Lunch is an important meal for children. Here are a few tips for a healthy lunch box that is likely to appeal to children and teens alike.
Start the school year with flavour!
The start of the school year is around the corner and with it the same questions about what to put in our children’s or teens’ lunch boxes. Most parents are concerned about providing their children with the best nutrition possible to maintain their health and well-being. How can you offer your children balanced lunches while avoiding monotony?
You know more than anyone what each family member’s food preferences are. It can sometimes be difficult to find a middle ground between foods that are familiar and loved and the ones that you would like them to discover to promote variety. A well-stocked lunch box, filled with a variety of flavours and colours, and even some little surprises—now that will brighten up your children’s day!
The Canada Food Guide: your ally
The Canada Food Guide is a reference for Canadian families in terms of nutrition. This guide provides information for the best daily dietary choices. For instance, it suggests eating a variety of healthy foods every day and choosing water as the beverage of choice. Eating foods with fibre-rich protein is encouraged.
Fruits and vegetables rich in carbohydrates give your child energy quickly. Furthermore, they are also an important source of vitamin, mineral and dietary fibre intake, making them an essential part of a healthy lunch box. Make sure to include the following foods in your child’s lunch box:
- raw vegetables
- fresh fruit
- vegetable juice, and
- unsweetened fruit compote
Like fruits and vegetables, whole grain foods are an important source of energy, vitamins, minerals and fibre that your child can’t do without. Here are some examples of foods to choose:
- whole wheat or multigrain bread
- cereal bars
- fibre enriched pasta, and
- rice cakes
Protein-rich foods also provide energy and are essential to health. It is recommended to favour foods with plant-based protein as much as possible. Milk and other dairy products are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones. You can choose from a variety of nutritious foods to add to your lunch box, including:
- yogurt (regular or yogurt drinks)
- cheese curds
- tofu, and
Foods to avoid
There are also foods that should be kept far away from your child’s lunch box. Here are a few examples:
- foods that are rich in sugar or salt (sodium).
- foods that contain saturated or trans fats (hydrogenated oil, shortening, etc.).
- processed foods (opt for apples rather than apple desserts!).
- foods that contain a lot of artificial ingredients (i.e. food colorants).
- foods or drinks that have no nutritional value (i.e. chocolate treats, soft drinks).
Hot or cold lunches?
The traditional sandwich doesn’t have to be boring. Use your imagination: tortilla, panini, kaiser, there are several types of breads and toppings available. You can add hummus, olives, salsa, rasped apples, anything goes! If you prefer a hot meal, last night’s leftovers usually do the trick, if they are balanced of course! Be sure to include a fruit or a piece of cheese if necessary.
Lastly, here are a few simple tips to make preparing lunches easier:
- Plan meals and lunch box contents for the week.
- Make a shopping list before going to the grocery store, but let yourself be inspired by the products offered at the store, especially if they are on sale.
- Cut raw vegetables to be used for lunches ahead of time.
- Make larger quantities of food and freeze individual portions.
- Encourage your children to help you prepare meals and make lunches.
Making lunches doesn’t have to be a chore. Include healthy and varied foods in the menu, while keeping in mind your children’s tastes and using your imagination. That is the key to a healthy lunch box!