au