Kick off the year with an inspired new approach to lunchtime for both you and your kids. Here are the ABCs of giving your lunches a fun and healthy makeover.
AIM to have all four food groups in your lunch. “But I stress having at least two servings of fruits and vegetables at lunch, because not many people – adults and kids alike – get enough servings daily,” says Sue Mah, a registered dietitian based in Toronto. And don’t tackle the task alone: Keep a copy of Canada’s Food Guide in the kitchen so the kids can help create well-balanced lunches by using it as a checklist. “When you get the kids involved, they’re more likely to eat their lunch,” says Ceri Marsh, co-founder of Sweet Potato Chronicles, a website dedicated to healthy family eating.
BOOST the nutritional content in your lunches. For example, make this the year you switch from refined grains to whole grains. “Whole grains offer the goodness of all parts of the grain, which means two times more selenium and zinc, three times more fibre, more than 3.5 times the magnesium and 4.5 times the manganese when you switch from one slice of white bread to whole wheat bread,” says Mah. If your kids aren’t fans of whole grains, make it fun for them. Mah has used a puppy-shaped cookie cutter to cut her dog-loving daughter’s whole-grain sandwich. Also, look for foods fortified with vitamins and minerals (such as yogurt with added calcium, and milk with added DHA omega-3). “Every little bit of calcium adds up!” says Mah, who always keeps calcium-rich Swiss cheese on hand for sandwiches.
CREATE exciting lunches you and your kids will look forward to eating. Experiment with different flavours, colours, textures and tastes. Chop veggies into different shapes. Instead of cucumber coins, try long strips, or replace baby carrots with grated carrots, suggests Mah, and roast veggies to bring new flavours to your meal. Also, remember that lunch doesn’t have to mean sandwiches, says Marsh. “Open up your mind to what lunch could be,” she says. If you invest in a Thermos, everything from pasta to stir-fries can now be your lunch, she says. For her kids, Mah’s found that packing a “treasure hunt” works well: “Scoop vanilla yogurt into a container and toss in five mini chocolate chips,” she says. Then add a note into their lunch bag asking how many chocolate chips they found. “Now the kids have to eat the yogurt to find the chocolate chips!”