It’s that time of year again, when summer vacations are grinding to a halt and regular routines and schedules are gearing up. Brown bagging your lunch for work or school is an excellent way to keep your food budget and waistline on track.
Being in control of what goes into the lunch coolerbag will help with keeping your families’ lunches healthy and interesting.
School Bells Ring
When assembling a child’s lunch, being organized and prepared helps the process. Before the school day begins, sit down with your child and ask for input.
Look at the Canada Food Guide together and talk about ways to include foods that are shown in the guide. Variety and balance helps keep the lunch healthy and exciting.
(Pick a guide up at your local health unit or order/download a free one online at:
Since the vegetable and fruit section is the biggest part of the rainbow on the Canada Food Guide (CFG), ensure there are at least three different foods from this category for your child to access over their six-hour-plus time away from home.
Different colours of vegetables and fruits will also include more beneficial elements. Healthful plant chemicals, called phytochemicals, act as antioxidants and help the body stay strong and prevent colds/flus and chronic diseases.
Another important benefit of plant-based foods is the fibre that they offer for digestion.
Whole grains are a good way to build a sandwich, wrap or tortilla.
Hearty breads, grainy wraps, whole wheat pitas, or rye crisp crackers are some examples of a healthful foundation to build a balanced lunch.
Adding some protein-based food to the sandwich will offer staying power for the afternoon stretch. Hummus, cheese, hard boiled egg, canned salmon/tuna/sardines, turkey, or other meat will provide the building blocks of healthy cell/tissue repair.
Many children have allergies to food and one of the most common and serious food allergens is peanuts. Refer to HealthLink BC for some guidance on ways to protect your child, if they have a life threatening allergy.
Adding a water bottle into the pack will help to offer good fluid to drink throughout the day and at lunch. Other fluids, such as milk, soy milk, soup or a small amount of juice are also reasonable choices.
Freezing a small juice box or yogurt tube can offer the ice pack a way to keep the lunch contents chilled, or adding a portable icepack works too.
The lowdown on food choices (the good, the bad and the ugly)
Sandwiches are not your only choice when you’re packing lunch.
Leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, hard boiled eggs, vegetarian wraps, pizza, cereal— anything you enjoy at home can be packed up and eaten for lunch.
Then dress up your sandwiches with assorted greens, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, fresh herbs, like a basil leaf, and/or onions.
A variety of salads, pasta and soups can also be packaged up for healthful additions to lunch.
Here is a link to ActNowBC on methods to make fast food healthier for students: http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/health/healthier_foods.pdf.
Junk food items, such as chips, chocolate bars, pop, and candy are foods that could lead to the estsablishment of poor eating habits if packed daily in the lunch. Very infrequently, these items may be a treat on a special occasion.
Convenience food items that are marketed for lunchtime packs, such as instant sandwich kits, including salami, cheese and crackers are loaded with salt and fat.
There are many initiatives to help parents, teachers and policy makers promote healthy living in school children. Action Schools BC is a link to check out for ideas: http://www.actionschoolsbc.ca/Content/Home.asp.
Sandra Gentleman is a registered dietitian and has worked in a variety of settings on Vancouver Island. She is passionate about healthy, active living.