Eating a nutritionally balanced lunch can set up students for success by providing them with fuel to focus and learn throughout the day.
But ensuring your child brings nutritious lunches to school can be challenging. The cost of groceries, the time needed to make meals, accommodating dietary restrictions or picky eaters, and keeping the daily “menu” fresh can be overwhelming.
While there are many ways you can make the process of packing lunches easier, the most important is planning ahead.
“Plan, plan, plan,” says Dina Daniello-Santiago, a registered dietitian with Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program. “Planning ahead will save both time and money.”
Not only does meal planning take away the guesswork of what to eat and the stress of grocery shopping, but it can also help you stretch your dollar. By planning weekly meals, you can search for deals, find coupons, use cheaper in-season ingredients and avoid impulse buying items you don’t really need.
Daniello-Santiago suggests involving your kids in meal planning, shopping and cooking.
“Getting kids involved is key. Letting your kids help with age-appropriate tasks when preparing lunches teaches them valuable life skills and increases the odds that they will eat and enjoy their food.”
Before you head out to the grocery store, it’s important to first consider nutrition basics. Canada’s Food Guide Snapshot is evidence-based dietary guidance for people of all ages. It recommends eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains while avoiding excessive sodium, sugars, carbohydrates and highly processed foods.
Drawing from Canada’s Food Guide, Daniello-Santiago recommends following the “rule of five” – which can be used to create a “bento box” style lunch:
- Pack at least one vegetable (carrots, broccoli, cucumber, sweet potato)
- Pack at least one fruit (apple, pear, or berries)
- Pack two protein-rich foods (eggs, lean meats, fish, beans)
- Pack at least one whole grain (quinoa, whole grain brown rice, whole grain pasta)
- Pack one small portion of a “just because food” – something your child enjoys!
Adding in a little treat never hurts.
“It's all about creating balance and allowing a ‘just because’ food teaches your child about moderation and that every food can fit.”
Daniello-Santiago also recommends tracking how much food is being sent home. Knowing what is or isn’t being eaten can you help you avoid food waste.
“It’s important to remember that kids’ appetites are all over the place,” she says. Encourage your child to follow their own hunger cues – this can help them develop a positive relationship with food and promote balanced eating habits.
To kick off the back-to-school season, try this healthy snack recipe to add to lunchboxes:
Nut-Free No-Bake Energy Balls
- 1 cup quick oats (certified gluten-free if needed)
- 1/3 cup ground flax
- 1/2 cup sunflower seed butter (regular or chocolate)
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/8 cup raw or toasted sunflower seeds
- 1/8 cup allergen-free mini chocolate chips
- Place the oats and ground flax in a medium sized bowl. Stir to combine. Add the sunflower seed butter and maple syrup and stir. Mix in the sunflower seeds and chocolate chips. This mixture should form dough that's easy to roll into balls. If the mixture feels too dry, add a splash more maple syrup.
- Using a small cookie scoop or tablespoon, roll the dough into balls. Transfer to a small storage container and keep in the refrigerator.
Counselling support from Manitoba Blue Cross
If you’re looking to improve your family’s nutrition with a registered dietitian, we can help. Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage can get nutrition counselling support. Begin the process here.
Unsure of your coverage? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross® account.