It’s that time of year again, September is just around the corner and that means back to school and back to packing daily lunches. To get your kids off to a good start make sure you pack them healthy balanced lunches to ensure they have the energy to play and learn at school.
A healthy lunch will contain at least 3 out of the 4 food groups from Canada’s Food Guide (Vegetables and fruits, grain products, milk and alternatives and meat and alternatives).
Lunches should contain two servings from the vegetables and fruit group daily. Get creative in ways to introduce new fruits and veggies into your kids lunches. Try making fruit or vegetable skewers, a fruit salad or pack a dip to go along with the fruits and veggies (try hummus, low fat yogurt dip or cottage cheese). Also if your child sends back cucumbers 2 days in a row, don’t get frustrated and stop packing vegetables; it takes some kids up to 20 times of trying a new food before they enjoy it. So keep packing cucumbers (and other veggies) but maybe try it in different ways such as sliced into a sandwich, cut up into a Greek salad or sliced to dip in hummus.
When it comes to grains, change up the boring same old meat and cheese sandwich with a half a whole wheat pita filled with cheese, meat and veggies, wrap sandwich fillings in a small whole wheat tortilla or pack some toppings and let your kids build their own pita, wrap or sandwich. Get creative with different breads try whole wheat sandwich buns, pumpernickle or rye breads instead of just plain whole what sliced bread. Kids like to have fun with their food so try making shapes from food using cookie cutters for sandwiches or building smiley faces using veggies and fruits. Or try something completely different and pack a grain salad try a vegetable and pasta salad or a quinoa salad.
To get a serving from the milk and alternatives try 1 cup of plain milk as the beverage or include cheese slices to build with crackers. Yogurt is another great alternative just watch flavoured yogurts which could be packed with sugar. Next time you shop for yogurt keep in mind that children should get no more than 14-23 grams of added sugars per day, so packing them a yoplait “Go-Gurt” with 7g of added sugars will be the equivalent of about half their daily recommended intake. Why not try some plain yogurt drizzeled with honey and cinnamon or just toss fresh fruit in with plain yogurt. If your kids really don’t like the sourness of plain yogurt try mixing it with a flavoured yogurt to cut back on some of the added sugars.
Schools are increasingly becoming allergy aware and most schools these days are peanut and nut free making the easy go to of peanut butter sandwiches a no go. Use this as an excuse to try out new foods that your child may have not experienced before. Remember I said some children need up to 20 tries before they like a food so don’t worry if you’re first hummus and cheese sandwich comes back uneaten, just make sure you’ve packed other foods you know your child enjoys so that they don’t get hungry at school. There are a number of peanut free “peanut-butter” alternative spreads out there such as WOWbutter and other soy butters, just remember that these are pretty costly and it might be a better idea to try other proteins like low sodium deli slices, fresh cooked meats (why not cut up that leftover chicken breast and throw it into a pita) and beans (bean salad or chilli anyone?).
Food Safety is another thing to keep in mind when paking your childs lunch. Most schools do not provide fridges for kids to keep their lunches in so make sure you pack their lunch in an insulated lunch kit with an ice pack to keep the cold foods cold. If you’re packing leftovers or food you need to keep warm, pack them in a thermos already heated to desirable temperature. Another idea for an ice pack is of course to use frozen juice boxes that your kids can drink with their lunches, however remember that fruit juices are packed with sugar and in my opinion are just like pop with added vitamins and minerals so best to save this for a treat day and pack a forzen water bottle instead.
The best way to get your kids to eat healthy is to get them involved in what their eating. Have them help with grocery shopping and picking out what they want for their lunches each day of the week. Also if your kids are old enough have them help prepare and pack their lunches.
Here are some other great ideas from one of my favourite kids eating blogs, Better Together.
Better Together – blog about healthy eating for kids and families
EatRightOntario – run by the registered dietitians of Ontario