Make healthy lunches kids will want to eat

Healthy Lunches

OK kids, fun is over. It’s back to school and back to routines. The season of campfire hotdogs and ice cream cones and water parks is done, more or less.

For moms and dads, that means getting their act together for school lunches.

“It’s the dreaded topic right now,” says registered dietitian Joanne Saab. “It’s the end of summer and we’re trying to re-establish regular bed times and dinner times.”

Most parents want healthy foods for their children. Why else would food companies be stumbling over themselves marketing “so-called healthy foods,” says Saab, a pediatric nutritionist at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont. She’s also mom to twin seven-year-old girls.

“Soft drinks might say 25 per cent less sugar, but there’s still a lot of sugar; fruit beverages have 10 per cent fruit juice, but what’s the other 90 per cent? White bread might have higher fibre, but it’s still not the whole grain fibre that kids need. How are parents supposed to figure it all out?” says Saab, who co-authored the recently published Better Food For Kids with registered dietitian Daina Kalnins.

Parents should be aware that the obesity trend is improving for adults, but not so for kids, she says. People eat out more and cook less and even home-cooked meals contain too many canned or boxed convenience products. And latchkey kids are often sedentary after school, sitting in front of the computer or watching TV after school.

“This is the first generation where children are expected to live shorter lives than the previous generation because of health,” she says.

What parents pack for their kids’ lunches should be a part of an overall healthy diet.

About a third of Better Food For Kids is about nutrition and the rest offers healthy recipes to develop healthy eating habits.

“Early-on training is everything,” she says. “Setting a good example is so much easier than trying to change them later when it becomes more difficult. You have to expose them to lots of different foods and keep encouraging them to try new things. Being picky is a normal part of being a child. If you accommodate this fear of new foods, they’ll have a limited palate. Even if they don’t like something, keep putting it out there. It can take up to 20 exposures before they’ll be receptive to it.

“One of the things I’m proudest of as a mother is I don’t have picky eaters,” says Saab. “I think it was taught. There might be a genetic component but, again, I exposed them to different foods.”

For school lunches, Saab is a huge fan of thermal beverage containers and of freezer packs. “You can pack leftovers and prepare things at the beginning of a week. You can even use a small container of milk as a freezer pack until their lunchtime.”

Instead of bread, shake it up a bit; try rice cakes with almond butter; Melba toast with cheese; bagel with flavoured cream cheese or muffins with apple butter. And, she says, try to involve the child in selecting something from different food groups; not only will it teach them about balanced eating, but improve odds they’ll eat their lunches.

For snacks, the authors suggest fresh cut fruits, pita with humus, avocado or nut butters; shelled edamame; shredded cheese; yogurt with berries; a homemade muffin, cookies or biscuits with milk.

The current buzz in children’s nutrition is around salt. “A recent Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation survey shows they’re getting twice the amount of salt they need,” she says. “And it also showed that 70 to 80 per cent of kids don’t get enough fruits and vegetables.”

She suggests using herbs and spices for flavour in place of salt. “And use salt in the cooking water rather than adding it after the fact.”

She urges families to eat dinner together as often as possible.

“Plan the kids’ schedules around dinner. We know families who eat together eat better and during teen years, there are lower rates of eating disorders because it’s about communicating, sitting and sharing the day.”

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Parents’ Nutrition Questions Answered

Q: What is a nutritious meal that I can give my daughter in the car on our way to her hockey game?

A: Try to include a protein and a carbohydrate source. Great options include warm soup or pasta in a Thermos, leftover pizza, a yogurt smoothie, nut butter on a pita, cheese slices on a whole-grain bagel, dried fruit and nut mixture or quinoa salad with tofu or chicken. Always include water and some fruit slices, too, for both before and after the game.

Q: How do I convince my eight-year-old son that he should eat his lunch every day? It seems to come back almost untouched most of the time.

A: This is a common concern that many parents may face. Often children have limited time to eat because they are very busy socializing and sharing stories. You can discuss what happens in the lunch room with your children, and ask if they have any preferences for lunches, finding out which foods that their friends are eating appeal to them. Try sending half of a sandwich or a smaller portion of pasta or grain salad along with sliced-up fruits and vegetables and homemade desserts for snacks. Try colourful, reusable cutlery and containers. Fun notes in the lunch bag from mom or dad always bring a smile to kids’ faces, and give them another reason to open that lunch bag with anticipation. Variety is important. Let your child help choose what goes in the lunch.

Q: How much water should my eight-year-old be drinking every day?

A: Children between the ages of four and eight years need a total of seven cups (1.7 L) of fluid per day from all fluid sources and foods. To ensure that fluid intake is adequate, provide three to four cups (750 mL to 1 L) of water daily, but in hotter weather or during increased exercise or activity, offer water before, during and after the event.

Q: How can I get my seven-year-old daughter to try a new food?

A: Trying new foods can be an exciting adventure, opening possibilities for many more food choices. encourage your daughter to at least lick or take a small bite of a new food. While she won’t enjoy every food, encouraging a taste will help her discover different flavours.

Q: I would love to get my child to help me more in the kitchen, but I think that at six years of age he is too young. What do you suggest?

A: You can certainly have your son start to help measure out proportions in a measuring cup or using measuring spoons. You can also get him to help slice a cucumber or a soft pear with your close supervision. One simple meal that your child can help with is scrambled eggs. He can mix the eggs and milk, and pour the mixture into the pan with supervision. Rules should be made about allowing this only in the presence of an adult or another caregiver.

Q: Which foods will provide more fibre for my nine-year-old son? I hear that kids are not getting enough in their diet.

A: Many children and adults are not getting enough fibre in their diet. Offering the following foods in meals and snacks will help ensure an adequate intake of fibre, but remember, drinking fluids at each meal and snack and during active sports events is important, as well. Foods that are high in fibre include berries, whole-grain cereals and breads, and beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

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Advice For Moms And Dads

– – Whenever possible, serve your child homemade rather than prepared or convenience foods. Commercially prepared foods can add excess calories (including many derived from fat) and salt to the diet. They can also displace fresh foods such a vegetables and fruits.

– – Limit your child’s intake of juice. For quenching thirst, water, should be the main beverage.

– – Encourage consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by having a constant supply readily available.

– – Eat meals with your children whenever possible. This time spent together as a family has many benefits, including the opportunity to demonstrate to your children your commitment to healthy eating practices, which in turn, will influence theirs.

– – Make sure you are knowledgeable about food and nutrition and its overall effect on health and well-being.

– – Share your knowledge of nutrition with your children. Use games or arts and crafts to teach kids about all the good things in the food they eat.

– – Make sure that iron-rich foods are part of your child’s diet. Iron deficiency can have serious consequences on the health of young children.

– – Don’t rely on vitamin supplements as a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet.

– – Enjoy an active lifestyle together as a family. Exercise, along with eating healthy foods, can help decrease the incidence of obesity in children and adults.

– – Variety is the spice of life. experiment with new foods and try new recipes. If introducing new foods to children, show enthusiasm for it and sample them together. Keep serving sizes small. Even a simple lick can help create a taste for unfamiliar foods. Encourage them to try new foods in the presence of a peer group. Don’t force but try it again at another meal.

Source: Postmedia News

James Chung

Vancouver Lifestyle, Cool Tech & Travel Adventure. Email: [email protected]

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