When I think back to my childhood and the back-to-school rush, I remember being excited about things like new scented markers and seeing friends. My parents, on the other hand, were battling the overwhelming dread of “What am I going to feed this child five days a week for the next 10 months?” Many families I work with find themselves at their wits end for ideas. And while lunches can be made to be fun, the most important thing is that they’re nutritious and don’t come back home! To help make the back-to-school transition easier, consider taking a personalized approach to your child’s lunchbox:
1. The Social ButterflyIf your child can’t sit still, loses a pair of mittens a week, and wants to escape for recess early, then the bento box lunch is for you. Multiple smaller snacks are easier and faster to eat through the day. Try packing whole grain crackers with cheese, edamame, grapes, and cucumber slices. Another fan favourite is deconstructed tacos with whole wheat tortilla, ground beef or black beans with cheese, tomato, and lettuce. If your child needs extra prompts, label Tupperware with numbers so they remember steps one, two, and three!
2. The Active ChildChildren involved in extracurriculars like baseball and dance will need help staying full. Prioritize foods that are higher in fibre and protein as they take longer to digest. Good choices include homemade oatmeal muffins; oat- or quinoa-based granola bars; dried chickpea snacks; energy balls with soy nut butter and hemp hearts; veggies and hummus; mini-cans of tuna; or Greek and Skyr yogurt. Pack extra fruit to eat 30 minutes before their activity, like an orange or dates, to help them power through.
3. The Picky EaterIf your child requests the same jam or cheese sandwich daily, it’s time to think outside the box. Challenge the idea of “lunch foods” and try breakfast for lunch instead. Offer oatmeal in a thermos with yogurt and berries, or scrambled eggs with sautéed veggies and an English muffin. For room-temperature meals, try French toast with soy nut butter dip and apple slices, or a grilled cheese sandwich cut into strips with orange and veggie slices.
4. The TeenLunches for adolescents can be tricky to manage when money and fast food enter the picture. Quick trips with friends for a slushie or pizza can become an all-too-familiar habit. Decide with your teen how often they can go out for lunch and set their weekly budget. Instead of credit cards, try using cash or pre-loaded gift cards to help cap spending on treats. Otherwise, use the tips above to plan meals Monday to Thursday and save a fast food treat for Fridays.
COVID ConsiderationsThe 2020 school year will feel different with COVID restrictions. Hot lunches and snack programs have been cut and staff have been asked to minimize food handling. Pack extra snacks for recess and use easy-to-open containers with flip lids or zipper bags. Don’t forget to pack a reusable water bottle with a straw, as wearing a mask all day can make it tricky to stay hydrated. Kids learning virtually at home should also still practice packing their lunch to help minimize grazing through the day! So, while Pinterest parenting boards may tell you to make pinwheel wraps and smiley face sandwiches, jumping through mealtime hoops is enough to drive a parent mad. This year, save yourself some stress with a different take on an old dilemma.
Stefania Palmeri is a registered dietitian who works in corporate health care, outpatient hospital programs and private practice. She is a graduate of the Nutrition and Food Program as well as the Nutrition Communication Post-Graduate Program through The Faculty of Community Services (School of Nutrition).