Making sure lunchboxes are packed full of healthy and tasty treats can be tough task for parents. To make life a little easier we've got some great ideas from Danone Nutritionist Kellie O'Connor.

With back to school time upon us, it is time to start considering healthy and nutritious food that children will enjoy eating throughout their busy school day. Whether it’s their first day at school or their final year, young people need to be fuelled with the right combination of nutrients to help them thrive throughout the school day.

Danone Nutritionist Kellie O’Connor suggests “the beginning of the school year is the optimum time to introduce lifelong healthy eating habits. Preparing a healthy lunchbox can easily become part of the family’s routine, whether it’s the evening before or in the morning – just a few minutes and a bit of organisation is all it takes to ensure the kids head off to school with healthy foods and snacks. The Department of Health recently updated and published the Irish food pyramid which is a great tool to use as a healthy eating guide for children over 5”.

“Children will learn about the food pyramid in the classroom, so this will also help to develop their interest in healthy eating. By including a variety of foods in your child’s lunchbox, such as wholegrain breads, fruit, salad vegetables and dairy products like yogurt, you will help to ensure they are achieving the recommendations of the food pyramid.”

Kellie recommends “dairy products are important for providing vitamin D and calcium, both of which are important nutrients for maintaining healthy bones and teeth. The Department of Health recommends that we have 3 portions a day from the dairy shelf, with children aged 9-18 years needing 5 servings a day. Within the dairy shelf the Department advises that low-fat milk and yogurt are the best food choices. Having a yogurt or drinking yogurt after lunch or as a snack during the day will help to achieve this. “

Kellie suggests “by setting time aside the evening before school with your children to prepare their lunchbox for the next day, parents can show children how to prepare healthy snacks and guide them towards healthy eating habits from the start. It will also mean they are more likely to look forward to their lunch if they’ve chosen what’s in it.”

Lunchbox Tips:
• Involve children in their lunch choices as much as possible: plan their lunches with them and make the shopping list together.
• Encourage kids to come up with new snacks for their lunch boxes- introducing something different at least once a week.
• For busy families, prepare lunchboxes and sandwiches together the night before and keep them in the fridge overnight, this ensures you won’t forget the necessary details such as spoons for yogurts or fruit salads etc
• Make sure to include a variety of foods in each lunch box–use the food pyramid for guidance on portion sizes as well as types of food -such as wholegrain breads, fruit, salad vegetables and dairy products like yogurt.
• Invest in a good lunch box that won’t open by accident and a bottle that won’t spill in their school bags. Small cooler bags can come in handy for items such as yoghurts.
• Kids like foods that are easy and quick to eat- so avoid anything too messy, and chop larger items into bite-size pieces e.g fruit.

Healthy Lunchbox Ideas:

All recipes make 1 serving

• Pasta Salad

Put 4 tbsp cooked pasta (leftovers from dinner are perfect) in a small plastic lunchbox container. Add 1 tbsp each of cooked peas and sweetcorn (tinned is fine), and mix in 1 tbsp natural yogurt or light mayonnaise mixed with 1 tsp balsamic vinegar. Finally, add 7 cherry tomatoes halved, and a sprinkling of basil leaves.

• Tuna pitta pockets

Drain a small tin of tuna (80g). In a small bowl, mix the tuna with 1 tbsp light mayonnaise, 1 chopped spring onion, 1 tbsp sweetcorn (tinned is fine) and 1 small chopped tomato. Squeeze over some fresh lemon juice and mix well. Stuff 1 large wholemeal pitta with the tuna mixture and some lettuce leaves. Wrap tightly in clingfilm and pop in the lunchbox.

• Crunchy yogurt treat

In a small plastic lunchbox container, mix 125g fruit yogurt with 1 tbsp muesli. Add in some berries or chopped kiwi and mix. Don’t forget to pack a spoon!

Danone Gervais
This range of fromage frais and yogurt drinks with fruit are perfect for breaktime, lunchboxes or after-school snacks. They are all high in calcium and a source of vitamin D. The Gervais products range includes 5 different products including strawberry fromage frais (6 x 100g, RSP €3.25) mixed duo flavour (6 x 100g, RSP €3.25), mixed 12 pack (12 x 50g, RSP €2.89), drinking yogurts (6 x 100ml, RSP €2.89), and fromage frais pouches (4 x 80g, RSP €2.75).

Watch out for the new Danone Actimel 12-pack, which has 6 strawberry and 6 peach drinks - a great way to start the day.