School lunches can be nutritious
Already a month into school and many parents are likely as bored making school lunches as the children eating them.
With a few creative changes, parents and guardians can liven up lunches and ensure their children are getting the essential vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy.
“Nutrition breaks give children the energy they need to learn and play at school,” said Jody Dawson, a Registered Dietitian with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. “The contents of a child’s lunch box directly affect their ability to concentrate and perform well both physically and academically.”
Dietitians from the health unit recommend that parents aim to have items from at least three of the four food groups included in each daily lunch pack to ensure well-balanced meals. Each of the schools’ two nutrition breaks should include servings from at least two food groups.
“Mixing and matching different fruits and veggies, with different types of whole grains, milk and meat and their alternatives will offer a variety of nutrients and tasty options,” said Dawson. She suggests choosing local, in-season foods whenever possible, to ensure fresher, nutrient-rich selections.
For parents who keep seeing a half-eaten sandwich at the end of a day, it might be time to get your kids more involved, allowing them to select foods they’re more likely to eat. It is also important to remember that presentation is key when it comes to making sure healthy food is gobbled up. Providing mini-sized foods, food on wooden skewers, and packing food in bright colourful containers all help make food more fun and appetizing.
“It is important to try to limit packaging when preparing food for children,” said Dawson. “Generally prepackaged foods cost more money, and are higher in sodium, sugar, fat, and calories.”
As part of Waste Reduction Week, which is this week, the Simcoe County District School Board is also encouraging package-free or “litterless” lunches, packed using only reusable lunch bags, utensils, and drink and food containers.
“In addition to teaching children environmental responsibility and reducing the amount of waste that ends up in our landfills, litterless lunches often provide a significant cost savings to parents,” said Jessica Kukac, Environmental Systems Co-ordinator for the Simcoe County District School Board. “Purchasing food in larger containers and then dividing it up is much cheaper than purchasing individually-packaged items such as juice boxes, string cheese, and individual yogurt or fruit cups.”
Also promoting Waste Reduction Week, the County of Simcoe is encouraging schools to take advantage of its Mobile Education Unit, a travelling classroom that promotes the 3Rs—reduce, reuse, and recycle.
“Our mobile unit is a one-of-a-kind public education tool that engages children with its innovative, entertainment-based learning,” says Rob McCullough, Director of Solid Waste at the County of Simcoe. “Our 30-foot trailer is wrapped in wall-to-wall graphics, both inside and out, and provides multi-media presentations and activities that promote waste reduction and diversion to students of all ages.”
Geared towards today’s technologically-savvy youth, the Mobile Education Unit features four different interactive stations consisting of a total of six 24-inch touch screens and eight digital photo screens. It also has floors made of 100 per cent recycled tires and interior LED tract lighting.
Don’t let school nutrition breaks get the better of you this school year; by reducing packaging, mixing and matching foods from the four food groups, and involving your child in the process, making school meals can become a fun opportunity to teach your child how to eat well, save money, and care for the environment.
Brittany Doner is project manager of the Simcoe County Food and Agriculture Charter
Here are three sample lunch menus for the balanced school day to try with your kids:
- Sample Day 1; First Nutrition Break - oatmeal raisin muffin - apple slices with cinnamon. Second Nutrition Break - tuna salad on multigrain crackers - cucumber, tomato and cheese kabob -water with orange slices.
- Sample Day 2; First Nutrition Break - lower fat yogurt with dry cereal - berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries) - water with lemon. Second Nutrition Break - Hawaiian Salad: mozzarella cheese cubes, ham cubes, pineapple chunks, whole wheat bread torn into bite sized pieces, served with tomato sauce for dipping, and carrots sticks and dip.
- Sample Day 3 ; First Nutrition Break -half chicken or egg salad sandwich on whole wheat bread - celery sticks with cheese cubes. Second Nutrition Break; - half chicken or egg salad sandwich on whole wheat bread - cucumbers with cottage cheese -water with mint and cucumber.