x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Making a meal of it

Running out of healthy, nutritious ideas for your child’s school lunch box? Jessica Hill tucks in to a new workshop by the Bodytree Studio that aims to do so much better than carrot sticks and cucumber.

Manal Farah takes a look at a sample healthy kids’ lunch box prepared by Nicola Pearson at a workshop for parents at the Bodytree Studio. Delores Johnson / The National
Manal Farah takes a look at a sample healthy kids’ lunch box prepared by Nicola Pearson at a workshop for parents at the Bodytree Studio. Delores Johnson / The National

Packing a kid’s lunch box with nutritious food that will all be eaten up by the end of the school day is not an easy task, but a new workshop by the Bodytree Studio on preparing healthy, tasty kids’ lunches wants to change all that.

Its new food guru Nicola Pearson is a nutritionist who, as well as undertaking studies for the UK government on the state of kids’ lunch boxes, provided healthy lunches for the 50-plus children that she fostered and took in as foreign students before moving to the UAE four years ago. All that on top of making nutritious meals for her own sons, now 15 and 17.

“We are going to make the best lunch boxes in Abu Dhabi,” she tells us, and quickly divides us into groups, inviting everyone to confess our children’s lunch peeves.

Maha Zaabri tells us her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter takes out the contents of her sandwiches. “She could live on carrots and cucumber her whole life,” she admits.

Dana Kassissieh is tired of giving her three-year-old sandwiches every day. “She’s not a picky eater, but I just need new ideas,” she says.

Pearson says that a varied diet is the key – in small portion sizes: “Your child’s clenched fist is roughly the size of their stomach, and when they unclench it, that’s the size of their ideal portion. Unfortunately, portions tend to be too big these days.

“Studies show that 90 per cent of children go through long periods of being fussy eaters. When food is not varied, their fussiness gets worse. It takes a long time for them to get used to new foods. The method of ‘parking’ new food in lunch boxes for three days a week without drawing attention to it is a good way to encourage kids to try something new. Even if it’s sweet it’s OK, as long as it’s real food. But do try to add more savoury foods.”

Pearson shows us how much sugar is in a selection of popular kids’ yogurts – some claiming to be “healthy” had the most sugar, so it’s important to look beyond the branding and check the labels.

She goes on to explain that kids need protein for growth and to help them concentrate in the afternoon, carbohydrates to help release energy slowly, calcium for bones and teeth, and vitamins and minerals for general health. She hands out nut-free recipes containing all the important food groups and shows us a delicious-looking and beautifully presented sample lunch of a rainbow burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf, complete with raw broccoli trees, fresh berries, a chocolate log bar and a small bottle of water.

Pearson says that the average lunch box takes six to 10 minutes to pack, though I suspect that this recipe takes substantially longer.

“The time affects the quality of it,” she admits, and I silently curse the lack of hours in my day.

Michelle Lopez tells us that her son is allergic to eggs and peanuts. But some other mums struggle with the fact that you can’t include nuts in lunch boxes, because of the risk to children with allergies.

“They love peanut butter and it’s a sandwich I can’t make,” one mum says.

We all leave full of honourable intentions, determined not to resort to easy snacks again. And the next day, having spent half an hour preparing a lunch that is perfectly nutritious in every sense, I breathe a sigh of relief when my kids’ lunch boxes return empty. Now to start on dinner.