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Lunchboxes don’t quite pack a punch, say experts

Concern over common mistakes parents make while buying and preparing snacks for their schoolchildren

  • Snack foods from supermarkets often contain a large amount of sugar, salt or fatImage Credit: Stock photo
  • Anjum Ali, head of KG at GIIS DubaiImage Credit: Supplied
  • Mitun De Sarkar, clinical dieticianImage Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Despite the best efforts by municipal authorities and schools to encourage healthy eating among students, experts say there are many mistakes parents make while packing lunchboxes.

According to Mitun De Sarkar, clinical dietician, it is common for parents to pick up snack bars and so-called healthy snack foods in supermarkets. “But they contain a large amount of sugar, salt or fat and have minimal fibre. Instead why not make your own granola bars at home,” she said. “They are not that difficult to make and freeze. Use natural ingredients like almond, peanut butter, raisins, coconut, whole grain cereal, honey and dried fruit and nuts.”

She also cautioned parents against overuse of cereal and milk for breakfast. “Think twice which kinds are you giving them. Those magically coloured kids cereals are full of food colours and sugar. Some are filled or coated with milk chocolate or frostings. The claimed vitamins and minerals in them are really of no use to our bodies. The best morning cereal that you can get your darling hooked on is whole grain oatmeal. It’s high in fibre, vitamins and minerals, and you can add strawberries, mangoes, bananas, dates, raisins and mix it with yogurt, or milk or a dab of honey or real organic maple syrup.”

No luncheon meats

She said sandwiches with luncheon meats are also a common sight in children’s lunchboxes. But these meats contain nitrates, a preservative used in food processing that drastically increases the risk of heart disease and cancer and reduces cognitive abilities.

Readymade juices that kids carry are also packed with sugar, so they must be substituted with homemade smoothies.

“For many parents, getting kids to even eat anything at school is a huge task. That’s why they end up giving them donuts, cakes, cookies and crackers and juices. As long as the food is unprocessed, clean and fresh, you are doing a super job,” she added. Giving tips to make snacking more interesting, Anjum Ali, head of KG at GIIS Dubai, said, “Mexican quesadillas, burritos, tacos or enchiladas are a good option. While the shells are easily available in stores, you can have any filling you want, pair some vegetables, beans or sprouts with a dash of cheese and balance it with some guacamole spread to make your version of the sandwich.”

Indian snacks are a good bet too. She said, “Mini idlis and dosas, baked baby samosas with any filling, steamed momos, cottage cheese parathas or even potato stuffed paratha with some sweet yoghurt or ketchup often does the trick.”

Ali said trail mixes are a god-send when parents are running late and need to fix a lunchbox that is healthy and fun for their children.

“Trail mixes are easily available in stores but can be easily made as well. Just combine nuts, frozen dried fruits and if you want some baked chips to the mix and the lunch is ready. Some also add pieces of cheese or small pieces of chocolate to make it more filling.”

She said scrambled egg crackers, mini vegetable omelets and egg salads are a great source of protein.

She said Japanese-inspired Bento boxes are also a great option. “These offer small compartments and allow for a large variety of items to make the lunchbox more appealing to children.”


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