What should not be missing in children’s backpacks. DGS issues recommendations on “healthy lunchboxes”

This Monday is marked by the suspiciousness of a series of activities that were closed due to the covid-19 pandemic, among which the face-to-face classes in the 2nd and 3rd teaching cycles. And the General Directorate of Health (DGS) issued a series of recommendations, to parents and schools, in order to give greater attention to the foods contained in the lunch boxes of children and young people to be consumed in the morning or afternoon, emphasizing that it is a essential factor “for school performance”.

“The covid-19 pandemic, in particular the measures adopted to prevent its spread, which implied some periods of interruption of teaching activity and the need for a prolonged stay at home, have changed the routine of thousands of children and young people” , begins by referring to the DGS, remembering that “less physical activity and changes in eating behavior can be behaviors that promote weight gain over this period”.

It is also emphasized that the pandemic “modified the routines of many schools, with implications for the functioning of school buffets”, which “have a limited capacity and in some schools these spaces are even closed”. The inevitable result of this situation, according to DGS notes, is that “many snacks start to be prepared at home”.

“There are several reasons for us to pay attention to what we put in children’s lunchboxes”, explains the health agency, stressing that one of the main reasons is to note that in the morning and afternoon snacks they are usually consumed in schools “foods with little value nutritional “, loaded with fat, salt or sugar (like crisps, cookies or sugary drinks, which includes soft drinks but also nectars or fruit juices).

DGS highlights that snacks represent 25% of the daily energy intake of children and young people, playing an essential role in school performance. In a joint guide with the Directorate-General for Education, aimed at parents, but also at teachers or assistants who “work and deal daily with children and young people and actively participate in the preparation of their meals”, indications of the foods to be privileged or to be avoided are given in school lunch boxes, along with their nutritional characteristics and some recipe suggestions.

What foods should children and young people eat at intervals?

Milk and dairy products, fruit and cereals are the three food groups that should not be missing from a school lunch box. “In the morning and afternoon snacks, include at least one food from the dairy group, a piece of fruit and one food from the cereal group”, recommends DGS to parents.

Dairy products “are indispensable as a source of calcium and other minerals, but they should not be consumed in excessive amounts (up to 400 to 500 ml per day), with the risk of giving rise to an excessive intake of protein”, warns the research entity. health, remembering that one serving is equivalent to 200 ml of semi-skimmed milk, a yogurt or a thin slice of cheese, of 20 g. “At preschool age, dairy products with a reduced fat content (commonly called semi-fat) can already be chosen, and from the age of 5 onwards, thin ones can be used”, he indicates.

Another priority food group is fruit, “especially that of the season”, which is “an important source of vitamins, minerals and
fiber, and should be consumed in nature “, equivalent to a portion of 100 or 150 g.” During the week it is important to vary the pieces of fruit “, stresses the DGS.

Soon after, there are cereals, which “should preferably be less refined (whole) since they contain vitamins from the
complex B, minerals and fiber “and a portion corresponds between 50 to 60 g of bread, details the DGS, advising parents to” remember the brown bread in these meals “.

Despite this ‘top 3’, vegetables are also recommended. “It is not so common, but also try to include vegetables”, advises the DGS to parents, exemplifying with lettuce, cherry tomatoes, grated or toothed carrots, red cabbage, beets, celery, cucumber or arugula, which can vary over time of the week and contain aromatic herbs “for flavor”.

Other foods recommended for children’s snacks are dried fruits, such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, or peanuts, which must be “natural, with no added salt”. But DGS stresses that “its consumption must be made with
moderation because they have a high energy value (calories) “, and should not go beyond four servings per week, the equivalent of 20 g each.

Legumes (beans, beans, peas, broad beans, lentils or lupins) “are also an important source of vegetable protein, fiber and iron, as well as B vitamins”, so they can be included in school snacks “in the form of spread on bread or other more original formats “.

Water must not be lacking in the lunch box

The essential drink that should not be forgotten in the lunch boxes of children and young people is water, stresses the DGS, remembering that it is the “main cellular constituent, which serves as a means of transporting nutrients and is involved in all metabolic reactions. organism “, which requires” regular consumption “for a healthy organism.

The health entity advises parents to use “an attractive and reusable bottle, with which children can identify themselves and encourage the consumption of water throughout the day”.

On the other hand, he warns that “dehydration, caused by the absence of fluid intake throughout the day, and in particular when physical activity increases, may be responsible for symptoms such as headaches and tiredness, also affecting the ability to concentrate, attention and memory “.

Soft drinks are “to avoid” and do not replace milk or yogurt, warns DGS

“Sometimes ‘crude’ comparisons are made between the nutritional composition of soft drinks and flavored milk (chocolate milk) or yogurt, based on their sugar content”, says DGS, stressing that “this direct comparison is wrong “.

And he clarifies that in dairy products, such as milk or yogurt, “about 5 g of sugar per 100 g of product concerns lactose”, which is “a simple sugar naturally present in milk”. On the other hand, dairy products “provide other essential nutrients, such as, for example, protein and calcium”, highlighting the fact that “many yogurts have a higher amount of sugar than chocolate milk, so reading labels it is essential in any food, even those that seem ‘healthy’ to us. “

Soft drinks are “one of the foods to avoid” in school lunch boxes. The health entity warns that “the high consumption of soft drinks or nectars is a reality, especially in the age group of adolescents, in which their daily consumption reaches, on average, 161g per day and the percentage of adolescents who drink soft drinks daily ( daily consumption 220 g) is 42%. Of the adolescents who indicate consuming this group of drinks, 25% drink approximately two soft drinks a day “.

Cereal bars or cookies are not a good option, and “milk bread is not bread”

Another warning from the Directorate-General for Health is that “milk bread is not bread”, remembering that the first is “a very chosen option to put in children’s lunchboxes”, which is not a correct procedure.

“Although bread is a recommended food, the choices should always be for bread without added sugar and fat. The differences between the amount of sugar and fat between brown bread and milk bread are very visible”, he stresses the DGS.

Also, “cereal bars and crackers are generally worse options compared to cereal flakes and bread” because they “generally have a higher sugar and fat content”.

Juices are not equivalent to fruit

Parents are emphasized that “fruit juice is not a substitute for fruit” and that “when you reduce the fruit to its juice, you get a product with less fiber and a high concentration of sugar”.

“It is in the group of children and adolescents that there are more unbalanced eating habits”, warns the DGS, citing data from the latest national food survey. One of the biggest imbalances comes from excessive consumption of sugary drinks. “Regarding the consumption of fruit and vegetables, 69% of Portuguese children and 66% of adolescents do not reach the recommendation recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding a daily consumption of at least 400 g”, the organism also points out of health.

The result is that “in Portugal, 29.6% of children between 6 and 9 years old are overweight, including obesity”, reminds DGS, referring that although in recent years it has been decreasing, this rate “still is too high “. In the group of adolescents aged 11, 13 and 15 “the estimated prevalence of overweight for 2018 was 18.9%”.

DGS ‘checklist’ for parents to prepare the food their children take to school

Graça Freitas, director-general of Health, emphasizes that in this manual “emphasis is given to interim meals as they are often the right contexts for unbalanced eating habits”.

“The food choices for morning and afternoon snacks should be based not only on the preferences of children and young people, but also on their nutritional needs”, stresses the DGS in this manual, explaining that “the afternoon snack may be identical to breakfast- lunch, while the morning snack should be a lighter meal “.

But the health entity recognizes that it is “a challenge” for parents to prepare appealing menus for their children with healthy food, stressing that the dietary needs vary considerably between pre-school children and secondary school adolescents, so “it fundamental to adjust the portions to the different age groups “, advancing specific tables with these indications.

To facilitate the task of guardians when designing school lunch boxes, with food items to prioritize or avoid, DGS has prepared the following checklist:

– Does it include vegetables (tomatoes, lettuce, carrots or red cabbage) in the afternoon snacks?
– Do you offer a variety of seasonal fruit in snacks?
– Does the fruit and vegetables vary throughout the week?
– Does it include fatty and oilseed fruits (nuts or almonds) in snacks?
– Do you opt for brown bread?
– Does it include dairy products with no added sugar in snacks?
– Do you favor water as the drink of choice?
– Does it not include sugary drinks such as fruit juices, nectars or soft drinks?
– Do you read food labels before purchase?

The topic of health is the order of the day, with an active pandemic, and for parents, the concern should not focus only on the lunch boxes that the children take to school, as the example starts at home, emphasizes the DGS. “Food education at home and the development of healthy family eating environments are fundamental. Improving eating habits will only be possible if we are all agents that promote healthy eating in the many food choices we make throughout the day”, concludes the health entity .

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