The school lunch rush

Have a picky eater? Get them involved in buying and prepping lunches and snacks that they help choose.

It’s that time of year again where parents everywhere have to start meal planning as well as prepping their fridges and pantries for back to school. It’s time to forgo the endless popsicles and pizza nights, and instead organize Tupperware and stock the kitchen with nutritious foods for on-the-go.

Don’t start rolling your eyes yet. While it’s important to try and pack lunches and snacks that are healthful, nutritionist Robin Glance said it’s also important to be realistic about what your child will actually eat.

“We know what they will and won’t eat, and I think sometimes we overdo the ‘perfect healthy-looking lunch’ and it comes back uneaten,” she pointed out. “Sometimes there are school rules that are put into place [about what constitutes a wholesome snack], and if you know that won’t work for your child, advocate for your child because you know what’s best.”

There is no denying that kids are going to favour the more sugary snacks, like cookies or granola bars, and Glance said it’s okay to pack these things for our kids, but we need to ensure that other options fulfill some of the basic dietary recommendations too. “It’s very important to satisfy their appetites,” she said.

School lunches and snacks should have a variety of proteins, carbs, and fruits or veggies. “Snacks are important because it’s an opportunity for little guys who burn off so much energy to get in some fuel. A cookie or granola bar will give them a quick burst of energy but then they will crash, so a more balanced snack would have at least two food groups, one of which is protein.”

Protein options are extra important for growing children, especially during a busy school day, because it breaks down slowly in our stomachs and can help make energy last longer. “If they want the cookies or granola bar, pack it with a box of milk or yogurt. Combine it with some kind of protein.” The same goes for meals – they should be made up of a mixture of protein, starches, and a fruit or vegetable.

Picky eaters can be hard to meal prep for, so Glance recommended getting kids involved in the process.

The school lunch rush

Experts say school lunches and snacks should be a balance of proteins, carbs, and fruits and/or veggies.

“Let them help you choose what they want to eat,” she said. “The more we can get them involved, the better. Once-loved foods will sometimes be hated, and they are still going to want the packaged stuff. Discuss which fruits and veggies they enjoy the most and would like to have packed in their lunches.”

Staying hydrated is also super important, especially for active kids, and not all little ones are keen on chugging water. However, in some schools, juice can be frowned upon as a drink choice.

“Hydration is key, and kids often don’t feel their thirst like adults do,” Glance explained. “So, if they hate water and aren’t touching it, this is where you’d advocate for your child because, in the end, a juice box is better than nothing. Yes, there are more naturally occurring sugars in juice boxes, but they still need to stay hydrated. Maybe you can dilute water with a bit of juice. We can’t be so fearful of certain things like fruit juice. Our kids are high-energy and, if balanced with other healthy choices, things like juice aren’t so bad.”

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