For some families the back to school period can be a stressful time of year. It is the return of busy schedules, after school activities, and the daily task of making school lunches for your children. But rest assured – preparing a lunch doesn’t have to be a chore you dread. Let me help ease some of the stress!
As a mother of two young children, I understand that life is busy and preparing a healthy lunch might get lost in your list of priorities. As a registered dietitian, I know the importance of feeding our children nutritious foods so they can thrive in school. When walking in to a grocery store we are bombarded with thousands of food items. This can cause us to panic and to think we have to abandon what has worked for us in the past. Not the case! My message is to plan, think balance, mix it up, involve your children, and have some fun (if time allows).
Plan: I am not talking about spending hours each week mapping out every detail for every lunch. I am talking about taking a few extra minutes here and there. Some ideas:
Cut up fruit for tomorrow’s lunch at the same you are chopping produce for your evening meal. Pack lunches the night before; doing this at the same time that you are cleaning up from supper works for many. Attempt to keep foods from the four food groups on hand at all times.
Think balance: Aim to include all food groups in a lunch, or at least three of the four. If you pack a sandwich for lunch (a typical sandwich includes a grain and meat/protein), also include a dairy product and a fruit or vegetable. Unbalanced lunches can leave children unsatisfied and hungry in the early afternoon. For some families, the meat/protein part of a lunch can be a challenge if your child is tired of soy nut butter sandwiches or you are trying to avoid processed meat. Don’t forget meat alternatives such as fish, eggs and beans, peas and lentils. Another tip is to get into the habit of cooking, for example, a bigger roast on Sunday or a few extra chicken breasts when preparing a weekday meal. You will, as a result, always have meat/protein in the fridge. If your child is not a ‘meat eater’ but enjoys yogurt, consider sending Greek yogurt more often as it has triple the protein of regular yogurt.
Mix it up: Think outside the box and consider what foods your children enjoy. Do they like pancakes? If you make pancakes on the weekend, make extra and freeze them. Extras can be placed in a lunch and eaten cold or heated (if a microwave is available). My children like to smear pancakes with some nut butter and jam. Did you have spaghetti for supper? Use leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Sandwiches are popular so use different types of whole grain bread products (English muffins, bagels, wraps and pitas). Or for a change of pace, forget the sandwich altogether; pack the fillings for a sandwich (meat and cheese, for example) and add some whole grain crackers or rice cakes so your child can “build” their own lunch. Most children like to dip Options such as tzatziki and low fat spinach dip may entice children to eat more vegetables (maybe big kids too!). These dips can also be used as a change of spread on a sandwich. If your child enjoys cheese, mix up the type of cheese and the form (cubes, balls, strings).
Involve your children: One thing I have learned is that children like to have some of the control and that, as parents, we can give them some choices and still end up with a healthy lunch. Most kids are thrilled just to be able to pick what fruit will be part of their lunch or what shaped pasta will be used for a pasta dish. If kids help make it, they are more likely to eat it.
Have some fun: Use coloured napkins, straws or toothpicks. Add some love and write a note on the napkin as surprise for your child during the lunch hour. Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes where applicable. Bento box type lunches are popular these days. These compartment-type lunch containers offer an advantage; they allow for reasonable portion sizes with space to organize different food groups – and children love them!
The recipe below is a wonderful evening meal idea and, even better, provides leftovers for the next day. Pack the tortilla and filling separately and assemble at lunch time. The assembled burrito can be served cool or warm.
Pulled Chicken and Black Bean Burritos
1 PC Barbecued Seasoned Whole Chicken (900 g)
4 tsp ( 20 mL) canola oil
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) chopped onions
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cumin
½ tsp (2 mL) ground coriander
2 to 3 tbsp (25 to 45 mL) minced seeded jalapeno peppers
2 small tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 can (540 mL) PC Blue Menu Black Beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup (125 mL) chopped fresh coriander
3 tsp (10 mL) fresh lime juice
1 pkg (650 g) PC Original Tortillas
1. Remove skin from chicken and discard. Using fingers or two forks, pull meat from bones and shred into bite-sized chunks. Place in bowl; cover and set aside.
2. In large nonstick frying pan set over medium-high heat, cook oil and onions for 1 minute. Add cumin and ground coriander; cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring often, or until onions are tender and spices are fragrant. Stir in jalapeno. Stir in tomatoes; cook for 1 minute or until very soft. Stir in chicken and black beans; cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes or until heated through. Stir in fresh coriander and lime juice. Remove from heat.
3. Unwrap tortillas. Place on microwave-safe plate. Cover with paper towel. Microwave on HIGH for 15 to 20 seconds or until warm. Serve immediately with pulled chicken mixture. If desired, also serve with your favourite Tex-Mex toppings, such as medium salsa, diced avocado, chopped green onions, sour cream and/or Tex Mex shredded cheese.
Makes 10 servings
Per serving: 320 calories, fat 10 g, sodium 670 mg, carbohydrate 40 g, fibre 6 g, protein 18 g
Recipe source: www.pc.ca
Anne Marie Armstrong, BscAHN, PDt is a registered dietitian with Atlantic Superstores in Nova Scotia.
Have a nutrition question? Contact me by calling 1-888-225-5295 ext. 632157 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org