Back to School – Planning Meals for your Children

The school year is in full swing, and along with it, the activities that the season generates – homework, after school activities, and not to mention, the meals that fuel it all.

I recently chatted with Eastern Health Nutritionist Sarah Stapleton to find out what parents can do to plan for healthy meals for their kids.

Q. Why is healthy eating at school important?

Children spend a large portion of their day at school so it’s important that their lunches and snacks provide the essential vitamins and minerals they need to grow and develop. In fact, studies show that children who eat well, learn and perform better at school.

Q. Families today have such busy schedules, so finding the time to pack lunches can be a challenge. What advice can you give parents?

There are a couple of key things I recommend. Number one, create some time each week to plan ahead for meals and snacks.

Number two – involve your kids! Sit with them and plan meals and snacks for the upcoming school week.

Involving your kids:
• Helps improve their food skills.
• Makes them more open to trying new foods.
• Allows them to feel part of the process.
• Decreases the amount of food that comes home uneaten.

What can parents do to introduce new lunch and snack ideas?

Your child’s taste may change from one day to the next, so it can certainly be a challenge!

Children experience food using taste, touch and sight. Introduce new foods regularly and keep children interested by including a variety of shapes, colours and textures.

Studies show that it can take up to 20 tries to get your child to accept a new food, so don’t give up. Involving your child in meal planning makes them much more likely to be open to trying new foods.

How do parents know if their child is getting a balanced meal?

Canada’s Food Guide is a great resource and it’s simple to use. Basically, half of a meal should be fruits and vegetables, with the other two quarters comprised of protein and whole grains respectively.

You can find many more tips and resources on the Canada Food Guide website.

Other tips I suggest are:
• Avoid unnecessary sugar – make water the drink of choice. Include a reusable bottle so your child can refill it throughout the day.
• Choose protein-rich foods such as bean dip, a hardboiled egg, low-fat and low-sodium hard cheese, light tuna or salmon or sliced lean meat.
• Choose whole grain foods such as bread, pita, brown rice or quinoa.
• Pack at least one snack in your child’s lunch bag each day.
• Help keep your budget in line by using frozen and canned fruits and veggies. These alternatives are just as rich in nutrients and vitamins and are often more convenient to work with – and to pack in your child’s lunch. Visit the Eastern Health website to learn more.

Can you share some tips about keeping packed meals safe and fresh?

I sure can. I’d like to stress that not only do these tips ensure the safety of your child’s food, they can also help maintain the flavor and texture, thus improving the odds that your child will eat what you’ve packed.

• Wash all vegetables and fruit before packing.
• Use insulated lunch bags and a thermos to help keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Warming your thermos with boiling water before filling it with steaming hot food, will keep it hotter longer.
• A freezer pack can help to keep lunch food cold. If you don’t have a freezer pack, you can use frozen fruit, freeze fruit sauces like apple sauce, or yogurt containers, which will thaw to the ideal temperature by lunchtime.
• Fruits and other snacks that can be stored at room temperature can safely be repacked.
• If sandwiches, hot foods and milk products come home in lunch bag these are not safe to reuse and should be thrown out.

Finally, teach children to wash their hands before and after eating. This practice helps prevent the spread of infection. I also recommend that you check for allergy alerts at your child’s school to make sure you are packing a lunch that’s safe for all.

For more food tips and a great yoghurt recipe demo, watch this short video:

This story was written by Robyn Lush, communications specialist, in consultation with Sarah Stapleton, regional nutritionist. The video was produced by Phil Simms.

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