New Vision (Kampala)

23 January 2012

Uganda: Are You Packing the Right Food for Your School-Going Child?

Many schools provide meals but parents are required to pack snacks or food for their children. However, many parents do not know the right foods to pack.

According to Brenda Namugumya, a nutritionist specialist at Regional Centre for Quality of Health Care, an organisation that promotes the quality of health in Africa, healthy living is a practice that parents need to instil in their children.

"People do not learn healthy eating in one day," she says. Therefore, parents should consider how healthy the food they pack for their children is, depending on the study environment.

Day scholars

Fruits

Tamara Nsubuga, a nutritionist, recommends breads, crackers, cassava and sweet potato pieces (preferably boiled) for break time. "These foods provide energy to fuel the body throughout the day."

Nsubuga adds that fresh fruits such as bananas, apples, oranges, mangoes and tangerines are also ideal because they provide vitamins and minerals that prevent diseases.

Namugumya adds that perishable fruits should be handled with care and one should ensure they are stored in a cool dry place and clean containers because they easily go bad. Dried fruits like sun-dried bananas, pineapple and pawpaw can be easily kept and are less susceptible to contamination. These provide calories that restore the child's worked-up energy

Vegetables

Fresh raw vegetables, such as carrots and cucumber are a healthy snack for children in day school. According to Namugumya, vegetables contain fibre that keeps the digestive system healthy and functioning.

Eric Ssebalu, a nutritionist at Mulago Hospital, says raw veggies are rich in plant hormones, oxygen, vitamins, minerals and enzymes, which the body needs to break down food. "Green vegetables provide a healthy combination of proteins, calcium, iron, vitamin B12, beta-carotene, folic acid and fiber," he adds.

Seeds and crackers

Roasted nuts like peanuts, popcorn, cashew nuts or soya are a good source of energy, protein and minerals. They are convenient both for children in day and boarding schools. However,

Namugumya warns that heavily buttered and salted varieties can be dangerous. High levels of saturated fat can increase risks of heart disease. Salt, on the other hand, is a dietary source of sodium, which can increase blood pressure, adversely resulting in conditions including kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Juice and water

The body's biggest percentage is water, so children need fluids to keep hydrated. "Water is the best drink, but you can also pack for a child dilute fresh fruit juice," Tamara recommends.

Namugumya also urges parents to pack fresh fruit juice, citing less value in processed juice. Parents are advised to avoid very sweet, artificial drinks and canned sodas because of their sugar content.

"The sugar in such drinks can result in dental caries and give a feeling of satiety, which prevents children from eating proper meals", Tamara adds.

Others foods are yoghurt, milk, cheese and boiled eggs, which are a good source of calcium for healthy bones and teeth. These foods are also rich in proteins, which are good for growth and can keep a child sated.

Lunch

For children who need to carry packed lunch, foods that can be eaten without warming are convenient for day scholars. For instance boiled, rather than fried cassava is ideal.

A sandwich with fillings such as eggs, chicken and vegetables would also suffice for a child in day school.

BOARDING SCHOOL

"The biggest challenge of packing food for a child in boarding school is keeping the foods fresh and safe," Tamara explains. She recommends foods with a long shelf life such as powdered milk if the school can provide clean and safe drinking water.

"On visiting days, parents tend to compensate for what they think their child has missed, for instance fast foods,"

Namugumya says. Parents should mind the nutritional value attached to the food they pack.

Whole grain cereals with less sugar content, roasted nuts, soya, popcorn and sun-dried fruits are ideal because they are less susceptible to going bad and contamination.

Foods such as biscuits are good but should be provided in small quantities once in a while. Parents should opt for biscuits with less sugar and high fibre, such as digestives.

Some natural concentrates or squash juices are healthy and last long. "However, many parents don't usually read the labels on these drinks to look out for sugars and additives." Tamara notes.

"Processors usually provide labels which give information about the drinks," Namugumya says. "Imitation drinks have only sugars, flavours and colour added to them. Though some are healthy but natural concentrates are better" she emphasises.

Concentrates are made from natural fruits and are safe to drink without diluting. They are made by removing water or other diluting agents.

Namugumya further notes that in a boarding environment, the school has a bigger role to play to ensure healthy eating since a child is entrusted in their hands for quite some time.

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