Back to school in UAE: Healthy lunchboxes key for students to have good focus, memory

Experts discourage parents from giving kids ready-to-eat snacks, unhealthy food

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Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Sun 28 Aug 2022, 2:15 PM

Last updated: Sun 28 Aug 2022, 8:19 PM

As almost a million students go back to school tomorrow, experts are calling on parents to give them nutritious lunchboxes to ensure adequate nourishment.

According to a guide by Dubai Municipality, strong scientific evidence supports the link between healthy eating, physical activity and success in school. It clarifies that children who consume healthier food options and are physically active tend to be more focused during classes and have better memory.

"It is important to give children home-cooked meals which are easy to eat in school," said Dr Ambily Kushal, Nutritionist and Dietician at Dr Iqbal Alternative Medical Center.

"Parents are sometimes tempted to put ready-to-eat snacks in their children's tiffin box for convenience. This is a very wrong approach. Childhood is the time when they develop a taste for different foods, and it's important to make them try different vegetables and home-cooked balanced meals. Processed and packaged foods may be tasty due to the high added sugar, salt content, but these extra sugar preservatives will do more harm than good to your child and your child will never learn to eat healthy or develop a taste for healthy foods."

Food choices

According to experts, a balanced and power-packed lunch for children will have items from various food groups.

"Include whole grain foods like multi seeded brown bread, a good source of protein like boiled eggs or slicked turkey, a variety of veggies and a serving of fruits and dairy, which could be in form of cheese or yoghurt," said Maya Merhebi, nutritionist at Prep & Co meal delivery platform.

Colourful fruits and vegetables are great options as a morning or afternoon snack, according to Roberto Ripa, General Manager of SwissCanonica, which runs the canteen at Citizens School Dubai.

"The fruits and vegetables are great for on-the-go snacking," he said. "Main course of lunch should include a protein that can be rotated periodically, so children don't get bored of the same kind of food."

Packing lunchboxes

It is important to keep lunchboxes at the optimal temperature to stop the food from going bad during the course of the day. Experts encourage parents to add ice packs or use thermos containers to ensure this.

"I always suggest cold boxes as it's more practical and easier for the kid to consume," said Merhebi.

She also has some tips for parents to make sure food packed in the lunchboxes is eaten.

"Parents should make sure that they pack food they are sure kids would enjoy," she said. "Besides that, try cutting snacks/meals into bite sizes to avoid inconvenience. Another useful tip would be to use a divided lunch box so you can place all the food in one container."

Dr Kushal also shared her insight on how to pack lunchboxes. "Food should be packed so that it is appetizing, colourful and appealing to the eyes when the child opens his lunch box," she said.

"It is best to avoid foods like fish which have strong, pungent smell which may be annoying to others."

In their guide, Dubai Municipality has included a guide to pack a well-balanced lunchbox.

Picky eaters

Packing lunchboxes can be a very difficult task if parents have to deal with picky or fussy eaters.

"It can be difficult to cater to picky eaters," said Jehaina Al Ali, Manager of Permits and Applied Nutrition Section at Dubai Municipality. "I have always found that if children don't like to eat fruits and vegetables as it is, you can hide them in sauces or sandwiches. You can also use fun food shapes to entice them to try new dishes."


Merhebi also agreed that it is important to appeal to children's senses but had one very important piece of advice for parents.

"Take the pressure off yourself and your child if they don't always finish their lunch," she said. "Toddlers and kids were born intuitive eaters, and it's important to nurture that intuition as much as you can."

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