Family friendly recipes and real life adventures by a mom/nutritionist

Back to Basics

After spending the better part of a week in Quebec City and then the better part of the next week getting reorganized after being on holiday, I’m trying to get back into the swing of things…and it hasn’t been easy!  This week we have been relearning all of our healthy habits, including eating balanced meals.

I often get asked for tips on the basics of packing a healthy lunch to send to school, and this week I had to revisit those pointers myself.  This is the kind of information that you can find easily come September, but it can’t hurt to brush up on the basics regularly throughout the year.

What goes into a healthy lunch box?

A healthy lunch box should contain 1/3 of your child’s nutritional requirements for the day.  For children that are in school all day, it should include a lunch, two snacks, and water.  Foods should be as close to their “whole state” as possible.

The challenge:  To make interesting, appealing, nutritious lunches and snacks that meet your child’s needs, that they can eat quickly and that they want to eat!  Easy peasy right?

Include at least one food from each category:

1)     Protein
For growth and repair, sustained energy.  Some good sources of protein include: tofu, eggs, lentils, chic peas, black beans, edamame, nuts and seeds, shrimp, salmon, baked chicken or turkey breast, lean roast beef, dairy products.

2)     Complex Carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables are technically carbs, but they are important enough to warrant a separate category!)
Carbs provide us with energy and fuel our brains.  Whole grains are a good source of fibre. Some good sources of carbohydrates include: whole grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, barley, whole grain breads, crackers and wraps, sweet potatoes.

3)     Fruits and vegetables – choose two or more!
They provide us with essential vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and also provide fibre.
You can’t really go wrong with any fruit or vegetable in my opinion, they are all good choices!  Some convenient options for lunch include: berries, plums, sliced melon or pineapple, carrot, bell pepper and celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, snap peas.

4)     Good fats
Essential for nerve function, memory, concentration and overall brain function and development.
You will find that most of the good fats fall under another category as well, so you will be checking off two categories with one food most times!
Some good sources for healthy fats include: avocado, omega-3 eggs, shrimp, salmon, tuna, sardines, seeds (hemp, ground flax, salba, pumpkin, sesame), walnuts, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil.

5)     Water
To keep them hydrated and sustain concentration (even mild dehydration saps energy, makes you feel tired).  Water is essential for regulating temperature, transporting nutrients and oxygen to the blood, removing waste and lubricating joints.
Even if you add another drink to their lunch – such as pure fruit juice (I always dilute with water as well), milk, a home-made smoothie, or coconut water – make sure include some water as well.  Drinking plenty of water is a healthy habit that we should all be practising.

Some examples:

1)  Lunch:  Minestrone soup (vegetables, beans, whole grain noodles), cheese and brown rice crackers, grapes, 100% fruit juice diluted with water.  Snacks:  sliced apples tossed with cinnamon and a splash of orange juice.  Home-made trail-mix.  Water.

2) Lunch:  Omega-3 egg salad whole grain wraps with cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes, kiwi fruit, milk (dairy or non-dairy).  Snacks:   home-made muffinSweet potato chili chips (or nachos) with salsa or guacamole.  Water.

3) Lunch:  Chili (veggie or meat with beans and plenty of vegetables), corn bread, strawberries, water.  Snacks:  crispy brown rice treats.   Yogurt (plain mixed with 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed, and fruit puree, apple butter, or honey and blueberries).  Water.

4)  Lunch:  Vegetarian sushi salad, miso soup, pineapple chunks, milk (dairy or non-dairy).  Snacks:  bell pepper slices and carrots with hummus for dipping.  A granola bar.  Water.

Extra stuff:

There are some days that your child may need a little extra from you.  It could be during a time of transition, a special holiday or just when they are having “one of those days” which we all have once in a while (some of us more than others – my daughter is a good example)!

These are a few of the surprises I like to send along with lunch from time to time, to remind my kids that I love them and am thinking about them when they are away from home:

– a love note, hand drawn picture or knock knock joke

– stickers

– a fun pencil or eraser

– a special napkin (it sounds kind of silly but they love the themed napkins!)

– tiny dark chocolates or 100% fruit gummies

– a little figurine from their favourite show or movie (yeah that’s right McDonalds, we know your game)

You get the idea.  Now go forth and create wonderful lunches that nourish and delight your children!

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