Pack colourful foods and variety in school lunchboxes every day
Don't just reach for the same old sandwiches every day when making up your children's lunchboxes, a leading dietician has advised.
Orla Walsh, who works with the Dublin Nutrition Centre, said it is important to vary what a child takes to school to eat.
She said one food can give only a certain amount of nutrition, so it is much healthier to have a variety throughout the week.
"In the lunchbox, what you want to include is something from each food group," she said.
"This would include a small bottle of water, some healthy carbohydrates, some protein like meat, fish, poultry, eggs or pulses, a small bit of dairy like yoghurt, cheese or a little carton or milk, as well as a piece of fruit and some vegetables."
Ms Walsh said there are ways for parents to make it easier for children to look forward to lunch.
"Instead of including an orange, it would be better if you peeled it or cut it into slices, or chose berries, and they just have to pick it up and eat it," she said. "If it's less effort for them, colourful and vibrant and there's a nice little selection, they're more likely to eat more of it."
When it comes to what drinks to pack, Ms Walsh said that "generally speaking, they need to focus on drinking water and milk - these are their two main fluids".
She said children should have very little sugar-containing fluids, because they are harmful to their overall health and to their teeth.
"You can actually directly associate sugar-containing fluids with overweight and obesity in children," she said.
"These rules are perfect for anybody's lunchbox, no matter what age. The idea is that you focus on having colour in your lunchbox and variety."
Ms Walsh suggested mixing up the carbohydrates in lunchboxes, so some days it would be potatoes, some days rice, others pasta or a wheat or rye-based bread.
"With fruit and vegetables, the variety and different colours are crucial," she said.
"Similarly, with protein, encourage them to have a wide selection.
"Anaemia is quite common in kids, so they will need red meat ideally three times a week just to ensure their iron levels. The best source of iron would be beef.
"Studies show that kids need to eat something 10 to 15 times before they grow a taste bud for it.
"If you encourage them to keep trying, even just a mouthful, within 10 or 15 times they will grow a taste bud for it and they will like it."