School’s started — what’s for lunch?
I have heard people say they consider September the true start of a new year.
This is likely the case for students and parents of school-age kids.
Along with all of the back-to-school excitement comes the task of packing lunches.
Nutritious school lunches not only help form lifelong healthy eating habits, but balanced nutrition can help your child concentrate, retain knowledge and be more motivated to learn.
Here are some lunch-box tips to help you transition back into the swing of the school routine.
First, check your school’s allergy guidelines to see if there are any foods you should avoid sending in your child’s lunch.
Often, schools restrict peanuts and sometimes other nuts and seeds.
Save yourself time by keeping lunches simple and easy.
Plan ahead and go to the grocery store prepared with a shopping list.
The more healthy choices you have in the cupboards, the easier it is to make fast, nutritious lunches.
Include foods from each of the four food groups: Fruit and vegetables, grains, milk and alternatives and meat and alternatives.
Involve kids as much as possible when planning, preparing and packing lunches.
Children are more likely to eat foods when they are involved in choosing and preparing them.
Finally, mix it up!
Variety keeps lunches interesting.
Test out some of these quick and healthy lunch ideas:
• Save time by cooking extra the night before and pack leftovers like cold chicken drumsticks, pizza, pasta, or a quesadilla.
• You can also allow kids to create their own combos.
In a container with multiple compartments, put whole-grain crackers or pita triangles, cheese chunks or slices, slices of leftover cooked meat, sliced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, pickles or any of their favourite cracker toppings.
• Are your kids getting tired of sandwiches?
Put their favourite filling into a small whole-grain bagel or English muffin.
• You can also make sandwiches more interesting by cutting them into different shapes.
Little triangles or squares are easier for small hands to manage.
Use a large cookie cutter to create a fun shape (keep in mind this may create some waste).
Slice pita bread into small triangles and serve with hummus for dipping.
• Try tortilla roll-ups: Whole-grain tortillas with fillings like tuna, egg salad, cheese and cucumber.
Roll them up and slice them into two-inch pieces.
• If lunches are still coming home uneaten, try packing some of their favourite breakfast foods like whole-grain muffins, pancakes or waffles with a container of yogurt or cottage cheese and fruit.
• Also, remember fruits and veggies make good snacks.
Try carrot, cucumber or red-pepper sticks with a healthy dip or fresh fruit like bananas, strawberries, blueberries, grapes or cubed melon with yogurt for dipping.
If you are a working parent, don’t forget to pack your own healthy lunch at the same time as you make your children’s.
Have a happy New (school) Year!
Simone Jennings is a registered dietitian