Top 5 tips for preparing your kids’ school lunches

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Preparing food that are healthy and nutritious and most importantly, appetizing for kids is one of our major concerns. Every day, parents worry about how their young children eat in school and if they are getting the proper of nutrition. Aside from keeping kids healthy, newcomer parents may also be worrying about the types of food that their children can bring or if it would be appropriate for their children to bring their traditional foods to school.

With these in mind, here are five tips that can help you when getting your kids’ school lunches ready:

  1. Read the school’s food and nutrition policy

    Manitoba schools have a written school food and nutrition policy as part of the school plan. This is where you will find most of the guidelines involving “safe foods” your child is allowed to bring, healthy suggestions, information about lunch programs, and even guidelines concerning packaging food, handwashing and proper hygiene.

    In large part, food restrictions are connected with the management of allergies (especially life-threatening ones) that some students may have. For instance, most schools would restrict bringing peanut butter and peanut/nut products to school. In line with this, it would be your responsibility to inform the principal if your child has allergies. It would be a good idea to instruct your child to eat only the food they brought from home. Also brief them about emergency measures should they have an allergic reaction. If they are old enough, they should carry an EpiPen®, especially if they will be going out on a field trip.

  2. Plan the meals together with your child

    Involve your child in planning for their lunches. Ask them to make a list of what they want to eat and go through the list with them. This will give you a good idea about the kinds of food your child prefers. If chips or less nutritious food are on the list, you may be able to replace them with substitutes or make them nutritious by replacing ingredients. For instance, favorites like pizza and pasta can be made healthier by using whole grain wheat and by 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. In my nephew’s school, they have a schedule for using the canteen microwave. He brings lunches that need to be reheated (like soups) only on that day.

  3. Go for variety

    Having the same kind of food day in, day out can get boring and unappetizing. Unless your child tells you that he or she wants to have the same food every day, try switching up the type of meals you prepare. In winter, kids may like hot lunches that you can keep in a thermos. You can also experiment with different types of bread like bagels or croissants for sandwiches. Instead of a sandwich, you can make a wrap instead. Part of variety is providing different food textures. Crunchy vegetables like baby carrots or cucumber, or fruits like apples and pears are great complements to sandwiches or soups and salads. They are also great snack options.

    Preparing native foods from your country can also be good for your child. As long as these do not have ingredients that may cause allergies (like peanuts), 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-bring (packaged meal kits like Lunchables for example). They are convenient, affordable, and kids like them. However, fight the temptation as these products lack nutrients. They may even contain ingredients such as 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 a list of food to be offered from each food group 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. The factsheet How can I make brown bag lunches quickly that everyone will like? by the Dieticians of Canada has suggestions for office lunches which you and your child might like.

  5. Don’t forget the water

    Hydration is important and water is still best. Juice may contain too much sugar or caffeine as do sports drinks and soda (plus, they can contribute to obesity and damage teeth). If your kids like juice, choose 100% fruit juice. Milk is another good choice. According to kidshealth.org, kids ages 2-3 should drink 2 cups (480 ml.) per day; kids 4-8, 2 1/2 cups (600 ml); kids older than 9, 3 cups (720 ml).

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Community Resources

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 WRHA for more information.

Immigrant Centre has Nutrition Services that offer free cooking and nutrition programs 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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