Nutritious healthy tips for the school lunch box

With busy schedules and little time for food prep, convenience often trumps nutrition when it comes to putting together a lunch

Packing nutritious school lunches that kids will eat can be a challenge. With busy schedules and little time for food prep, convenience often trumps nutrition when it comes to putting together a lunch. However, a balanced lunch with healthy snacks can help your child concentrate, retain knowledge, and be more motivated to learn.

Remember that healthy eating starts in your cart. It helps to plan nutritious lunch and snack ideas in advance and go to the store prepared with a shopping list. The more healthy choices you have in the cupboard the easier it is to make fast, nutritious lunches. Choose foods from each of the four food groups: fruit and vegetables, grains, milk and alternatives, and meat and alternatives.  Choosing a variety of nutritious foods will help ensure kids get adequate amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrates; as well as key vitamins and minerals such as calcium, which helps build strong bones.

Engage your kids in planning, preparing and packing their lunch. The more involved they are in making their lunch the more likely they are to eat it. Remember, variety keeps things interesting and helps achieve a balanced diet. Always include foods that are a good source of protein like beans, nuts, dairy or meat. This will help keep kids full and better able to concentrate all afternoon.

Here are a few quick and healthy lunch and snack ideas:

* Pita bread sliced into triangles, served with hummus for dipping

* Small bag or container filled with dried fruit, whole grain cereal and nuts or seeds (check your schools policy about nuts, many schools are peanut free)

* Tortilla roll-ups: fill a whole grain tortilla with nut butter and banana, cheese and pickles, low fat cream cheese and cucumber, tuna or salmon, etc. Slice the rolled tortilla into 2″ bite-sized pieces.

* Small whole grain bagel with their favourite sandwich filling

* Veggie sticks with a healthy dip

* Fruit cubes with yogurt for dipping

* Small container of yogurt with frozen berries

* Whole grain mini muffins with cheese

* Leftover’s that taste good cold: quesadillas, chicken drumstick or pizza

* Allow kids to ‘create their own combos’: in a container with multiple compartments put whole grain crackers, crisp bread, or pita triangles, sliced cheese, sliced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, pickles, peppers or any of the favourite cracker toppings.

Including occasional treats will not ruin an otherwise healthy diet and will help your child develop healthy and moderate approaches to eating. Keep the portion size on treats small, if they are too filling they might crowd nutritious foods out of the meal. Try to include home made baked goods or packaged items that contain real fruit, nuts and/or fibre.

For more information on healthy eating and resources for childhood nutrition visit the ‘Healthy Eating’ page on Interior Health’s website

– Simone Jennings is a registered dietitian with Interior Health.