Packing a lunch for school? Consider what lunch options will work best for you and your family

Andrea Booth, Community Health Team wellness facilitator/dietitian
Packing school lunches every day can be a challenge.
 
There is no doubt lunches may look differently this year as we deal with the changes to our routines that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
What can you send for lunch that is affordable, healthy, tasty and easy to prepare? Here are ideas and tips to help take the frustration out of lunch prep.
 
Tips of the Trade
  • Have your child help prepare their lunch and offer some choice of what they can have. This can add some excitement to lunch time and increase the likelihood they will eat.
  • When you are cutting up vegetables for supper, cut up a few extra for the lunch box the next day.
  • Leftovers make convenient and budget friendly lunches. Have your containers handy and pack lunches while you tidy up after supper.
  • Fruits and vegetables are great for you but can be expensive. Try buying them when they are in season and much cheaper. Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can be great less expensive choices too.
  • Sending hot lunches once in a while can really help to add variety. There are inexpensive thermos bowls that will keep food hot until lunch time (check your local grocery store or department store).  
  • Set up an area that has all the things you need to pack lunches –reusable containers, food wrap, water bottles etc. to make packing lunches quick and easy.
  • Bacteria grows very fast on food at room temperature, so it is important to keep perishable food (made from animal products like milk, meat, eggs, fish, mayonnaise) cold.  Use freezer packs (or frozen 100% juice boxes or water bottles) and an insulated lunch bag to keep the lunch cold and safe for your child to eat.  Freezer packs will keep foods cold for a few hours- but not all day.  Throw out perishable lunch leftovers and thoroughly clean lunch bags every day. Wash raw vegetables and fruit to remove bacteria before packing.
 
Fun and budget friendly lunch ideas:
When preparing lunches, aim to check three boxes: protein, whole grains, vegetables and/or fruit. Below are examples of meals that meet the formula.
  • Homemade muffin with a boiled egg, raisins and milk
  • Raw vegetables and whole grain crackers with hummus or bean-based dip 
  • Apple, baby carrots, cheese slices and mini pitas
  • Trail mix (mix of whole grain cereals and dried fruit), banana, yogurt 
  • Tuna sandwich, celery sticks, canned peaches and chocolate milk
  • Try making sandwiches with different breads, rolls, wraps, pita, etc.  Some kids may prefer items to be packed separately for them to assemble at school.  
  • Leftover meat, whole grain roll, cheese and fruit cocktail 
  • Leftover pasta with meat sauce, apple, cheese string and water
In these unprecedented times it’s important that we acknowledge the current challenges we are facing and be kind to ourselves. 
 
Consider what lunch options will work best for you and your family and be flexible as this may change. 
 
Also trust your child’s appetite and understand that some days they may be more or less hungry. 
 
Involving your child in their lunch routine can increase enjoyment and create healthy habits. 
 
The Community Health Teams offer free virtual programs in parenting, healthy eating, physical activity, mental wellness and more!  Visit www.CommunityHealthTeams.ca to view our program calendar and register for programs. If you have questions or concerns please phone 1-844-460-4555 (toll-free) or 902-460-4560. 
 
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