Seasonal fruit and vegetables are some of the most affordable foods you can buy. Picture: istock
Seasonal fruit and vegetables are some of the most affordable foods you can buy. Picture: istock

School lunches: Count nutrients, not calories

STOP calculating calories and start counting nutrients.

That's the tip from nutritionist Sofie van Kempen who has just released a new mini-recipe book focusing on healthy and easy children's lunches.

Coming off the back of her popular festive season Crap Free Workshops, which she brought to the Far North late last year, the Cairns-raised nutrition expert's latest round of recipes can be found in The Friendliest Lunchbox - targeted at kids but equally appealing to adults.

"I run a lot of workshops for families and parents - and really anyone who wants to start eating a little bit better - looking at ways to add to your diet, with lots of variety and good quality real food," she said.



Nutritionist Sofie van Kempen.
Nutritionist Sofie van Kempen.


After graduating from Trinity Anglican School in Cairns, Sofie went on to complete a Bachelor of Nutrition (Health Science) at QUT in Brisbane.

Today, she has her own website, blog and brand - Sofie van Kempen.

She says her workshops teach people "how to go back to basics".

"People are finding they have lots of allergies and intolerances, or that their kids have them," Sofie said.

"That is where the lunch box recipes idea came from. We had a lot of people coming to the workshops who had kids with allergies, or they wanted to know ways to make recipes for kids that have nutrients in them, that the kids aren't going to throw back in their face or turn their nose up to."

She said the popularity of her mini Crap Free Christmas recipe book, along with a growing appetite from parents for easy-to-prepare nutritious foods, led to The Friendliest Lunchbox book.



Smoothies are an easy way to
Smoothies are an easy way to


"It's all about eating real food, limiting processed ingredients and packaged food," she said. "It's about feeding your body lots of nutrients and not counting calories."

A theme of the recipes found in The Friendliest Lunchbox is ease and affordability.

"I think people have this misconception that eating healthy is hard and they think it is really expensive," Sofie said. "So what we have tried to do with all our recipes is make them really simple and to the point.

"They have easily accessible ingredients as well; I think there is nothing worse than opening a recipe book and there are 20 ingredients for a recipe and five you have never heard of or don't know how to find them.

"I try to make them really, really simple, easy and tasty."

There is also an emphasis on ditching processed and packaged foods, and steering away from preservatives.

"We started to find a lot of parents who have attended our workshops, were saying their kids are having eczema problems, or problems concentrating at school, or they have been diagnosed with ADHD or learning behavioural problems, or they would all of a sudden start to get rashes or hives.

"A lot of those parents have realised cutting out the preservatives has had a positive affect on the kid's behaviour or on how they are feeling. I think a lot of research is starting to pop around that also."

One of the recipes that is bound to raise a few eyebrows is for choc chip cookies with its half cup of dark chocolate bits.


Healthy raw energy bites with cocoa, coconut, sesame, chia.
Healthy raw energy bites with cocoa, coconut, sesame, chia.



However, Sofie said that a little bit of chocolate was not necessarily an unhealthy choice.

"I think we have become quite obsessed with counting calories and we think that is the most important side of nutrition and eating," she said.

"But I am a big believer in counting nutrients; think about what the plate is being made up of. What are you putting on your plate, is it real food or is it packaged food?

"I think we have to move away a little bit from counting calories on our plate and actually counting the nutrients. I don't think you can never not have treats when you're eating healthy food, and I think that is a common misconception.

"People think healthy food is just vegies, but there is nothing wrong with having a little bit of dark chocolate in a cookie recipe.

"If you look, the cookie recipe is all oats and honey; all real food ingredients, there are no highly processed sugars or flavouring and preservatives, or anything like that."

Furthermore, she points out treats such as a choc chip cookie, can help people transition to healthier eating habits.

"When people are trying to change over from eating a lot of packaged food, or sending their kids to school with packaged food, sometimes it is quite hard to change from, for example, having choc chip cookies at morning tea to an apple.

"So I always think never let perfect get in the way of good.

"You can make slight changes here and there, start baking your own cookies that have less sugar and preservatives and more real ingredients. Make changes here and there that don't really challenge the way you eat every day, and it kind of makes it a little easier to swap things over."

Go Vita Cherries - Cairns Central will be stocking The Friendliest Lunchbox recipe books from this week with a limited number available.



Sofie van Kempen promotion of new The Friendliest Lunchbox recipe book
Sofie van Kempen promotion of new The Friendliest Lunchbox recipe book



Lunch box tips

Incorporate protein

Protein is an essential building block for our bones, muscles, skin, cartilage and blood.

As protein is a macronutrient this means our body requires relatively large amounts of it throughout the day. Protein in your main meals and snacks keeps you feeling satiated and curbs sugar cravings.

Incorporate fats

Healthy dietary fats are essential to give your body energy, improve overall health, keep you feeling fuller for longer and support cell growth. Healthy fats assist us to absorb fat soluble vitamins

such as vitamin A, D, K & E.

Incorporate carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are our major energy source, helping to fuel our brain, kidneys, heart, muscles and central nervous system. We think about carbohydrates as bread, pasta, and rice, however they are found in many other food groups, such as vegetables and fruits.

Lunch box serving sizes

Consider how active your kids are going to be; are they playing sport? Make sure you cater for this as our appetites vary.

Drink water

Water is vital and we as well as children need to keep hydrated. It is important to monitor how much water you drink throughout the day as well as how much water the kids drink. Fluids such as soft drinks, energy drinks, cordial all contain very high amounts of sugar, colourings, additives and preservatives that are not necessary in our diets. If you want to incorporate fluids other than water, consider: coconut water, kombucha, water or coconut kefir, and all natural (no added sugar) fruit juices. Invest in a good quality water bottle which is BPA approved plastic, glass or stainless steel that is a decent size so you can track intake.

Keep it interesting

We too can be fussy eaters just like children, so it is always important to keep it interesting. If you notice a child is coming home with a lot of uneaten food in their lunch box, ask why.

Plan ahead

Prep food ahead of time. Freeze bliss balls, slices, muesli bars and bring them out of the freezer as required. Use leftovers for lunch.