As we start thinking about “back to school”, the idea of planning and preparing school lunches and snacks is a daunting task for many parents who fall back on traditional processed options not only for convenience, but also because they can feel reassured that their children are eating throughout the school day. Furthermore, calories surely provide energy, but nutrient density and sustainable energy is where we ideally want to direct our efforts. By starting the school year off setting appropriate expectations, we can more easily encourage our children to make healthier choices. The following are some recommendations on how to go about doing so:
Sit down with your children and explain that the family will be taking on the “anytime snacks” challenge. Together you can make a list of these foods. Rotate the options throughout the week to encourage variety (Fruits, Veggies, Seeds, Whole Grains, Complex Carbohydrates)
Reserve “sometimes snacks” for special events and outings. Make a commitment to send only healthier options to school. If possible, keep unhealthy options out of the home, making it easier to avoid reaching for these snacks. Have healthier options readily accessible so kids can help themselves at home. (A vegetable platter, a bowl of washed fruit - or teach them to wash them, trail mixes…)
It may not be intuitive, but small portions of sides or main meals can serve as a snack. For example:
A slice of whole grain bread and hummus. You may want to try sunflower and pumpkin seed butters for school. Even a party sandwich sized egg or tuna on whole grain bread can serve as a sustaining snack. Think of the foods your kids love for main meals and make them into “mini-meals” or snacks
Whole Grain Rice (with any veggies or combos your kids enjoy)
Pasta tossed with olive oil
As we strive to teach our children how to eat, ideally we should be providing a consistent message to them. We can categorize foods as “Anytime Foods” and “Sometimes Foods” so that unhealthier options are not communicated as taboo, making them more appealing and desired by our kids. Teaching the relative importance of foods empowers children to balance their choices.
The following are some ideas of replacements to traditional snacks:
Instead of refined crackers and goldfish, try variations of rice cakes such as spelt cakes for example. Lundberg andPrimeal have a variety of options. Read the list of ingredients and stick with a short list of whole grain options. For example, Wild Rice Whole Grain Rice Cakes contain only whole grain brown rice, wild rice, and sea salt (which is mineral-rich, rather than refined white salt stripped of nutrients.) For more sustained energy, the rice cakes can be used as a base for honey and banana to satisfy a sweet tooth, or other variations. Do not send these combinations to school pre-made as this will make the rice cake soggy. Instead you could teach your child how to spread a topping with a Popsicle stick, developing their fine motor skills which many teachers would be happy to assist them with.
Instead of sugar cereals or salted options, raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds with whole grain cereal, dried fruit, and dark chocolate. Make sure the dried fruit you buy is sulfite-free. Check out U-RAAW and look at their Apples, Mangos, Dates, Papaya, Pineapple, and other products with just a single ingredient.
Make homemade cookies, breads, and other baked goods (ideally together with your kids) and freeze them in portions that could easily be added to lunches. If you would like some recipes, please send your request via “Comments” on the top left-hand side of the blog. For example, energy bites, quinoa banana bread, overnight oats, whole grain pancakes and muffins, and cookies with a healthy twist. Although these snacks contain some unhealthier ingredients, they are leaps and bounds ahead of any prepackaged options we may reach for and exposes your child’s pallets to a wider variety of ingredients and flavors.
Lunches and snack can also be more appealing and fun if we give the foods they eat special names. For example:
Banana Chocolate Overnight Oats (made with plain yogurt, chia, cocoa…) can be called “Chunky Monkey pudding”
Carrot Energy Bites can be called “X-Ray Vision tasters”
Quinoa Banana Bread can be called “Outside the Bread-Box”
Banana Oat Cookies can be called “Monster Cookies”
Similarly Fruits and Vegetables can also have fun names, and putting stickers on fresh produce make them more appealing:
Broccoli = Dinosaur Trees
Apples = Shmapples
Cantaloupe = Cantasaurus
You could also make the presentation appealing with fruit and vegetable kabobs, fun shapes, and other food art. Another fun idea is to either make or buy special notes to include in their lunches. Check out Tweet Notes for a fun product!
Please send your comments or questions via the dialogue box – I look forward to hearing from you!