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The Lunchbox Lowdown

As a parent, I understand school lunchbox anxiety: each night, I need to come up with lunchbox ideas my child will contemplate eating before she races off to play. And as a dietitian advising parents on managing diabetes, I totally understand the extra stress of carbohydrate counting, food timing and making sure the whole lunch gets eaten, and I’m here to help. Recently, I’ve had lots of questions from families about adjusting carbohydrate load to better support blood glucose targets. Many of them find school lunches a challenge, and they’re right: packing a lunch that doesn’t lead to big blood glucose spikes requires thinking outside the (lunch)box. We also need to make sure lunch meets energy and nutrient needs during school hours, which equates to about a third of a child’s ‘eating day’. Below is my five-year-old daughter’s lunchbox on two different days. Each lunch has a considerably different carbohydrate load – Lunchbox 1 has more carbohydrate than Lunchbox 2. Lunchbox 1:

Lunchbox 2:

The lunchbox lowdown I've calculated the nutrition profile of each lunch box, assuming that I am aiming to meet a third of my child’s nutrient and energy requirements (calculated according to her height, age and weight) through her lunchbox food. They each come close to meeting the energy requirements my child needs at school (2100kj): Lunchbox 1 contains 1824kj and Lunchbox 2, 2031kj. They both blitz fibre and come close to calcium targets too; two nutrients I know many parents are concerned about their child meeting. The macronutrient split is different, however: Lunchbox 1 contains 71 grams of carbohydrate, and Lunchbox 2, 19 grams. If you lower one macronutrient (carbohydrate, fat or protein) you need to replace it with an alternative to meet energy needs. In lowering the carbohydrate load of Lunchbox 2, I replaced that energy with protein and fat, while still meeting the nutrient recommendations for my child. But is it yummy, Mummy? First impressions matter to a child, and both these lunches look delicious. If I put half that effort into my own lunchbox my lunch break would be much more exciting, especially if it also came in a unicorn chilly bag!   The important thing for kids is that lunchbox food is quick and easy, so they get as much time to play as possible. If you are looking to adjust the carbohydrate content of your child’s lunch box, think bite-sized, easy to chew and colourful:

  • Cold meat – sticks, slices rolled up, slices rolled up with sliced cheese, shredded ham or chicken with grated cheese, mini meatballs, roast chicken fingers (with a sauce/dip), twiggy sticks;

  • Cheese – cubes, slices, sticks, bocconcini balls, creamed cheese dips, mini Babybel or Laughing Cow cheeses;

  • Fruits – berries, small portions of melon, baby apples;

  • Eggs – hard boiled, mashed with mayo, halved and topped with cream cheese/dip, mini quiches, rolled up omelette;

  • Vegetables – go crazy with bite-sized veggies and accompany them with dips such as avocado, eggplant, cream cheese, or pesto (if your school allows foods with nuts);

  • Sandwiches and wraps – there are plenty of options on the market now that can help you control the carbohydrate load. Try Helga’s Lower-Carb Bread, Herman Brot Low Carb Bread, bread from The Protein Bread Co, Empower Foods wraps, Goodness Superfoods Barley Wraps, Mountain Wraps. Pack these with meat and salad, and spread with cream cheese, avocado or yummy dips;

  • Other snacks – nuts, celery with peanut butter, homemade muffins/biscuits made with flour alternatives like almond meal or coconut flour and alternative natural sweeteners like stevia, pork crackle, natural Greek yoghurt with vanilla essence/stevia/sugar free chocolate powder mixed through.

So if you’re looking to adjust your carbohydrate load, it’s easy to see that:

  1. There are plenty of options with which to create delicious, varied and easy-to-eat lunchboxes; and

  2. You can still meet nutrient and energy needs with an adjusted carbohydrate load.

If you want to explore adjusting carbohydrate loads for better type 1 management, don’t do it alone! Have your child’s nutrition requirements assessed by a professional and make sure they are being met. Reach out to the Family Centre's Online Parents Community for recipes, support and suggestions from other parents. And remember, I'm always here to support you at Family Centre - call us on 9446 6446 if you'd like to book an appointment.

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