Packing Healthy Lunches
Studies show that children who eat nourishing food most of the time stay focused during the school day and perform better. Position your child for success from day one by packing healthy foods for meals and snacks.
Make food easy to eat for little ones
A concern for many parents is that younger kids don’t have much time to eat. Here are some tips to ensure the food you send gets eaten:
- Be sure your child can actually get to the food you send. Have them practice opening containers at home
- Keep portions reasonable. A half sandwich, a mini bagel or mini muffin with cheese cubes and a small fruit may be enough for one break for a four or five year old
- Finger foods are quick and easy to eat. Some examples are mini pita breads, cheese strings, and veggie sticks
- Peel clementines, section oranges, pick grapes from the vine so the fruit is ready to eat
Water is the best choice for quenching thirst throughout the day. Send a water bottle with your child and encourage them to re-fill it during the day – many schools now have water bottle filling stations.
Milk is a good choice for nutrition break. Take advantage of the milk program at your school. It’s one less thing for you to have to pack! Choose white milk most days.
Keep Teeth Healthy
Sugary and sticky foods, even raisins and other dried fruit, can cause cavities, especially if they are eaten often and teeth are not brushed afterwards. Save these sticky items for at-home meals and snacks when teeth can be brushed after eating them.
Don’t be tricked by food marketers
Grocery store shelves are loaded with products marketed as perfect for the lunch box. Don’t be fooled – the food industry does not have your child’s health in mind. The majority of these processed food products do not provide the sustaining nutrition that will help your child get through the day. Here are some examples of heavily marketed lunch box products that have little to no nutrition. Save them for weekend treats:
- Fruit leathers, roll-ups, gushies and gummie products. There may be pictures of real fruit on the package but the ingredient list reveals these products are just sugar.
- Snack pack cookies with icing dip
- Lunchbox pastries and cake
- Granola bars that are covered in chocolate or have marshmallows or chocolate chips
- Lunch kits with processed meat, cheese, crackers and mini- chocolate bars. These are promoted as a wholesome lunch but where’s the vegetable, fruit and whole grain?
- High fat, salty snack foods such as chips, cheesies, tortilla chips
- Pop, sports drinks, energy drinks, vitamin water and fruit-flavoured drinks in cans, boxes or foil pouches. These beverages are liquid candy.
- Fruit juices that are 100% juice. This is not a nutrient dense beverage. It’s high in sugar (it takes six oranges to make half cup of juice) and lacks the fibre that comes with the whole fruit.
Get your kids to help
As a parent, you’ll spend plenty of time planning, preparing and packing school lunches. Get your child to help with this from the start so it becomes routine for them. Younger children can do simple tasks like putting containers in the lunch bag and taking them out at the end of the day. As they get older, they can take on more responsibility for making and packing their lunch. By 11 years old, kids can manage the task on their own – all you need to do is have the ingredients for them to put it together. Find out cooking skills for different ages.
Be aware of food allergies
Schools manage food allergies differently. You will receive information from your child’s teacher or the school principal if there are precautions to take around food sent to school.
Ideas for School Lunches
A common frustration for lunch packers is coming up with ideas for what to send. There are endless ideas for tasty, healthy lunches on the web.
- Unlock Food – Packing Healthy School Lunches and Snacks Frequently Asked Questions
- Unlock Food – Food for a Balanced School Day
- Unlock Food – Peanut Free Lunches and Snacks
- Canadian Living – Back to School Lunch Ideas
- Diaries of a Dietitian
Also available for Perth County residents is our booklet called “One month of Mini-meals for school nutrition breaks”. It’s free and full of mini-meal ideas, recipes and tips for packing food for your child’s school day. Contact Health Line for your copy.