The battle to feed our children more healthy fresh foods at school is one that is not just isolated to Fiji. Schools around the world from Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have to fight the battle against cheaper junk foods and lazy parents who are not thinking about how food has enormous influence on growing bones, brains and how healthy you will be once you leave school. Just giving your kids money to buy whatever they want from the canteen guarantees they will be eating chips, fizzy drinks and salty snacks, and quite frankly is doing your child more harm than good.
From breakfast, recess, lunch to afternoon snacks, growing children need energy to fuel physical activity, vitamins to feed the brain and sustenance to perform to their ability. If their brain is starved of fresh foods that contain the essential vitamins and minerals, children become lazy and find it difficult to concentrate in class.
But the short-term boost of carbohydrates from sweet and salty snacks only serves to teach them bad eating habits leading to obesity, heart disease and diabetes into adulthood. Like learning a foreign language, learning to swim or quenching a young mind's curiosity, children have the capacity to learn new things only when they are small.
Before leaving for school, children should be given an energy packed breakfast. Get them up early and make sure they learn to eat before they get to school. Many parents make excuses that they have no time to make breakfast, but given the choice of giving them the best possible immune system and healthy body, or a unhealthy dietary habit that will cut short their young life; the decision should be obvious.
Yoghurt is not only a great source of calcium for strong bones and teeth, but the live bacteria found in fresh yoghurt is critical to a healthy digestive system and gut flora that helps cleanses and rids the body of dangerous toxins that can build up inside of you.
Calcium is primary building component of bones and is very important for proper skeleton growth and development of strong bones.
You can now buy small portion yoghurts with fruit flavours that are easy to store and convenient to eat. Muesli packed with nuts, dried fruits and fibre and served milk, honey and bananas is another great source of healthy energy.
With children heading back to school at the end of this month, its time for parents to start planning more healthier ways to feed children in 2013. Instead of letting them buy a fizzy drink, pack them a flask or bottle with homemade lemonade, coconut bu water or fresh fruit juice squeezed at home.
If you have a freezer, freeze the bottle so that the icy drink will be colder at school.
Making the perfect sandwich filled with fresh ingredients and flavour will guarantee children will stay away from the fish and chips, and provide them with plenty energy to last the rest of the day at school. But what makes the perfect sandwich?
The anatomy of a well-made and irresistible sandwich starts with the bread. Whether it is brown, grain or white bread, French stick or piece of fresh roti; the starch base of the sandwich is what holds everything together. The next important part is the spread. This gives the sandwich flavour and taste. You can use mayonnaise, yoghurt, chutneys, tomato sauce, mustard pickle, mashed avocado or peanut butter. The filling can be any vegetable salad, coleslaw, mashed eggs, cold cut meats or leftover from the lovo.
My mum used to pack sandwiches filled with leftover roast, so in Fiji its just as easy by filling a sandwich with mashed root crops, lovo meats or fish and a thick miti to create distinct Fijian flavours.
For Fijian children of Indian descent why not wrap some fresh roti with curry, salad or cucumber raita and a layer of tamarind chutney and plain yoghurt. Combining familiar cultural flavours in their lunch with fresh vegetables will help convincing kids to eat traditional foods with healthy ingredients. And if you want to cut down the bread (ideal for overweight children), just create tasty salads with the same ingredients as the sandwich fillings.
Finally fruits can provide the in-between snacks for recess or after lunch. Whole fruit is the easiest to pack and store, with bananas, apples, oranges, paw paw and mango providing enormous sources of vitamins, minerals, fibre and natural sweetness.
Avoid those salty pea and packets of bhajia. Substitute these snacks with tinned unsalted peanuts, dried fruits or even the odd chocolate bar.
So do your children a favour and give them more healthy choices this year. Who knows; you might just make them a little smarter but will definitely give them the building blocks to have more employment opportunities and living a long life without diabetes and heart disease.
* Lance Seeto is an Australian chef, author and television personality based at Castaway Island Fiji. Contact him on his Facebook page, Fijian Food Safari.