Martine Rolls: A little effort goes a long way

Last week we published a story about the type of food choices that are available at Tauranga schools, and which lunches were the most popular with students.

The conclusion: Kids prefer junk food over healthy choices.

Pies, sausage rolls, American hot dogs, pizza and chicken nuggets are the foods they want - and it makes financial sense for schools to provide them.

That's all good and well, but is it right?

I guess most parents worry about their children's eating habits at times and we received quite a few comments on the story, on our website and on Facebook.

Most people said if children get a proper dinner at home, there's nothing wrong with a treat every now and again.

I agree, but I don't think lunchtime at school is the right time or place to eat junk.

Local dietitian Fiona Boyle is quoted in our story and I also found a bunch of great articles by her on one of my favourite parenting websites,

In one of them, she explains many foods that children eat or drink every day are too high in fat or sugar.

Personally, I worry about the salt content, too.

I'm by no means a health freak, but I do think parents should be careful with what they allow their children to eat.

Child obesity is a huge problem in this country.

I have seen little ones walking to school in the morning munching on a bag of chippies and chocolate biscuits.

To me, that is a sign of parents being just plain lazy.

Fiona explains children need variety but they can be stubborn and are quick to say they don't like something.

I have learned many tricks on how to smuggle more vegetables into kids' dinners.

When I make a pizza, I put spinach underneath the tomato sauce, cheese and other toppings.

Extra tomatoes get added and carrots get grated into pasta sauces and I know if I cut up veges fine enough, I get away with almost anything. Even cabbage and leeks.

Sometimes I get a bit bolder. Yesterday, I replaced the basmati rice with brown rice underneath a pile of butter chicken and to my surprise and relief, they didn't even notice.

An ideal school lunch will include protein (meat, fish, cheese, egg), carbohydrate (bread, wrap, rice, pasta) and fruit and vegetables, Fiona says.

That made me look at my own children's taste, and what I put in their lunchboxes.

My eldest is 9 and is always hungry.

He prefers savoury over sweet so for him I usually pack a banana, an apple, a tuna sandwich with red onion and a little mayonnaise, a few blocks of cheese and a packet of corn chips or rice wheels.

My little guy is not a big eater and has a chronic sweet tooth.

If I pack the same for him as I do for his brother, he won't eat any of it.

So he gets an orange, a rice bar, a packet of grain waves or popcorn and a sandwich with hazelnut spread.

They both like hummus, so they also get carrot and celery sticks with hummus dip.

I guess I'm not doing all that bad, but I have been putting packaged items like chips and bars in every day.

I realise this is for convenience and I also know those packets can cost quite a lot.

Inspired by Fiona's writings, I have decided to make my children's lunchboxes a little different from now on.

The packaged stuff is out.

With a little creativity, this should be easy enough to do and I will be using the tips found on for inspiration.

I'm expecting a few protests at first, but I have a feeling that these new-style lunches will be cheaper, healthier and just as well received in the end.

Yes, it will take a few more minutes to prepare, but the benefits - for my children's well-being as well as my wallet - are too big to ignore.


- Bay of Plenty Times

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