Lunches That Make The Grade

When the school bell rings and hundreds of young students scurry off to eat their lunch - their lunch bags are likely to be as different as night and day. Ditto for the contents.

While one child is munching on a whole wheat bread sandwich of turkey with lettuce and tomato and sipping on a container of low-fat milk another is washing down a prepackaged meal of cheese and crackers with a can of soda.

Watch their performance during the rest of the day and you may very well observe one child still full of energy while the other can barely make it to the end of the final class.

The food your children eat not only affects their energy levels but also their mental performance. In addition ensuring your child has a healthy school lunch is one way to help them out of the fast food trap. The number of obese children has tripled over the past 15 years with one in every three children being overweight and facing potential health problems in the future. An apple a day will help keep the doctor away!

Unfortunately many school-age children are filling up on fatty sugary salty food.

According to the Simcoe County Public Health Unit sixty per cent of children drink soft drinks every day and pop consumption is increasingly taking the place of nutritious beverages.

"In Simcoe County 50 per cent of girls between the ages of 10 and 19 do not meet the nutritional recommendations for milk an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D nutrients that are critical for building and maintaining strong bones."

Parents play an important role in ensuring that school meals and snacks get top marks for nutrition. Here are some ideas that may help.

Packing a Nutritious School Lunch

Follow Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating and you will be providing your child with good nutrition. A lunch bag should be stocked with at least three of the four food groups (milk products meat and other protein choices breads and cereals fruits and vegetables). These are all healthy choices:

  • Whole wheat breads bagels pita tortillas rice cakes oatmeal cookies
  • Apples pears bananas oranges melons strawberries
  • Carrots peppers tomatoes celery lettuce cucumber
  • Chicken turkey salmon tuna
  • Milk white or chocolate. Fruit or vegetable juice. Water.
  • Yogurt cheese tofu
  • Soups stews casseroles chili

Avoid these foods:

  • Packaged instant noodles with powdered soup base and commercially prepared cracker and cheese lunch kits provide little more than calories and sodium in combination with cholesterol-raising saturated fat.
  • Soda fruit punches sports drinks fruit drinks with high levels of sugar
  • Potato chips nacho chips cheesies
  • Fruit roll-ups
  • Chocolate covered granola bars Dunkaroos pastries

Packing an Interesting School Lunch

  • Mix different colors of food to stir the senses and give a routine lunch some life. Little touches like a pickle for the sandwich top or lettuce leaves for the centre can make a lunch speak to a child!
  • Having food that feels different is important too. Crunchy vegetables or smooth tastes like pudding or peaches can spice up the lunch.
  • Let your child help create lunch to make sure it's a winner.
  • Try to switch between hot to cold lunches.
  • Give drink choices to keep kids happy. Juices milk and yogurt drinks are better everyday choices.
  • Try tossing in one new lunch choice a week. A new fruit a different type of cheese or vegetable will keep meals alive.
  • Each week plant a special treat in your child's lunch. Children sometimes wish for lunches of other children who bring chocolate bars chips and pop for lunch. Try homemade treats like cookies pudding or a special square like Rice Krispies.

Packing a Safe School Lunch

  • An insulated bag of thermos helps keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot
  • Frozen beverage containers freezer packs and sandwiches made with frozen bread can also keep lunch items cold.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before packing.
  • Throw away any perishable food that is not eaten at lunch. Do not reuse wrappings.
  • Teach your child to wash their hands before eating. Read: It's In Your Hands.
  • For some children food allergies can be very serious. Check with your child's teacher about foods that should be avoided in the classroom. Read: The Problem With Peanuts.

Motivating your child to eat well takes some imagination. But it will help if you focus on short-term benefits such as appearance athletic ability and popularity. This will mean more to them than warning of long-term health consequences. Simcoe County public health nutritionists also advise asking children if they actually ate their lunch. "For healthy active children appetite is the best indicator to tell how much food should be packed" they say. "If kids say they're still hungry after finishing lunches and snacks include more healthy basics next time."

Additional Resources:

The Healthy Lunchbox (Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada) Simcoe County Public Health UnitPeterborough County - City Health Unit
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit
Ontario Home Economics Association

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