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Healthy Lunches for Children

With childhood obesity on the rise and an increased awareness of how food can affect physical, emotional and mental health, parents are becoming more concerned about their children’s nutrition and how to implement healthy food choices. Like adults, children need a balanced diet and ideally each meal, including lunch, should be balanced with the proper portions of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
 To put it simply, the goals of healthy eating include the following:
  1. Make every bite count. In other words, every bite should be high in nutritional value. This can be achieved by eating a variety of whole and real foods.
  2. Keep blood sugar levels stable. Unstable blood sugars can lead to hyperactivity, difficulty focusing, emotional instability, sweet cravings, etc…  This can be achieved by ensuring that meals and snacks are not only made up of carbohydrates (e.g. grains, fruits, starchy vegetables), but also include protein and healthy fats.  Protein sources include fish, lean meats, eggs, nuts & seeds and legumes. Healthy fat sources include olive oil, coconut oil, nuts & seeds in their whole form or as nut butters (ie. almond or peanut-butter), avocados, legumes, etc…

Parents often report to me that meeting these goals are easy during dinner, but not as feasible when you have to pack a lunch that are transportable and tasty.  Many schools now have food restrictions because of allergies which makes it even more challenging.  Please see below for some ideas that have been tried tested and true.

  • Instead of pre-packaged cold cuts for sandwiches, try using slices from a roasted chicken, turkey or roast beef
  • Chicken fingers are usually popular amongst kids and an easy way to ensure they are getting protein—try breading it with ground flaxseeds to give them a boost of fiber.  If you don’t have enough time to make your own, try the Lifechoices brand for fish sticks and chicken fingers which have a multigrain coating, high in fiber and are free from hormones, antibiotics and preservatives.  These can be found in the freezer of the health food section at Loblaws and some NoFrills.
  • Stir-fries, soups, chilies & curries are an excellent way to incorporate a variety of foods (A thermos will come in real handy!!).  Some children who do not like their veggies will tolerate them if they are in a soup or stir-fry because they are chopped up into smaller pieces, they are softer and there are other flavours to mask the flavour of the veggies.  My son enjoys spaghetti sauce when we add shredded zucchini and/or carrots into it and finely chopped red/orange/yellow peppers.
  • Make good use of legumes!! Instead of butter or mayonnaise, use humus as a sandwich spread—this will provide another healthy source of protein & fats. Another option is to, add chickpeas and beans to your child’s salad or brown rice.  At restaurants my son will chose brown rice and beans with grilled chicken over pasta or macaroni or chicken fingers!!  Start young teaching them to make healthy choices at home.  Sometimes, a small side of chickpeas plain if your child is picky or mixed with olive oil, salt & pepper, and lemon juice will do the trick!
  • If your children are really young and the introduction of food is on your mind (ie. your baby is around 6 months), introduce cooked vegetables right away; get them to play with, gum on, and throw pieces of cooked broccoli, carrots, spinach and cauliflower before each meal (i.e. while they wait for you to warm up/prepare their meal- it gives them something to do!!).  Do not worry, they won’t choke as long as you cook them enough and they have a very good choke reflex!  This is a great way to get your children to enjoy veggies at a young age and prevent aversions to vegetables later!  Don’t be afraid to let them get messy!!  *I will be writing another blog completely on this topic; check back soon!
  • Brocoli Fritters, turkey patties and zucchini pancakes are also fan favourite amongst the children in my life (my own and my patients have reported back to me that their children love these.  Please see the following blog titled “Recipes with hidden Vegetables-for the non veggie lover” for recipes!
  • Sushi Rolls! There is something about sushi rolls that makes eating so much more fun and exciting. You can include anything in the rolls. I often make mine with chicken, brown rice, avocado and whatever veggies I have available in the refrigerator.

For snack ideas:

  • Veggie sticks with hummus or white bean dip
  • Banana and/or Zucchini/Carrot/Kale-oat, muffins; See HERE for recipes
  • Whole grain crackers with guacamole—the main ingredient in guacamole is avocado, which is a great healthy fat source.
  • Sweet potato fries/wedges or mixed colour mini potatoes baked in olive oil—these can be baked with any assortment of herbs & spices and serve as a good alternative to chips
  • Nuts & seeds with fruit. Due to nut allergies, many schools do not allow nuts, but seeds (e.g. pumpkin or sunflower) are a great option. You can also spread nut/seed butters on fruits such as apples.  Or make nut or seed balls.  See HERE for recipes
  • Protein bars—try this recipe for homemade protein bars

“No Bake Kids Protein Bars” (source: http://www.busybuthealthy.com/no-bake-kids-protein-bars/)

Prep time: 15 mins Total time: 15 mins  Makes: 16

These No-Bake “Kids” Protein Bars are a great way to get your kids extra protein, in a healthy way. These bars are gluten free, refined sugar free, can be nut free & use natural ingredients.

Ingredients :

      • 6 scoops whey protein (30 grams per scoop). Use plain whey, or one naturally sweetened. (If your child has a sensitivity to whey protein, try Rice/Pea protein (Vega Lite by Thorne is a good one!)
      • ½ cup natural peanut butter, smooth (or seed butter-sesame/pumpkin/sunflower) if not allowed to bring nuts to school!)
      • 1½ cups quick oats
      • ¼ cup honey/Agave or Brown rice syrop
      • 1 tsp vanilla
      • 3 Tbsp mini (or regular) semi-sweet chocolate chips
      • 3 Tbsp raisins (or dried cherries)
      • ½ cup milk (Use unsweetened almond or rice milk if there is a dairy sensitivity/allergy)

Instructions

      1. In a large bowl, add in the whey protein powder and oats.
      2. Stir in the peanut butter, and mix until it starts to come together.
      3. Add in the honey and vanilla. Continue to stir until it comes together some more. Add in the milk and stir until almost combined. Then add in the chocolate chips and raisins.
      4. Note: Cutting into shapes is more time consuming, so by all means, if you want to skip that and cut into 16 bars, go for it!
      5. Form dough into a 9×9 square pan. Using whatever cookie cutter you want, press into shapes and remove with a spatula. I placed all mine in small ziploc bags. Once you cut out whatever you can, press the remaining dough into half of the pan, so it remains the same thickness. Keep cutting shapes and removing the bars and pushing over the dough to one side until you have no dough left.
      6. Store each bar in a plastic baggie and keep stored in the freezer. Can be eaten directly from the freezer. They soften up in a few minutes.

Nutrition Serving size: 1 bar Calories: 153 Fat: 6 g Carbs: 16 g Sugar: 8 g Fiber: 1.5 g Protein: 10.7 g

This blog was originally written by my lovely friend and colleague Eileen Park, MSc, IBCLC, ND but I have since added to it.  For more ideas on healthy snacks and meals for children click HERE where you will find my blog titled “Recipes with hidden Vegetables-for the non veggie lover

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