It’s that time of year again for parents to find their creativity to make lunches for kids returning to school.
Being organized and getting prepared before the school day helps to make brown bag lunches more nutritious, economical and exciting.
If you get the kids involved in buying and preparing foods, it usually helps for lunch bags to come home empty at the end of the school day.
Even though many food companies have developed and marketed small-size, kid-friendly “lunchables” type foods for school, these processed/packaged food products tend to be very high in salt, fat and sugar and low in important nutrients, such as many vitamins/minerals and fibre.
To keep the balance of good nutrition in mind, aim for half of the contents of a lunch bag to be vegetables and fruits.
Offering kids the chance to pick out some of their favourites in the produce aisle with the idea that these items will be part of their school lunch should help ensure children actually eat their lunch.
Some examples are cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, snap peas, celery or turnip sticks, broccoli or cauliflower florets, radishes, half of a banana, grape cluster, small pear, apple slices, mandarin orange, blueberries, cherries, mango spears, pineapple rings, cantaloupe cubes and grapefruit chunks.
Getting kids involved with choosing specific vegetables and fruits helps keep them interested in lunch items.
Also, it helps them to feel they have some control over what foods to eat.
Children typically can go through “food jag” periods and request the same item day after day.
This behaviour is normal and doesn’t mean that your child is “picky”. Generally, as other items are continually offered by parents/caregivers, most kids will grow out of this phase and they will soon be more open to variety again.
Often times, labelling someone as picky can stick with the child, which will make variety for food options even more challenging for parents in the future. What we say about (and to) our kids can be more powerful than we realize, and possibly detrimental in the long term.
To keep things interesting, surprise your child with a silly note, cartoon or photo to offer a mid-day reminder from the comfort of home.
For some children, a six-hour day spent with 30 other kids can be emotionally exhausting and having a brief mental break and reminder of home can offer some balance to their long day.
A special treat once in a while, such as a brownie, cookie or cupcake can help brighten a child’s day, but isn’t necessary for a regular addition.
Often, sweet treats are given out at school for birthdays and other holidays and don’t have to be offered in their daily lunch too.
For older kids, provide them with the tools to pack their own lunches. Stock the fridge/cupboards with healthy foods. Have small containers, ice packs and thermoses available and ready for their lunch bags.
The night before school is a good time for the kids to organize their lunch supplies, make sandwiches/wraps, cut vegetables, fruits and get other items ready for a smooth flowing morning.
Look for some new ways to serve old favourites, such as pitas or wraps instead of bread. Offer the fixings to build their own sandwich at lunch with the filling separate from the bread portion.
Have an inside-out sandwich by adding some mustard or low-fat mayo to a piece of lean deli meat, then wrapping it around a bread stick.
Send a container of salad fixings and low-fat dressing, along with a pita and hummus, or other healthy spread, with yogurt and small apple or dried fruit.
Other healthy options for school lunches:
• Avocado cut in half with cottage cheese in place of the pit
• Sandwiches such as egg salad, tuna, salmon, turkey salad, mashed beans with veggies or bacon/lettuce in wraps or whole grain bread
• Baked beans, buttered noodles with cheese, and spinach or ham/pineapple pizza
• Picnic items such as potato salad, coleslaw and macaroni salad
• Chunky soups, stews and clam chowder.
• Leftovers from dinner revived with some fresh additions.
Plus, remember to include calcium boosters, such as milk, yogurt, Minigos, yogurt drinks, puddings, almond milk, soy milk or cheese strings.
With some organization and communication with children about healthy preferences, preparing school lunch meals can be another chance in the home to offer fun, teachable moments about healthy eating with kids.
Sandra Gentleman is a local dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.