Healthy lunchbox ideas to support young immune systems

The 2021 schoolyear is in full swing and the end of the first term is drawing near, but the threat of the coronavirus remains a continuous one with new predictions about the third wave dominating news headlines. Most schools are fully operational and although parents and caregivers cannot fully eliminate the threat of getting the coronavirus, there are ways to minimize the risk of infection.

In addition to ensuring children are super aware of and schooled in following all Covid-19 protocols at school, another way in which parents can buffer up the protection is in supporting the immune systems of young children. A sure way this can be done is by incorporating healthy, balanced, immune supporting foods into the ‘new normal’, going-back-to-school lunchbox.

Jill Nicholas, from Paarl, a mom of two girls, Layla (7) and Malikah (11) says post-Covid she has not changed or deviated from the usual selection of snacks in her children’s lunchboxes. “There is not much difference in what I am doing now and before Covid happened. My girls have never been much into sweets or candy, so fruit juice, fruit and healthy sandwiches were always included in their school lunches”.

She has however, now started adding healthier alternatives to their regular meals such as lemon, ginger, garlic, more nuts and yoghurt. Ms Nicholas also adds lemon slices to their drinking water, ginger is added to their tea, and moreover she has upped, almost doubled, their daily intake of fruit and vegetables, including; peppers, broccoli and spinach.

Maya Du Plessis, a registered dietitian from Imagine Dietitians in Stellenbosch, advises parents or caregivers to include more foods targeted at providing immune support in children. She said: “In the winter months it is important for children and adults alike, to eat foods that can support their immune system. We call these vitamins and minerals ‘micronutrients’. The micronutrients that best support the immune system in the winter months and flu season are Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc,” says Ms Du Plessis.

Although Ms Du Plessis explains all the other micronutrients also play a role in maintaining good health, she highlights the ones mentioned by her, as the most important micronutrients when it comes to immune support. She recommends foods high in Vitamin C such as, guava, strawberries, citrus fruit, red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and cantaloupe. To increase Vitamin D intake, she suggests giving children meals including, salmon, tuna, sardines, eggs, liver, milk and tanned mushrooms. Lastly food options which are high in zinc include, red meat, chicken, nuts, seeds, shellfish, lentils and chickpeas.

In addition to making these foods part of an eating plan, maintaining overall good health in children is equally important and unhealthy food options should be steered away from or eaten in limited quantities.

“Foods and drinks that are high in sugar and very processed should be limited in a child’s diet. Processed foods are high in saturated fats and sugars which can lead to the development of lifestyle disease later in life,” she advises.

Parents and caregivers are often bombarded with fully stocked shelves of vitamin supplements, but is supplementation necessary? Ms Du Plessi expertly advises against unnecessary supplementation. “If you child is consuming a diet high in vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and wholegrains you shouldn’t have to worry about additional vitamin and mineral supplementation,” she reassures.

In cases where parents are unsure about whether children are getting the adequate nutritional intake, getting specialised guidance from a dietitian is recommended. Ms Du Plessi says an assessment on the dietary intake of the child will be done and expert guided advice will be provided on the diet and guidelines given on possible additional micronutrient supplementation.

She suggested the following lunchbox ideas:

•Whole wheat wrap with cashew butter and strawberries, sliced into wheels

•Red & yellow peppers sticks with an avocado and cream cheese dip

•Slice of wholewheat bread with hummus and tomato slices

•Fish cakes with cream cheese dip

•Cantaloupe balls with yoghurt and nut butter

•Egg, pepper and tomato muffin

•Wholewheat pasta with chickpeas, broccoli, tuna and tomato

•Fruit smoothie with full cream milk, guava, strawberries and nut butter

•Sliced fruit with a yoghurt and almond butter dip

•Home-made quiche with tomatoes, peppers and chicken

•Chicken/beef sosaties with lemon yoghurt dip

Registered Dietitican Maya Du Plessi gives advice on healthy meals for children.

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