By: Melinda Lamarche
We now find ourselves at the end of the summer holidays and the start of the school routine is upon us. It is at this time of year that many parents are scratching their heads thinking about how to keep up with packing lunches and looking for ideas and inspiration to keep things interesting in the lunchbox.
With working parents and extracurricular activities, kids are spending a lot of time outside of the home during the school week and are in need of nourishing foods to keep them going all day long. Keeping kids well nourished not only gives them an edge in the classroom but also gives them the energy they need to keep up with school and after school fun.
Where to start
Breakfast is great for filling bellies and providing much needed nutrients after a long fast over night. Plenty of research shows that breakfast is also key in promoting healthy development and contributing to children’s concentration and learning abilities in the classroom. Skipping breakfast makes it hard for kids to stay focused and concentrate throughout the morning as they wait for lunch.
Start the day off with a nutritious breakfast that is not only delicious but also helps keep kids sharp and ready for learning. As for any meal, aim to include three of the four food groups to ensure that nutritional requirements are met. If possible, prepare breakfast the night before to make the morning routine even quicker, set the table or have things ready to take breakfast to go. Some great breakfast ideas include the following:
- Oatmeal made with milk or milk alternative, sliced bananas and berries
- Whole grain homemade muffin (make large batches and freeze individually wrapped for easy, on the go breakfasts) fresh fruit and a hard-boiled egg
- Fruit and yogurt smoothie with a homemade breakfast cookie
Going the distance
Snacking is essential in helping kids meet their nutritional requirements. Kids have smaller tummies than adults so they are unable to eat a lot at meal times, therefore snacks are essential for meeting their needs and giving them energy boosts throughout the day. Snacks are meant to be smaller than meals, that means we should be aiming for two of the four food groups at each snack. Try combining a source of carbohydrates with protein to not only provide energy but to also to keep small bellies feeling full until the next meal. Some quick, easy and kid friendly snacks are:
- Whole grain crackers with cheese
- Fruit salad and yogurt or cottage cheese
- Homemade muffin and dried fruit and mixed seeds
- Vegetables and pita triangles with dip (i.e. hummus or tzatziki)
- English muffin pizza with your little ones favourite toppings
- Yogurt with homemade granola or whole grain cereal and raisins
Getting over the midday slump
Lunch is the main event. As with any meal, lunch should include 3 of the 4 food groups. Some parents find it tricky to include so much variety in the lunch bag every day, but doing so not only keeps kids interested but also contributes to overall health by helping meet nutritional requirements. Some key essentials when packing lunch are as follows:
- Get the kids involved. Bring them grocery shopping and encourage them to think outside the box and try new ingredients for their lunches
- Get kids in the kitchen packing their own lunches
- Prepare lunches in the evening to help reduce stress caused by the morning routine
- Keep all the lunch essentials, such as containers, water bottles, napkins, reusable cutlery in one place, to help with making packing organized and quick
- Choose containers that are easy to open, smaller children may have a difficult time with even the easiest of containers.
- Pack safe – don’t forget about food safety when packing lunches. Keep hot foods hot with the use of a thermos and cold foods cold by using ice packs and an insulated lunch box.
- Keep hydrated – send kids to school with adequate fluid, choose water
- Some ideas for healthy and delicious lunches are:
- pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, cucumber and balls of fresh mozzarella
- whole grain crackers, cheese cubes, sliced vegetables and a hardboiled egg
- leftover vegetable and lean meat chili or homemade soup with ½ whole grain bagel and cheese
- try breakfast for lunch – freeze leftover pancakes and serve up for lunch along side yogurt and a fruit salad or serve up hot oatmeal straight out of the thermos
- make your favourite omelette in muffin tins and serve with toast triangles and a mix of your little ones favourite veggies
- Experiment with different grains as the base for lunch to keep things interesting. Try quinoa or bulgur mixed with black beans, red pepper and corn, top with sliced avocado (don’t forget a sprinkle of lemon juice to prevent browning) and some shredded cheddar cheese.
Dinner still hours away?
These days kids are spending more hours away from home during the week. This scenario calls for additional snacks to prevent dips in energy. Again aim for 2 of the 4 food groups but consider packing larger portions or an additional snack for your kids to help fuel after school activities, especially when dinner is still hours away.
School lunch success
Packing lunches and snacks doesn’t have to be a pain, get inspired by looking up recipes and ideas for snacks and lunches, involve kids in this process as it is more likely that they will eat the foods they have been involved in choosing and/or preparing. Keep things exciting by trying to include new foods and keep a list of the tried and true lunch and snack ideas and combinations to consult when you are at a loss for what to pack.
Melinda Lamarche has been working as a Registered Dietitian for more than 10 years. After completing her dietetic internship at the University Health Network in 2005 she went on to complete a Masters degree in Public Health Nutrition at the University of Toronto. Melinda has experience working with Toronto Public Health and various Family Health Teams in the Toronto area. Melinda recently completed a Culinary program and is using her new skills to prepare yummy and healthy dishes for her husband, daughter and new baby.