It’s that time of the year again: back to school and making lunches.
While families have become more health conscious in recent years finding the time to devote to making nutritious meals for school can be a challenge, says registered nutritionist Nadia Chychrun, of Leaside Health and Fitness.
“It’s all about prioritizing,” she said. “Lunch is a large part of what kids consume.
“It really needs to have attention paid to it.”
Chychrun suggests parents prepare lunches the night before rather than waiting until morning, which can already be a hectic time to get everyone out the door. Preparation includes cleaning and cutting up fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, peas, carrots, beans, peppers, apples or cantaloupes.
“You might not feel like doing it at 8 o’clock at night — often I don’t — but I make it a priority to get it over with because I know at 6:30 in the morning it isn’t going to happen,” she said.
One of the quickest ways to ensure an easy lunch is to make extra food for dinner and make use of the leftovers, or making food in bulk and freezing them so they’re ready to go. These meals will not only be thawed out by lunchtime, but they also keep the rest of the lunch cool.
“My kids today had quinoa salad for lunch because I made quinoa salad for dinner last night,” Chychrun said. “It took no time — literally just spooning it into a container.”
She suggests involving kids in the process, by having them select which fruits and vegetables to pack as a side.
“Encouraging kids to be part of the choices encourages compliance in them eating it,” she said. “It’s all well and good to give them cabbage and kale salads that they look at and go I’m not eating that.”
The mother of two also said her daughters are responsible for small tasks like filling up their water bottles and baking lunch treats like muffins or cookies.
Naturopath Dr. Shawn Meirovici, of Mahaya Forest Hill Integrative Health, also recommends getting kids involved in the lunch-making process by measuring or mixing ingredients and packing the lunch.
Since kids love creativity, a creative approach is using a bento box container with many different compartments, or a collection of small and medium containers, he said.
The main portion of the meal should be a source of protein, such as grains, meats or lentils. A quick idea is a pizza roll-up, consisting of a whole grain tortilla covered in homemade tomato sauce and topped with spinach and shredded mozzarella cheese.
The how-to: Put the tortilla in the oven on broil until cheese is melted. Roll up the pizza-tortilla and cut it into segments.
“This tasty treat is a great source of protein, iron, calcium and Vitamin C,” Meirovici said.
For the next compartment or container, he suggests using brightly coloured vegetables like carrots and purple cauliflower, cutting them into bite-size pieces and providing a dip such as hummus. Cutting up fresh fruit and using a cookie cutter to form fun shapes or adding granola and fresh fruit to Greek yogurt also makes for some fast side dishes.
“Sliced apple with a nut butter is another good snack option,” Meirovici said. “Kids hate brown apple slices so a great tip to keeping apple slices from browning is to soak them in lemon water for five minutes.”
Both Meirovici and Chychrun recommend avoiding prepackaged foods, since they contain preservatives and saturated fats and are high in sodium.
“It’s important that kids go off to school with healthy lunches and healthy snacks because kids need adequate amounts of protein, vitamins and minerals to be able to play, grow and learn to their maximum potential,” Meirovici said.