Top 5 tips for preparing your kids’ school lunches

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Newcomer parents may be wondering what types of food are allowed and if it would it be ok for their kids to bring traditional foods to school. Here are five tips to guide you when when preparing your kids’ school lunches:

  1. Read the school’s food and nutrition policy

    Most Manitoba schools have a food and nutrition policy. This is where you will find guidelines involving “safe foods” your child is allowed to bring, healthy suggestions, information about lunch programs, and rules about packaging food, hand-washing, and proper hygiene.

    Food restrictions are related to the management of allergies that students may have. For instance, most schools would prohibit bringing peanut butter and other peanut/nut products to school. If your child has allergies, it is your responsibility to inform the teacher or principal. You should also train your child to eat only the food they brought from home. Have an emergency plan to anticipate any instances that your child might experience an allergic reaction in school. If they are old enough, they should carry an EpiPen®, especially if they will be going outside on a field trip, for example.

  2. Plan the meals together with your child

    Involve your child in planning their lunches. Ask them to make a list of what they want to eat. Go through the list with them. This will give you a good idea about the kind of food your child likes. If chips or junk food are on the list, you may be able to replace them with healthier substitutes. For instance, favorites like pizza and pasta can be made healthier by using whole grain wheat and adding a variety of vegetables.

    Listen to their concerns about smell, packaging, and others. Your kids may not like foods that are messy to eat or require utensils like a knife. Also, packaged food should be easy to open so that the child could unwrap it themselves.

  3. Go for variety

    Having the same kind of food all the time can get boring and unappetizing. Unless your child tells you that they’d like to have the same food every day, try switching up the type of meals you prepare. In winter, kids might like hot lunches in a thermos. Try experimenting with different types of bread like bagels or croissants for sandwiches. Instead of a sandwich, consider a wrap instead. Also, part of variety is providing different textures. Crunchy vegetables like baby carrots or cucumber, or fruits like apples and pears can complement sandwiches, soups and salads. They are also great snack options.

    Preparing native foods from your country is another great option. As long as the dishes do not have ingredients that can cause allergies, it is a wonderful way to help keep your child in touch with his heritage and develop his palate for different cuisines.

  4. Follow suggested guidelines for foods

    It is tempting to buy highly processed foods that are ready-to-eat (packaged meal kits like Lunchables for example). They are convenient, affordable and kids like them. However, they lack nutrients. They may even contain preservatives that can cause harm in the long run. The Manitoba School Nutrition Handbook by Healthy Child Manitoba is a great guide for healthy eating. It has recommendations based on nutritional standards. It also has tips on appropriate serving sizes, what to check in labels, and making food choices more nutritious.

    Healthy Food in Schools from Manitoba gov. has many resources, tips, and school lunch suggestions that promote healthy eating for schoolkids.

  5. Don’t forget water

    Hydration is important. Water is still best. Juice may contain too much sugar or caffeine, just like sports drinks and soda (plus, they can contribute to obesity and tooth decay). If your kids like juice, choose 100% fruit juice. Milk is another good choice. According to Canada’s Food Guide, kids ages two to three should drink two cups (480 ml.) of milk per day; kids ages four to eight, two and a half cups (600 ml); kids older than nine, three cups (720 ml).

Article updated September 19, 2023.

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Community Resources

Read the new Canada Food Guide for recipes and tips.

Consulting a dietician is free in Manitoba. If you or your child has special dietary restrictions or concerns, getting an answer is just a phone call away. Call 1-877-830-2892 or 204-788-8248 in Winnipeg. Go to Dial-a-Dietician for more information.

Check out Immigrant Centre’s Cooking and Nutrition Classes. These are free for newcomers of all English levels.

Food Matters Manitoba works with communities across Manitoba to create opportunities for people to be able to eat good food. It has programs that advocate healthy eating for newcomers through various resources, programs and events.

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