How to save money with food
PARENTS, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make nutritious yet interesting packed school lunches for your kids that they will eat with relish.
The advantage of packed lunches for parents is that it can reduce the amount of lunch money you have to give each of your children by up to €30 a week.
But it's harder than you think, given how picky many children are about food.
It may be 9pm on a Sunday evening and you are still trying to get through the papers before you realise there's little in the way of suitable ingredients for next week's school lunches, never mind bread.
Or it might be 7am in the morning and the last thing on your mind is making packed lunches when you are already engaged in the military operation that is getting the kids dressed, fed and out to school in time.
And even if you have just done the weekly shop and the fridge and cupboards are freshly stocked, it can be hard to be inspired when it comes to deciding what to pack into the Tupperware.
The good news is that there is plenty of advice and suggestions out there.
Needless to say, much of it is focused on the importance of providing a healthy and balanced diet.
For instance, the Nutrition and Health Foundation (NHF) has called on parents to think harder about what to put in children's lunchboxes.
Lunch is a crucial meal for children, and failure to eat a decent lunch can lead to problems such as inadequate calorie and nutrient intake resulting in low energy levels and poor concentration in class, the NHF states.
Dietician and NHF manager Dr Muireann Cullen says: "Packing your child's lunch is a great way to monitor the nutritional content of their lunch.
"By introducing your children to a variety of delicious healthy foods, you are helping to establish healthy eating patterns that will last."
She adds that getting children to help with planning and making the lunches can be a great way of educating them about healthy food.
Some of the NHF's tips in preparing packed lunches also include:
•Using bagels, rolls, pitta pockets and wraps as well as ordinary sliced pan for variety.
•Pasta, noodles, potatoes or couscous are good sources of carbs.
•Add at least one piece of fruit or vegetable to a lunchbox every day.
•Try vegetable sticks with dips, or a small container with things like cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, celery and cucumber; or small fruits such as apples, mandarins and mini-boxes of raisins.
•Lean cuts of ham, roast beef, chicken, turkey, tuna and egg salads are all good sources of protein and vitamins.
•Be sure to include milk, water, well-diluted fruit or vegetable juices, or low-sugar or sugar-free squashes or flavoured waters.
•Also try yoghurts, yoghurt drinks, fromage frais and cheese.
The Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) has similar recommendations, but also suggests using fun-shaped pastry cutters to jazz up sandwiches.
"Presentation is important to children," say the IHF.
When it comes to packed lunches, many schools already have policies in place banning items like sweets and crisps in lunchboxes, which can make it easier for us to resist including unhealthy treats.
IHF health promotion manager Maureen Mulvihill said: "At primary school level, guidelines have been rolled out in association with the HSE and there is a good voluntary code of no vending machines in operation. Many schools only allow treats on a Friday."
However, more work is needed at secondary school level, particularly for the many schools that apparently do not provide hot meals and only provide snack foods high in fat, sugar and salt.
A survey commissioned by the IHF in 2007 found that over half of secondary schools had tuck shops or canteens, 45pc had drink vending machines and 64pc had shops close to the school grounds.
Sugary, salty and nutrient-poor foods were widely available at three-quarters of the schools surveyed.
Since then, guidelines for developing healthy eating policies at post-primary schools have been in the works, and are expected to be published later this year.
"Obviously, I would prefer that there would be no sale or at least strong restrictions on the availability of snacks, confectionery foods and sugary fizzy drinks," said Ms Mulvihill.
"Certainly it would be ideal to ban vending machines.
"However, if parents, teachers and pupils are not in agreement, the policy will not work.
"The key would be ongoing education on healthy food choices and also a gradual change."
Irish Independent Supplement