Paleo Nutrition, or What to Put in Your Child’s Lunch Box?
The school year is about to begin, and with it the question many of you have sent us is ‘What should I put in my child’s lunch box?
In this post we will try to give you some ideas and inspiration. We would also love it if you wrote your own ideas in the comments below!
What Are the Reasons for Children to Eat Paleo?
There can be various reasons for your child to keep to a Paleo diet and you may need to make some, or other, adjustments accordingly. Your child may suffer from coeliac or Crohn’s disease or have a gluten intolerance. Your child may be diabetic, which requires significant carbohydrate restriction, or have an autoimmune disorder and may not be allowed to have eggs. They may struggle with obesity, be hyperactive or have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Perhaps you want your child to keep to a Paleo diet for no other reason than that you want them to eat nutritious and delicious food, allowing them to function optimally in school and grow to be happy.
Paleo Diet for Children – the Logistics
The logistics of a Paleo diet is another very important aspect we need to address. It starts with understanding the needs of your child.
Is your child hungry in the morning and prefers to eat at home, or will their first meal be at school?
What time does your child usually come back home?
Will your child return home for lunch, or do you need to send them to school with breakfast and lunch?
Is there an option to reheat food at school (assuming your child is old enough to do so on their own)?
What does your child like to eat? If they don’t like it, they won’t eat it…
Go over the list below with your children and see what they like, keeping in mind whether they prefer to eat the same, or different food each day.
What Should the Meals Look Like?
In order for a meal to be satisfying and nutritious, whilst looking appetising and tasting delicious, it needs to contain food from several food groups. These groups include: animal protein, healthy fats, vegetables and carbohydrates. You should also consider the option of occasional treats.
Eggs: In their various forms, such as omelettes (regular or folded and filled), hard-boiled eggs and egg-muffins (a great way to add some vegetables to your child’s food).
Meatballs: Pan-fried with plenty of fresh herbs in them. You can prepare large quantities and freeze them.
Quality sausages: Prepared in advance and conveniently sliced.
Cold meats: Pastrami, roast beef, kabanos, smoked meats, preferably thinly sliced. They can be prepared or bought, depending on your kitchen skills and the amount of work you are willing to put in!
Fish: Baked or pickled salmon, canned tuna (in water), smoked fish and even sardines for the brave ones!
Meat leftovers: From yesterday’s dinner or Saturday’s lunch. Preferably without sauce and cut to a size that can easily be eaten by hand.
Whole or sliced vegetables: Cucumber, cherry tomato, carrot, pepper, kohlrabi, beetroot, cabbage, celery, radish etc.
For children that like slightly more sophisticated flavours, you can cut vegetables into strips and add a cream cheese-based dip, yogurt or tahini (which you can put in a small jar to keep from spilling).
Baked vegetables (antipasti): Potato, sweet potato, beetroot, onion, cauliflower, courgette, pepper, garlic, pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash and mushroom.
Some of these vegetables contain more starch than others. The classic starches are also listed in the carbohydrate section below.
Steamed, boiled or stir-fried vegetables: Green bean, broccoli, brussels sprout, mushroom and carrot.
Pickled or fermented vegetables: Pickled cucumber, carrot, cauliflower, kohlrabi, etc.
These are more suitable for foodie children. Just pay attention that they might leak, so put them in a separate airtight container or a lunch box with compartments.
Salad: Finely chopped vegetable salad, lettuce salad, etc.
You can place the salad in a box and its dressing in a small jar, then add one to the other just before eating. Don’t forget to pack a fork! Salads are less suitable for smaller children who might find it a little challenging to eat them.
Oven-baked vegetables: Potatoes (cut into chips or wedges), sweet potatoes, beetroot
Rice: Preferably sticky rice that is easier to eat without making a mess…
Fruit: All seasonal fruit are an option.
Fruit can replace or be an addition to starches. They can certainly provide all the carbs a child needs. Large fruit, fruit with a stone or fruit that need to be peeled should be peeled and sliced beforehand. Just be mindful not to choose soft fruit that can be squashed!
Chestnuts: A fantastic seasonal treat (although you can get vacuum-packed chestnuts all year round).
Cheeses: Hard cheeses of different varieties such as yellow cheeses, salty cheeses with high fat content and baby mozzarella are a wonderful addition to a meal. Don’t send your child to school with stinky cheeses, even if they love them, the smell will linger in the classroom…
Olives: Olives are colourful, delicious and come in a variety of flavours. Just don’t give too many as they tend to be very salty.
Nuts: Macadamia nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios and pecans.
Avocado: It can be a challenge to find an avocado that is just ripe enough so that it doesn’t get squashed in the lunchbox, but also isn’t too hard at the same time. Older children can be given half an avocado (and a spoon).
Coconut slices: Not the flakes but the pre-cut chunks. It’s also possible to find roasted coconut slices, they are a real treat!
Paleo rolls: Tahini rolls, almond flour rolls, tapioca and cheese rolls etc. You find these in the treats category because they are not overly recommended, although there are some kids who eat a Paleo roll every day. Often, Paleo rolls are much better than other options like the gluten-free rolls that children suffering celiac disease eat.
Paleo cakes and cookies: These baked goods are often very dense so your child doesn’t need more than a small portion.
Gelatine sweets: These can be fruit puree, coconut milk or cream based. Think of soft jelly in a small glass that can be eaten with a spoon, or a hard gelatine sweet (it all depends on the amount of gelatine you put in).
Dark chocolate: Just remind your child that if they share some of their dark chocolate with their friends, they need to explain that it’s very bitter. That’s because children on a Paleo diet’s taste changes…
Dried fruit and berries: Yes, fruit is also a treat. Think simple.
Design and Looks:
To me and my child a lunchbox containing food that they love is extremely appealing. The colours of the fruit and veg look wonderful and neither of us need more than that. However, there are children who need a bit more to make the lunchbox look appealing to them, so their parents should think more about colour and shape combinations. Presentation is key with kids!
One idea is to cut the vegetables or cheeses into all kinds of fun shapes. Cookie cutters can do the trick. Be creative if you want to, but in the end, don’t go overboard.
Go over the list above with your child and see what they’d enjoy eating.
Try to prepare a large amount of food and freeze or refrigerate it for at least a few days if possible, for example, cold and smoked meats, breads and rolls, pies and egg-muffins, meatballs, antipasti, etc. Also, whatever you can prepare the night before, prepare the night before. You minimize the amount of work you’ll need to do in the morning.
The logistics can seem a bit daunting at first, but they become part of a routine very quickly and then become much easier.
The writer is the father of a third-grader.