TORONTO — With the start of school right around the corner, now is the time to brainstorm with your kids to line up some new recipes and fun ideas for lunches.
Experts advise that if children have some say in what they eat, it’s more likely lunch boxes will be returned home with just crumbs instead of uneaten food.
“One of the ways we can ensure kids eat their lunch is for them to be involved, so if they do feel some ownership over their lunch and they get to choose some of the items, they’re more likely to eat them,” says registered dietitian Kate Comeau.
Have everyone suggest their favourite lunch and snack and keep a list on the fridge or other prominent spot in the kitchen, says Comeau, spokeswoman for Dietitians of Canada, during an interview from Halifax.
“Keep that page handy so that when you’re going grocery shopping and making lunches you can ensure those foods are readily available and there’s lots of variety.”
Weekend planning and prepping lunches the night before can go far to alleviate morning mayhem.
“On a Sunday afternoon, instead of sitting down and watching a movie, why not make a homemade granola recipe and talk about measuring ingredients and talk about all the skills that are related to cooking,” says Comeau.
“The idea here is the more confidence they have, the more you are empowering them for the future that they’ll be able to actively continue to pack their lunch as adults, which we know is a healthier choice.”
You can make packed lunches more appealing by giving family members the option to customize their meals, and mix it up from week to week.
Have available a variety of breads — pita, whole-grain buns, wraps — along with additions like roasted chickpeas, cut-up cheese and sliced cucumber, red pepper and tomato. Offer hummus or baba ghanouj as a switch from butter or mayonnaise.
Sunflower seed butter and soybean butter can be substituted for peanut butter, often banned from schools due to allergies.
For those who don’t like to veer from their favourite sandwich, prep a loaf’s worth and wrap and freeze a bunch of lunches individually, suggests TV host and magazine publisher Ricardo Larrivee.
Tired of sandwiches? Experiment with salads containing different grains such as wild rice, millet and freekeh.
“For a less adventurous eater you might stick with something like white rice, which is bit blander, and then add in a little bit of a new grain to try, but having something like a wild rice salad with cranberries and almonds and a little bit of chopped chicken on top can be a great lunch,” says Comeau.
Pack a water bottle, not juice boxes, in lunches, adds Comeau.
“Remember that kids don’t need juice. Packing water and a piece of fruit is always going to be more nourishing for kids,” she says.
Orange sections, melon cubes or grapes packed in a small container are easy to pop into the mouth. Some parents cut an apple into wedges, then reassemble the fruit and hold it together with a rubber band to lessen browning.