Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Back to School lunches

Pat MacIntosh, Alberta Health Services - A month of school is now behind us and I don’t know about you, but I need some new ideas for healthy lunch options. I try and avoid pre-packaged lunch and snack items as they are high in fat, salt and sugar (and expensive!). I want something that is quick, appealing to kids, affordable, and most importantly healthy. After all, a brain that is fueled with healthy foods throughout the day is a learning brain.

For healthy drinks I always send a water bottle to school so my kids have access to water all day long. Water is the best choice for hydration. I also use the school milk program. Another option is to send milk from home in a cold thermos. Kids don’t need juice; it is better to eat the fruit instead of drinking it. If you do offer juice, make sure it is 100-percent unsweetened - and limit to one juice box a day. Avoid sugary drinks such as fruit drinks or punches and sports drinks. These sugar-filled drinks have very few nutrients and replace healthy choices.

If you are looking for healthy lunch choices it is best to start with Canada’s Food Guide and choose foods from all four food groups.

Vegetables and Fruits: send two to three choices to cover both lunch and snacks. Kid-friendly favorites are carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber or peppers, or vegetables cooked into soups and stews. Add a fruit such as apple slices (with or without cinnamon), cut up mango or melon, a mandarin orange, or fruit cups packed in juice – not syrup.

Grain Products: stick with whole grain or whole wheat choices but variety is the key. Instead of the same old sandwiches try a pita or wrap once in a while. Whole wheat crackers or noodles are also kid favorites. A small homemade size muffin can be a sweet treat once in a while.

Milk and Alternatives: add low fat milk, cheese strings or cut up hard cheese, and yogurt to the lunch kit to help your child get the two to four servings they need each day. Mix yogurt with fruit for variety. I also make a homemade version of a snack type lunch in a sectioned container for the kids. It includes cheese, whole grain crackers and a boiled egg. I also add baby carrots and cut up strawberries as other “finger foods”.

Meats and Alternatives: kid-friendly choices include peanut butter (or soy butter for nut-free schools), boiled egg, brown beans or black or kidney beans, roasted turkey or chicken strips or other cooked meat.

Leftovers work well for lunches. To save time in the morning, I like to pack them into lunch containers right after supper. Homemade pizza and roast chicken pieces can be kept cold with an icepack. Leftover meat can be served cold in sandwiches, pitas or wraps. Cut up meats such as chicken, turkey, and beef or beans can be mixed with cooked noodles or rice and made into cold salads. Leftover soups, stews, pastas, and casseroles can be heated in the morning and kept hot in a thermos.

Healthy foods such as these will help keep kids fueled throughout the day. Include your kids in the planning of their lunches to come up with other healthy choices. For more information go to: and search recipes.

Pat MacIntosh is a Registered Dietitian with Alberta Health Services, Nutrition Services. She can be reached by e-mail,

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