With 180 school days a year, that means a lot of lunches to prepare. Making lunches can therefore be perceived as a chore by many parents. Here are a few tips to help make packing lunches nutritious and appealing to children.
The importance of lunch
Like other meals, lunches are an important part of your child’s diet. Lunch at school is more than just a break between morning and afternoon classes.
Lunch allows your child to fill up on energy. It also feeds the brain and allows the child to concentrate for the rest of the day. Finally, it provides essential nutrients for growth.
Helping kindergartners get organized with their lunchboxes
If your child is starting kindergarten, leaving with a lunch box is a whole new experience for him! Here are some tips to help them get organized.
Show them their lunch the day before or in the morning and explain which foods are for lunch and which are for snacks. It’s a good idea to put snacks in a separate bag in her backpack. But don’t forget to tell her where they are!
Explain that school lunches are with lots of friends, but that they need to take time to eat before they go out to play.
Let them know that there will always be an adult there to help them if they need it (like opening their thermos).
At home, teach them how to use the utensils and let them eat alone.
How do you pack a lunch box?
Whether it’s on a plate, in plastic dishes or in a Thermos, the contents of a lunch should be planned in the same way as any other meal. A variety of foods should be included to ensure a balanced plate, worthy of Canada’s Food Guide.
However, don’t worry if your child’s lunch is occasionally missing a component of the balanced plate. Your child’s diet is not measured in one meal, or even one day. Your child will have many other opportunities to eat each of the food groups.
What to put in the lunch box?
Vegetables or fruit
Vegetables and fruit can be raw, cooked, added to a dish or served as a side dish. Not only do they make the meal more nutritious, they also add color and texture.
It is not necessary to have different vegetables every day. You can use the ones you normally include in your grocery cart.
Fruit can be served as is or with a yogurt dip or homemade chocolate hummus, for example. It can also be served as a compote, crumble, fruit square or salad. Frozen fruit is perfect for adding to plain yogurt.
The dietary fibre found in whole grain products helps make the meal filling. It ensures that your child doesn’t feel hungry too soon after lunch.
Grain products can be part of the main course or dessert. At least every other time, choose a whole grain product, such as whole wheat bread, pasta or couscous, brown rice, millet, quinoa or oats, rather than refined products (white pasta and white bread, for example).
Protein foods can include tofu, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans or other legumes, eggs, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, salmon, sardines or tuna. These foods will keep your child’s hunger at bay until snack time. You can put them in sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, rice or other grains.
Should I avoid deli meats?
Deli meats are very salty, fatty and low in protein. They may also contain nitrites. It is therefore preferable not to eat them on a daily basis and to choose other foods such as leftover cooked chicken, sliced beef, eggs or tuna fish topping. However, it is okay to eat deli meats occasionally, i.e. once or twice a week.
Milk, fortified soy beverages, yogurt and cheese are also sources of protein, but they contain less protein than the previous foods. For this reason, they should not be the only protein food in a meal.
Plain yogurt can be used as a base for a dip, a sandwich filling or a dessert. Different types of cheese can be served as snacks or used in sandwiches, salads and other dishes. Milk and soy beverages are nutritious beverages to offer, although water is always the preferred beverage for your child, especially outside of meals and snacks.
The beverages of choice
To keep your child well hydrated, it’s important to drink fluids regularly throughout the day. Water should be the main beverage your child drinks throughout the day. They should have a water bottle in their backpack to drink when they are thirsty.
Good beverage choices in the lunchbox are milk, fortified soy beverage and homemade or low-sugar yogurt drinks. These beverages are thirst quenching and, thanks to their protein, filling. Other plant-based beverages such as almond or oat beverages have less nutritional value. They hydrate, but are not as sustaining as the previous ones. They are therefore less likely to be found in the lunch box.
Avoid juice as much as possible. It’s sweet, not very nutritious and not equivalent to a serving of fruit, even if it’s made from 100% juice. Offer juice only occasionally and in small amounts at home.
Prepared and frozen foods: as little as possible
With all the lunches to pack and the many demands of school, you may find yourself resorting to frozen or convenience foods. However, most of these meals are highly processed products. It’s best not to use them often. Your homemade recipes are more nutritious because you have control over the quantity and quality of the ingredients you use. If you still need to use this type of prepared food to tide you over, make sure it contains a protein-rich food (fish, chicken, meat, tofu, legumes). Add a side dish of vegetables if needed.
Equipment needed for lunches
There are a few things that are essential for making lunches.
A lunch box. Choose one that is rigid, insulated and easy to clean.
A bruised pear, bruised apple or mashed banana is very unappetizing. To increase the chances of your child eating the fruit, protect it. Whether the fruit is in the lunch box or in the school bag for snacking, put it in a reusable plastic dish if it’s fragile.
Microwaveable dishes, if available at school. Be sure to identify them. Also, check with the daycare center to see what is allowed. Generally, glass dishes are not allowed because they can break or get very hot.
A thermos. This will allow your child to eat hot meals even if the microwave is not an option at the daycare.
Ice packs. These are especially useful if there are no refrigerators at your child’s school. A frozen water bottle can also be used.
Small containers for applesauce, yogurt or raw vegetables.
To prevent bacteria from multiplying, certain foods must be kept refrigerated: milk, yogurt, cheese, cooked legumes, cooked vegetables, rice, pasta, meat, poultry, fish, cold cuts, eggs and tofu.
Also, when you get home, throw away any uneaten food and clean out the lunch box, bottles, containers and utensils. Also, be sure to air out the lunchbox to avoid bad odours.
Make lunch preparation easier
Preparing a school lunch
With so many lunches to pack, it can be overwhelming. Here are some tips to make lunch preparation more efficient.
Pack lunches at night instead of in the morning. You’ll feel less rushed.
Double the recipe when you make dinner so that you have extra to use for lunches. When you pick up the meal, divide the leftovers immediately into individual portions that can go directly into your child’s lunch box.
If the evening meal is difficult to reheat, turn the leftovers into another dish. For example, pieces of fish would be great in a sandwich, and pieces of chicken could be used in a rice salad.
Wash and cut fruits and vegetables ahead of time so that you have a two or three day supply. Pineapple, melon, carrots, celery and broccoli cut well ahead of time and stay looking good during this time. Some fruits and vegetables such as apples, cucumbers and peppers don’t keep as long, so don’t store them. You can also cook rice, pasta or quinoa ahead of time. You can keep them for a few days in the refrigerator and a few weeks in the freezer. This way you will have food ready for a few lunches.
Plan your meals for the week and store accordingly. This will ensure that you have everything you need on hand when it’s time to pack lunches.
Make sure you have some emergency foods at home, such as: legumes, canned tuna or salmon, eggs, cheese and single-serve foods like applesauce.
Serve your child a meal to assemble. You don’t have to make a real “recipe” for it to be a real meal. For example, put together a small can of seasoned tuna (which can be opened without a can opener), mini-pitas, raw vegetables and pieces of cheese that your child can eat separately. Or a hard-boiled egg, good crackers (like Triscuit®), hummus and raw vegetables.
What to pack for a snack?
You should have a morning and afternoon snack if your child is attending daycare. Each school has different rules about snacks. The most common ones are no candy, nuts, peanuts and foods that contain them such as many candy bars and cookies. The teacher may also want snacks that can be eaten with the fingers.
Here are some ideas for snacks:
Cheese pieces or sticks
Yogurt to eat or drink
Involve the child in the preparation of his lunch box
Child proud to have made his lunch
When you ask your child to help you prepare his lunch, he develops pride as well as many skills. It allows them to learn about food, to get to know it and to develop their tastes.
The portions will also be better adapted to his hunger and his needs. You will therefore waste less. Finally, you are preparing him to make his own lunches in a few years.
Here’s how to help him get involved:
Ask him to come up with lunch ideas
Let him fill his sandwich;
Have fun baking muffins, banana bread, rice pudding or other desserts with him in advance;
Ask for guidance on portion sizes;
Have him fill his lunch box;
Give them responsibility for emptying their lunch box and washing it when they get home from school.
Things to remember
Ideally, your child’s lunch box should contain vegetables or fruit, grain products and protein foods.
It’s a good idea to always have food at home to make things easier and to help you out (legumes, tuna, eggs, pasta, frozen fruit, etc.).
Involving your child in the preparation of his lunch makes him proud and makes him want to eat it more.