IT is that age-old conundrum for parents everywhere - the perfect packed lunch.

But sometimes it can be hard to come up with something, tasty, original and on the right side of healthy to send the little ones off to class with.

Sometimes sandwiches just don’t cut it.

So what do experts, and parents in particular, advise rustling up for young ones which will keep them full-up and happy.

Colchester-based nutritionist Alice Hardaker says kids lunch boxes are all about variety - and it is important to make sure they have enough of the major food groups, carbs fat and proteins, and a variety of fruit and veg to support their rapid growth, brain development and energy needs.

“It doesn’t have to be complicated and time consuming to prepare," she said.

“Just a few smart choices in the supermarket can make a lot of difference - buying wholemeal bread and pasta for example.

“Protein helps children grow! Processed meats don’t offer much nutritional value - instead try adding chicken to a salad, make a simple homemade mackerel pate to spread on crackers, or some hummus with carrot sticks for a snack.

“Yoghurt and cheese are also good protein sources.”


And Alice also explains fats can actually help our brain develop so easy sources of this to pop in the lunchbox include avocado, nuts and seeds.

“They can be tossed into anything and they’re great for staying fuller for longer too.”

It is no surprise she advises steering clear of refined sugars - which are bad for teeth and can foster spikes and dips in energy.

“Swap crisps and sweets for a ‘trail mix’ of dried fruit and nuts as a snack.

Complex carbs are really important to sustain our kids throughout the school day.

“Again, variety is key: wholegrain rice or bean salads, sweet potato wedges or wholewheat veggie pasta are all great alternatives to the boring old sarnie.

As a mum of two young girls herself, fellow nutritionist and Jaclyn Dunne agrees with all of this and has a few suggestions of her own.

She suggests making a simple falafel recipe, with chickpeas, or a hummus dip with batons of different coloured vegetables from cucumber to carrots and peppers.

This will help get the suggested dose of at least two types of vegetable and then a portion of fruit every lunchtime.

Jaclyn, whose daughters are aged nine and six, says where possible she tried to make healthier choices for their lunchboxes without taking away the things they enjoy.

“I will still put crisps in, but I try and go for things like Pom Bears, which are gluten free, or instead of crisps they will have an individual bag of popcorn which have way less fat in them and, unless it is the toffee or caramel varieties, are actually quite a healthy alternative.

“Falafels are also another great idea. They are simple to make and are a great alternative to sandwiches because if you are not going for brown bread, which let’s face it not many children even like, then a sandwich can be very high in fat and calories.

“You can actually get a great ready-made Falafel in Aldi which is really reasonably priced too,” adds Jaclyn, who lives near Braintree and has clients across north and mid Essex.

She suggests rice crackers or oat biscuits as another alternative.

“I also make cookies which are basically banana and nuts for the girls which they love to make with me and they are good to take to school as they don’t have any added butter or sugar in so definitely past the healthy test.

“The energy balls, which you don’t even need to cook are also a really good way of getting everything you need nutritionally and something a bit different.

She and Alice also advise youngsters need to keep hydrated throughout the day.

“Water and fruit juices are good, but you just need to check the amount of sugar in some of the fruit juices.

“Children should only be having as much as 24 grams a day of sugar.

“There is about four grams of sugar in a teaspoon so that gives you an idea of the levels.

“Some of the juice drink have 32g in alone which is actually more than the daily allowance so I have just tried to make my girls aware of that and leave the choices down to them where I can.”