Parents urged to pop more fruit and veg into the school lunchboxes
Ulster parents were today urged to include more fruit and vegetables in their children's diet by adding them to lunchboxes.
As children across Northern Ireland return to school this week, healthy eating website eatincolour.com has been launched to offer helpful tips on how to incorporate fruit and vegetables into the lunchbox.
It comes as the Department of Health introduces new nutritional standards so that pupils are no longer able to buy foods high in fat and sugar from tuck shops and vending machines in schools across Northern Ireland.
Director of human health and nutrition at Safefood, Cliodhna Foley Nolan, said the eatincolour website offers helpful and practical advice to parents.
"There is strong evidence that a nutritional and varied diet certainly helps when it comes to energy and concentration levels of children," she said.
"A lot of anecdotal evidence from teachers tells of children falling asleep or being irritable and it is quite amazing that we as a population never question the importance of a healthy diet when it comes to athletes, yet when it comes to more ordinary people we need more convincing. However, don't try and change the world all at once.
"We would recommend taking things slowly by adding a piece of fruit to the lunchbox every day until the Hallowe'en break and then increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables gradually."
The website recommends that parents introduce foods such as spinach, soya beans and lentils - which are all high in iron - into the lunchbox.
It recognises that some children do not like the thought of spinach so says that parents should try incorporating it into the lunchbox by putting it into salads or hiding it in a pesto sauce and mixing with pasta.
It also says that apples and pears play a very important part of a child's concentration and energy at school.
Many kids suffer from constipation, due to a diet lacking in fibre which can lead to lethargy, distraction and even anxiety.
Fibre rich fruits like apples and pears, along with water and exercise, is the best most natural way to tackle constipation.
Oranges, melon and plums are also a great source of fibre.
A serving tip from eatincolour.com is to try cutting the fruit into small pieces and serving with a toothpick in Tupperware - even fussier kids will love the novelty of eating fruit like this and it's much less daunting than a whole apple than younger ones.
Cauliflower is rich in a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine and research has shown that it affects memory and concentration. Broccoli and cabbage are also good sources.
The classic cauliflower cheese, with cheese sauce and breadcrumbs, goes down well with most kids and can be eaten hot or cold.
Carbohydrates are key for the production of serotonin which helps to regulate sleep, mood, appetite and sensitivity and can be added to the lunchbox easily by including potato salad.