Preparing school lunch for your kids can be a timely, tedious event – even for the most organized parent. Plan ahead, and keep some key ingredients in your pantry and fridge as an effective way to always ensure a healthy lunch can be quickly assembled.
Here are 10 tips to help make lunch production an easy task:
- Keep a supply of ready-to-snack vegetables in the refrigerator. A time-saver tip — wash and prepare vegetables, for example, broccoli and cauliflower florets, celery sticks and carrot sticks (buy carrots already washed and cut), as soon as your bring them home from the store. Pop into sealed plastic bags or store in cold water in the fridge. Now vegetables are always available for healthy snacking!
- Prepare extra servings of your dinner strategically for school lunches. Roast an extra bbq chicken, a second pot roast and a large pot of rice and beans, ingredients to have on hand for sandwiches, salads or a main meal. A hot lunch once or twice per week is a nice alternative. Pasta with peppers, spicy noodles, turkey meatballs, baked chicken strips all work well for next day lunches. Using a wide-mouth thermos, preheat the container by filling with boiling water. Heat food to steaming hot, then add to the thermos; by lunchtime, the food will be at the right temperature for eating. Remember, always wash thermoses after each use with hot, soapy water.
- Are your kids into salads? Certainly, that trend is increasing with delicious offerings now available at quick service restaurants. Raid the refrigerator and come up with some creations based on the bounty waiting in the crisper. Be sure to include a protein source, such as: chick peas, lightly seasoned chicken, grated cheddar or crumbled feta. Individual pack-size dressings are an easy way to reduce mess, provide ease of transport and control portions. Consider brown rice, quinoa or macaroni as a popular option; toss with a light dressing, such as a balsamic vinaigrette, top with shredded beef, chicken or fish for added nutrition. A sprinkling of pumpkin or sunflower seeds, dried cranberries or croutons adds texture and crunch.
- Healthy ready-made dips (or home-made) can provide a tasty protein source: black bean with salsa or hummus with fresh garlic. Include whole grain tortilla wraps cut into dipper wedges, mini-bagels, naan or flatbread, pretzel sticks, raw veggies or whole grain crackers.
- Single size yogurt and grain-based cereal bars are an easy grab. For yogurt products, look for Milk Fat (M.F) content of less than 2.5%. Similarly, a healthy cereal bar contains less than 5 grams of total fat and no candy, chocolate and/or marshmallows. Always check those nutrition facts tables, as they are intended to direct you to healthy choices.
- Keep a variety of fresh fruit on hand, a natural sweet addition to a lunch. Kids and teens prefer fruit cut up or bite-sized. Watermelon wedges, sprigs of grapes and cherries are popular choices.
- Dried raisins, apricots, and dried fruit snack products are sweet, yet, healthy treats. Look for products with no added sugar and ‘fruit’ is listed as the first ingredient on the nutrition facts table.
- Bake a large quantity of banana muffins or apple cinnamon fruit bread on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Slices and individually frozen muffins are ready to pull from the freezer and place directly into the lunch bag.
- Water or 100% fruit juice can be frozen in plastic bottles and can keep other items cold. Look for juice products with no added sugar. Dietitians of Canada recommend limiting 100% fruit juice to ½ cup for younger children and 1 cup for teens, per day.
- To find out more about ideas for healthy lunches visit Eat Right Ontario for their Family-Friendly One Week Sample Menu Plan including great, healthy recipes. You can print a copy of the menu and post it to your fridge for a handy reference before you start your weekly grocery shopping.
School lunches ideally should include at least 3 of the 4 food groups, and Canada’s Food Guide recommends 7-8 daily servings of vegetables and fruit for teens ages 14-18 and 5-6 servings for children, ages 4-13. Try to maximize fruit and vegetables at lunch to ensure your kids meet their required daily intakes. For further information view Canada’s Food Guide.
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Do you find it difficult to get your kids to eat the right number of servings from the 4 food groups as outlined by Canada’s Food Guide? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.