Child Nutrition Articles

Plan for an empty lunchbox and take the sting out of getting ready for school

by anna on January 20, 2018 No comments

Plan a weekly lunchbox menu together with your kids using a few easy steps

Step 1

Set some ground rules about what needs to go in the lunchbox and what will stay out. Things like:

  • It includes at least 1-2 vegetables every day
  • There can be no packets
  • Jam sandwiches are only on Fridays

Step 2

Make 2 lists of vegetables together. The first is a list of their favourite vegetables and the second list of vegetables that they think are OK.

Plan to have one of the favourite and one of the ‘OK’ veggies in the lunchbox each day. Regularly having the ‘OK’ vegetables in there increases their taste for them so they eventually move over to the favourite list. Don’t be worried if the ‘OK’ vegetable comes back every day for a while. The more they see it (and sometimes have a bite or two), the more they will like the taste. This is the foundation of helping kids develop healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.  Think about the first time you tried beer or coffee. It didn’t taste too good to start with but we persisted until eventually we couldn’t live without it! 🙂

Step 3

Make a list of carbohydrate foods that they like and what would work well in a lunchbox. Are they willing to try a healthier alternative? Would they like to taste or try it at home before adding it to their lunchbox. Talk about healthy alternatives including:

  • Grainary or wholemeal bread and wraps
  • High fibre crackers e.g. Ryvita, Vita-wheat
  • Brown or basmati rice
  • Wholemeal pasta and spaghetti
  • Baked beans


Step 4

Make a list of favourite fruits that will fit in the lunch box.

Use sealable containers so that it can be chopped up and kept fresh. Limit fruit to one medium sized fruit and save the other portion of fruit for after school or after dinner.

Step 5

Choose a high protein food.  A small portion (child-sized) is all that is needed and it will help to keep them full through the afternoon. Stick to healthy and lean meats that can be kept cool and safe in the lunchbox. You can also pick up a cheap food thermos to keep food hot if you prefer. Some examples are

  • Tinned tuna/salmon and light mayo
  • Ham
  • Cheese
  • Roast or baked chicken breast
  • Baked beans (hot or cold) – and yes baked beans are both a meat alternative (protein source) and carboydrate (energy and fibre source) all at the same time!!

Step 6

Put all the lunchbox ideas into a weekly timetable and stick it on the fridge. Kids like predictability so you might want to repeat the lunchbox ideas on the same day every week. You can make it a regular thing to sit down every school holidays to plan the next term’s ‘menu’.

Having a timetable also makes putting your shopping list together a bit easier as well. You can download a copy of these tips (useful when you sit down for your planning session) and a page to record your menu in the link below

Lunchbox Menu Plan

Where is the treat?

Before you start adding high sugar or fat treats like biscuits, cakes, chocolate, juices or lollies to the lunchbox, ask yourself, ‘What part of my child’s body or mind will this food nourish?’ They give energy but if the lunchbox has all the ingredients discussed above then your child’s energy needs will be met. If you think they need more then increase the portions and it will also give them the extra B vitamins and fibre that they need to go along with it.

Perhaps you feel that children need to have sweets just to make them feel good. We all love to see our children smile but using food as a reward can set up a lifelong habit of comfort eating and unwanted weight gain when they are older. It is a hard habit to break as an adult so better to not create the habit in the first place. Fruit gives children the balance of sweet food that is nice in a meal.  Try writing a joke on a post-it, a small toy or even using art and craft materials to put a smile on their dial!



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ADHD – is diet at the helm?

by anna on July 17, 2017 No comments

ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder presents with restlessness, poor concentration and impulsive behaviour. A common question I get as a Gold Coast paediatric dietitian is how do certain foods can contribute to these symptoms and can changes to a child’s diet improve behavior. Unfortunately not everyone will respond, but for most it is certainly worth a try.

You’ve probably heard that sugar causes hyperactivity but this is not exactly true. Sugar is a concentrated energy source which means the body has fuel available to run, jump and think, which is a good thing. However, TOO MUCH does no good at all for it can lead to overweight, dental caries and a diet of low nutrient quality. In terms of ADHD, studies have shown it is not the sugar but the other components in food which set off troublesome behaviour. It just happens that high sugar foods also tend to be high in artificial colours and flavours, or in natural food chemicals.Below are some substances which have been shown to have a direct effect on behaviour.

These are known as food chemicals, food additives and non food items such as perfumes or cleaning products. Food chemicals occur naturally in foods and are known as amines and salicylates. They are found widely in all food groups so it can be difficult determining which foods cause problems. Sometimes the effects are very obvious, for example, eating chocolate may cause a ‘high’ and uncontrollable behaviour. Or it may be strawberries or kiwi fruit, things that we class as ‘healthy’. Choosing organic fruits and vegetables does not stop the problem as the plant will produce more natural chemicals to protect itself against pests. A general rule is the fresher the product – the less the amines, but the less ripe the more the salicylates. High flavour tends to mean either high amines or high salicylates. As a Gold Coast paediatric dietitian I can help a family identify all the food chemicals in the diet and provide a list of useful tips to reduce them naturally without extreme restrictions.

The second group shown to affect behaviour are the food additives such as colours, flavours, preservatives and flavour enhancers. Cutting down on these additives along with any suspect foods may be all that your child needs to show good improvement. See the table of additives most likely to cause adverse reactions as a guide. Note that the additives are not ‘bad’ as such, but can be poorly tolerated.

Food additives and behaviour

What should you look out for? 

Heightened sensitivity to light, noise, smells, flavours and temperatures. Physical signs such as rashes, tummy aches, sinus problems or behavioural changes such as restlessness, poor concentration, highs and lows. If your child does present with these or has already been diagnosed with ADHD or ASD, it is important to get specialist help as it’s a very tricky path to walk alone. Speak with your GP about a referral to an allergy/intolerance Gold Coast paediatric dietitian for personalised advice and guidance.

 Author: Jacqui Palmer

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Which milk?

by anna on June 1, 2017 No comments

With so many milks on offer today, it can be hard to know which one to choose. It no longer comes down to the choice between full fat or reduced fat cows’ milk. There is lactose free milk, A2 milk as well as cows’ milk alternatives such as goats’ milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, coconut water and oat milk.

Why do we need milk at all?

Milk provides a great source of calcium that is well absorbed. We need calcium for strong bones and teeth, but also to drive certain processes in our body called homeostasis. If we don’t have enough dietary calcium, our body will simply start absorbing calcium from bones and teeth in order to maintain homeostasis. What does this mean? Broken bones and big dentist bills!

Milk has also been link to maintaining a healthy weight in adults.

Milk is a good source of protein which helps to rebuild muscles and tissues.

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What is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance?

by anna on April 26, 2017 No comments

An allergic reaction involves the immune system whilst an intolerance does not. An intolerance is a response to chemicals, either natural or added to foods, and is generally a dose dependant reaction.

Allergies occur when the immune system reacts to a substance (an allergen) which is otherwise harmless. Antibodies are produced and an allergic reaction occurs. Just about anything can cause an allergic reaction but when we are talking about foods, most commonly reactions are caused by one or more of 9 foods. These include dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter etc), egg, soya, peanuts, treenuts, shellfish, fish, sesame, and wheat.

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annaWhat is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance?

What is a food allergy?

by anna on April 23, 2017 No comments

A food allergy is when your immune system is stimulated by a particular protein in food. Reactions can be immediate (0 to 2 hours) delayed (4 hours or more) or a mix of the two. Allergic reactions with rapid onset can be detected by blood tests (RAST / IgE) or Skin Prick Tests (SPT). Allergic reactions which have a delayed onset of symptoms will not be detected by the above test.

There are many substances which can act as allergens and some people are very sensitive, others less so or not at all.

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Mealtimes together

by anna on April 15, 2017 No comments

You have probably heard a hundred times that it is important to eat together as a family but it is not always as easy as it sounds.

  • You might work late so the kids eat before you’re home.
  • Your child may be transitioning from baby food to family foods.
  • Someone in the family may require different food, for example if they have a food allergy.
  • Or sometimes, it’s simply habits such as TV which destroy the family mealtime.
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Stock the cupboard for quick and child-friendly meals on the fly!

by anna on April 2, 2017 No comments

Does this happen to you… its 6pm, you open the cupboard and ask yourself “What am I going to do for dinner?”

Some of us are organised enough to sit down and plan the weeks’ menu and some of us aren’t. I fall into the second category which means I need a plan B. I have become pretty adept at whipping up meals from pantry staples and frozen bits and pieces so today I’m going to share with you my must haves in the cupboard so that you too can dish out delicious meals without the dash to the shops!

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annaStock the cupboard for quick and child-friendly meals on the fly!

What is a food Intolerance?

by anna on February 15, 2017 No comments

A food intolerance does not involve the immune system and is triggered by food chemicals (either natural or additives). These chemicals in sensitive individuals irritate the nerve endings and cause symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal complaints (cramps or colic, diarrhoea, constipation, reflux), skin irritations (nappy rash, recurrent hives and eczema), and irritability.


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The stress of school lunch

by anna on February 2, 2017 No comments

If your child has just started Prep this year, you will have most likely been introduced to the stress of school lunch!

I must admit, I can’t remember it being such a big deal all those years ago when I was at school. It was pretty standard: a Vegemite or peanut butter sandwich, a piece of fruit, a square of cheese and a fruit juice popper. Mum didn’t think too much more about it, and I was hungry so I ate it. Mostly we were too busy playing at little lunch so I was more than ready for big lunch. I didn’t have a brain break, mum didn’t have to worry about peanut allergies nor too many sugary drinks, and I certainly didn’t have one of those whizz bang lunch boxes.

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annaThe stress of school lunch