Perfecting packed lunches

Nutritionist Sue Crabtree gives Charlotte Harding some ideas for the perfect packed lunch.

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Putting together a packed lunch for your child can sometimes be difficult, knowing what to include with so many schools now banning things like fizzy drinks, crisps and chocolate.

Chichester nutrionist Sue Crabtree shares some tips to help you give your child what they need while not compromising on flavour.

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“The more you give your children sweets and crisps the more they will expect and crave it,” she explains.

Circus packed lunch

“Don’t banish treats but make sure it is just that a treat.

“Crisps should not be consumed more than twice a week and sweets and cakes should be kept for a ‘sweetie day’.”

For healthy alternatives Sue recommends celery sticks, carrots dipped in hummus, slices of apple with almond butter thinly spread on or her all time favourite sweet snack a small frozen banana with one desert spoon of sugar free peanut butter and 100ml of milk - blend and enjoy.

Another area in which many parents struggle is portion size.

Sue prefers the ‘happy hands’ method - a fist size for starchy carbohydrates, a palm size for protein, two fist sizes of vegetables and/or salad, pointed finger for stringy cheese, two thumb sizes for cheese, fist size for milk and yoghurt.

“If a parent is worried that a child is not eating enough or too much then use the child’s own hand size to ensure they are getting the right portion size,” she explains.

“Also keep in mind that a serving for a young child is a table spoon per year of age.”

For anyone still struggling to get vegetables and fruit into their children’s diet Sue does have some helpful tips.

“Research shows that kids will eat more fruits and vegetables when they’re presented in visually interesting way,” she reveals.

“Giving food catchy names seem to boost their appeal.

“Researchers at Cornell University found that pre-schoolers ate twice as many carrots when they were called ‘X-ray vision carrots’ versus ‘carrots’.

“Pull kids into menu planning and meal preparations. Children love looking at cookbooks and food magazines and serving up ‘Noah’s Lasagne’ or ‘Kate’s snowballs’ (cauliflower) truly encourages children to enjoy healthy food.”

Sue’s catchphrase is to aim for ‘crunch with lunch’ and ‘eat a rainbow of colour at dinner time’.

From fussy eaters to those who crave the crisps there are small changes you can make which will benefit your child into later life.

What are the key foods each lunch should include?

“Carbohydrates provide the fuel for our muscles,” explains Sue.

“Protein will provide the structure and growth and the vitamins and minerals will be the ‘nuts and bolts’ to ensure ideal health.

“So it is important to include a good source of protein such as tuna, chicken, ham or cheese with a good complex carbohydrate (wholemeal pitta breads, wholemeal bread or wraps) and then lots of crunch at lunch.

“For example a tuna and mayonnaise pitta can be packed with rocket, chopped tomatoes and cucumber. So you are ticking all the health boxes: protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

“Pop a small yoghurt pot into the lunch box and your child will also be getting a good source of fat.

“Fat is important especially for helping absorbing vitamin D for strong bones.

“Did you know that our body has a window for maximum absorption of calcium from the age of 11 to 25 years?

“After that it is very difficult for our bones to absorb calcium.

“So to prevent any bone disease when we are older, it is imperative we get a good dose of calcium in our diet.

“If your child is lactose intolerant and unable to eat dairy products, then a daily dose of green leafy vegetables, salad and fish with soft bones (such as sardines and salmon) is an excellent source of calcium.

“Mashed sardines on toast with a squeeze of lemon juice is a great warming lunch or snack.”

For more information on Sue, you can visit

This first appeared in the education special of the March etc Magazine which is out now.