Packing a healthy punch with that school lunch


A few changes can make lunch time a healthier affair


By Jessica Kerr, The Delta Optimist September 29, 2010



School has been back in for just a few weeks but some parents are already looking for ways to shake things up when it comes to lunches.

Whether it's a picky eater or a junk-food junkie, Vancouver dietitian Ali Chernoff says there are many ways to overcome food barriers and get kids eating healthier lunches.

"Kids need variety and options that are fun and exciting," she says. "I would suggest getting your kids involved in choosing and preparing meals to maximize their enjoyment of good food."

Kids that are involved in food preparation are more likely to eat that food.

"If the kids are old enough, get them involved in food preparation from grocery shopping to making their own lunch," Chernoff says. "This way you're guaranteed they will eat because of their input."

Getting tired of the same old sandwich and apple every day? Chernoff, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant, recommends taking a dip into something new.

"Kids love dipping things."

She recommends mixing some vanilla yogurt with cinnamon as a dip for fruit or combining dehydrated soup mix with plain yogurt for a savory dip.

"Make sure to include a variety of breads like pitas, whole wheat buns, seedy breads or high-fibre crackers to keep meals interesting," Chernoff says.

Brightly coloured vegetables such as red peppers, baby carrots and cauliflower are other good options.

Time is always of the essence for busy families and leftovers can make a quick, easy and healthy lunch the next day.

"Make a few different options for your kids and freeze them in individual portion sizes so they can heat them up at school," she says.

Chernoff recommends a rice cooker as a great time saver. She says it can also be used to cook brown rice and quinoa, which are healthier alternatives to white rice.

Wraps are a good option to a basic sandwich. Chernoff recommends wrapping up some cooked chicken and salad, or hummus and vegetables for a vegetarian/vegan option.

"Or try an apple cut up and mix with tuna and plain fat-free yogurt and throw that into a wrap," she says.

Chernoff discourages people from using processed deli meats, which are usually high in salt and nitrates. She recommends making extra meat at dinner to use in sandwiches and wraps.

As for drinks, she advocates steering clear of juice and pop in favour of milk (skim or one per cent), water or soy milk, which is also sold in small, portable containers.

"Juice is not great nutritionally, but if you want to give that once in a while make sure to read the ingredient list," Chernoff says, adding that parents should be looking for products that contain only fruit juice and water.

Above all, parents should strive to send their kids to school with lunches made at home.

"It is important to have homemade lunches for your kids," she says. "Otherwise, processed foods are high in additives, sugar and salt."

Children, and adults, who consume a diet high in processed foods end up missing key nutrients like B vitamins, which mainly come from eating whole grains.

"Plus, they are still growing so you want to make sure their meals are nutritionally sound. Later in adulthood this may prevent or delay diseases."