Back to School – Planning Lunches and Snacks to Kickstart Learning

Kids are at school shaping their future for most of the week. What they eat affects everything from their health to their learning, so it’s helpful for them to get tasty nutritious food at school. You’re about to learn how to pack a great lunch, and if you’ve ever wondered how to tackle picky eating, here’s what you need to know.

Lunches don’t need to be complicated! There’s nothing wrong with a sandwich; just try boosting the nutritional value. Many children enjoy nut-free Wowbutter and banana sandwiches on whole grain bread, or on brown or rye if whole grains are new. Leftover chicken can turn into a chicken salad wrap which can be eaten cold. For a warm meal, pack leftover stew or chili in a thermos or microwaveable container.

To provide even more nutrients, try increasing the variety by packing each lunch with the rule of five. Pack one fruit, one vegetable, one whole grain and two protein-rich foods for a total of five items. For example, that earlier sandwich is a source of whole grains (bread), fruit (banana) and protein (Wowbutter). To complete the rule of five, vegetables like snap peas could be added as well as a second source of protein such as unsweetened cow, soy or oat milk. Increasing the protein can help kids feel full for longer. A few more combinations include:

  • Leftover muffin-tin veggie omelet, fruit salad for dessert, and hummus with cucumber strips and pita crackers to munch on throughout the day.
  • Greek yogurt parfait (topped with sunflower seeds, frozen berries and granola) with carrot sticks, plus whole grain crackers and sliced cheese for snack time.
  • Pinwheel wraps with a glass of milk and apples sprinkled with cinnamon for something sweet, followed by celery and Wowbutter to help stay satisfied until suppertime.

If you feel like you’re always running out of ideas, try keeping an updated list of lunch and snacks that are a hit, so you can cycle through the ever-growing list. Ask your kids for healthy ideas too! Children who help choose and make their lunches are more likely to eat them, which can help with picky eating. Take kids grocery shopping and let them choose some items, perhaps the fruit or a nutritious granola bar, to help them buy into the foods they’ll be bringing.

When it comes to preferences, it can take youngsters trying a food up to 20 times before they might learn that they like it. Keep trying and serving items in different ways to increase acceptance. You might have carrots with ranch dip one day, boiled the next, baked with honey and dill afterwards, then shredded in a salad. Sometimes how the food looks matters. Some younger kids might really enjoy their food looking cool – for example, googly eyes on the plastic wrap, a sandwich cut into shapes or a pretty water bottle.

Another factor that comes into play with picky eaters is that kids don’t hear, they see. The food choices parents make for themselves as well as their attitudes influence what their children learn is normal or ideal. For example, if you often complain about everything healthy tasting bad, how might that influence your children’s thoughts towards food? It’s important to be consistent and offer healthy options at school and at home. Kids can learn a lot by seeing their role models find new ways to enjoy nutritious food.

Packing lunches to help with performance at school can be simple and doesn’t need to be fancy. Pay attention to the attitudes your kids learn with regards to nutritious foods and try involving them in lunch bag assembly. This can take energy but sets your family up for success and less food fights down the road. Just as providing a variety of creative playground equipment can make playtime enjoyable, incorporating a diverse range of nutritious foods can make mealtime an exciting experience for your children.

For more fun lunch ideas, click here or visit the dietitian booth at the Independent grocery store on August 27th from 3-5pm for free samples and recipes.

Michelle Stevens, Registered Dietitian