The most important nutrient for vegan kids is often overlooked when planning out their school lunchboxes. Sure, you look for foods packed with extra iron, and protein, and sometimes even zinc, but how often do you consider how much energy your kids are getting? Kids are at school for around half of their day, so it is so important that we make sure they’re getting enough energy from their lunchbox to power them through the day.
Do You Really Need to Worry About Energy?
Your kids are full of energy all the time, so you don’t need to worry about them getting more do you? In fact, you’d probably like it if they had a bit less energy sometimes… especially when they’re leaping off the back of the couch. So you don’t need to worry about their energy intake, right? Wrong.
Unfortunately, the kids who spend their lives running around like crazy things are most at risk of not getting enough energy. If your energetic kids are anything like mine, they’re probably too busy running around having fun most of the time to worry about eating. And the more they run around, the more energy they burn, and the more they need to be getting in.
Why is Energy So Important For Vegan Kids?
Kids have huge energy needs. Not only do they spend a significant amount of time running around, but they’re also growing, learning and developing. Most kids need as much, if not more, energy or calories than we do. In fact, a moderately active 3 year old needs on average 6300kJ a day (or 1500 calories) compared to a moderately active woman needs around 8700kJ or 2000 calories a day. Is your 3 year old eating ¾ of the food you are? And by the time your daughter gets to 10 years old, she needs the same amount of energy as you (and let’s not even talk about our sons!).
Making sure your kids are getting enough energy, or calories in, is incredibly important, because without enough energy, your kids will have poor growth, and often (though not always!) poor energy, and get irritable and tired. Energy intake is also linked to that dreaded nutrient – protein. It has been found that as long as your kids are getting enough energy in, then they’ll be getting enough protein. But that, of course, falls apart if they aren’t actually getting enough energy from what they’re eating. And poor protein intake will cause growth and development issues.
Vegan Food Has Less Energy Than Omnivore Food
Energy intake tends to be a problem specifically for vegan kids, rather than omnivore kids. Vegan food across the board contains less energy/calories than omnivore food, mainly because it contains so much more fibre and water. Fibre and water both contain 0 kJ/calories, but they’re both bulky and help to fill us up. This is one of the main reasons why we tend to lose weight on a vegan diet. But unfortunately it isn’t the best for growing kids.
At school, many kids also tend to be far more interested in chatting with their friends at lunchtime, or going off to play, than eating. So they tend to eat a lot less food in general.
Not a good mix for making sure we get enough energy into our kids! But it’s ok, I have a couple of tricks to make sure your kids get enough energy from their school lunchbox.
Wholefood Fats are the Best Energy Source
First up, fats are twice as calorie dense as proteins and carbohydrates. So for every bite your child eats, they’ll get twice as much energy from a whole food fat than they will protein or carbohydrates. So make sure you include a whole food fat in their morning tea and lunch. The best wholefood fats for school lunchboxes are seeds and seed butters, coconut yoghurt or cream, hummus and tofu. Nuts, nut butters and avocados are also great whole food fats, but they don’t tend to work for lunchboxes, so save them for after school.
I recommend whole food fats over oils, because whole foods also contain other essential nutrients for kids like iron, zinc and calcium. Oils don’t have many nutrients, so I recommend focusing on the whole food fats first.
Pack Easy to Eat Energy Dense Foods
My second tip is to fill your childs’ lunchbox with energy dense foods like protein balls, muffins, sandwiches, muesli bars. These are easy for your kids to eat, and they’re going to get a lot more energy/calories in per bite than a lunchbox full of fruit and veggies. Things like protein balls, muesli bars, muffins and sandwiches are all great options.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely not telling you not to give your kids fruits and veggies. Fruits and veggies are absolutely essential, and are the only way for your kids to get essential vitamins like vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K. Just make sure you’re giving your kids plenty of energy dense foods in addition to fruits and veggies, to make sure they’re getting everything they need.
Let’s Compare Lunchboxes
I’ve given you a comparison of two lunchboxes down below to show you what I mean. The first is based on mainly just fruits and veggies, and as you can see, only gives your kids around a third of their daily requirements. The second lunchbox is from my Vegan Lunchbox Vault, and has a good mix of fruits and veggies, and high energy dense foods, and it gives your kids at least half of their daily needs.
And here is the nutritional break down of each one, compared to the nutritional requirements of the average 5 year old and 10 year old. As you can see below, the first lunchbox is only giving your child up to a quarter of their daily energy needs, and is also relatively low in the other essential nutrients. The second lunchbox, on the other hand, has twice as much energy, and well over half of their daily nutritional needs for the other key nutrients. It also has significantly more vitamin C!
|5 Year Old Requirements
|10 Year Old Requirements
With some careful planning and tweaks, you can absolutely pack a lunchbox for your kids that gives them more than enough energy to power them through their day at school.
Find out how to make sure your kids are getting enough Iron, Zinc and Calcium in their lunchboxes in How to Pack a Healthy Vegan Lunchbox Part 2 here!
Need More Vegan Lunchbox Recipes?
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