August 21, 2009
Making lunch for your kids
Parents need to be creative about nut-free and meat-free meals.
It's hard to send a child to school with a healthy lunch that at the same time is "cool." Whether or not a school allows kids to share their lunches, kids compare lunches like they compare anything else, and no one wants to be the one with the geeky lunch.
Besides the cool factor, parents these days also need to navigate around nut-free and, if their child attends Vancouver Talmud Torah, Vancouver Hebrew Academy or Richmond Jewish Day School, meat-free lunches. Parents need to be creative to ensure that their children are getting enough vitamins, protein and healthy fats – as opposed to unhealthy fats, found in common lunch foods, such as cheese pizza – while staying within the guidelines of the school.
It may be time to embrace the "forced" semi-vegetarianism, at least for lunchtime. By learning where meat-less sources of iron and protein can be found, families are doing themselves a great service by lowering the amount of saturated fats their family consumes, which can help prevent heart disease, obesity and type-2 diabetes.
Healthy does not have to be nerdy. Schools should try to put together educational outings, such as to a local produce farm to show kids where food comes from, or bring in a nutritionist to talk about the benefits of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and what effect they have on the body. Getting kids involved and excited about healthy eating can slowly change the negative associations kids have with "healthy" food.
So, what's for lunch? Here are some ideas:
• Build your own bean burrito, lots of beans, part skim cheese and diced veggies. Containers with built-in partitions are really useful here.
• Whole wheat pita with home-made hummus and lots of chopped veggies. Make the hummus with chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. (If sesame paste is not allowed in school, either omit it completely or add some low-fat yogurt.)
• Vegetarian chili, served with homemade corn bread.
• Home-made soup – you can add beans, vegetables and rice (brown or wild rice).
• Green salad with strips of grilled salmon (check for bones), and dressing on the side.
• Stir-fried veggies with cubes of tofu or salmon.
• Salmon sandwich made with canned salmon (bones removed), chopped celery and canola oil (skip the mayo), some lettuce and two slices of whole wheat bread: crusts optional.
• Egg sandwich made with boiled eggs, green onions, pepper and canola oil and lettuce on a whole wheat bagel.
• Veggie nuggets. In general, these are a fast and convenient way to get some vegetarian protein into a child's lunch, but be careful about buying them too often, as the ingredient list is as long as some encyclopedias and they often have preservatives or artificial flavors added.
• Pasta with tomato-based sauce. Sprinkle some parmesan cheese for added flavor.
• Couscous salad. Try adding some beans for protein and fibre.
• Vegetable lasagna made with cottage cheese and part skim mozzarella. Put as many veggies that will fit (even chopped broccoli or spinach) and try making the lasagna with whole wheat pasta.
• Have an adventurous family? Make sushi for dinner and pack leftovers for lunch the next day.
• Egg wraps made with scrambled eggs, veggies, grated cheese and whole wheat wraps.
Some snack ideas include:
• Low fat yogurt and fruit. Get plain yogurt and add cut-up fruit to decrease the amount of added sugars.
• Veggie sticks and bean dip – any kind of veggies and any kind of beans.
• Whole wheat crackers or rice crackers with thinly sliced cheese.
• Instead of roasted nuts for a snack, get roasted soybeans. They come in many flavors, including wasabi.
• When a child wants a treat, go for baked chips, dried fruit, home-popped corn or fruit leather instead of candy.
• When giving a child salad for lunch, always give dressing on the side in a small container. This is useful for two reasons: no soggy leaves and it is more fun for a child to pour their own dressing.
• Try to give salad dressings with a vinegar and olive oil base, rather than a mayonnaise base.
• Instead of giving a child juice or pop, give them water. Water will not fill them up between meals and does not have all the extra sugar found in juice or pop. Many children find water boring, so spice things up by getting a funky, bright stainless steel water bottle for their water or put a few slices of lemon or lime (take out pits) into their water.
• To make a bean dip, soak the beans of choice overnight and boil the next day for one to two hours. Add sautéed onions and garlic, or lemon juice and cilantro, or any other spices that might compliment the dip.
• When making sandwiches, play around with different types of breads, trying breads with flax seeds, oats or spelt. Some kids that are particularly attached to white bread can gradually get used to whole wheat if their sandwich is made with one slice of each at first. Also, most bagels are quite large, so take one half and slice it in half again with a sharp, serrated knife if a child can't eat the whole bagel.
• Education is everything: when a child has a connection to food, he or she is more likely to eat it. Start a little garden and then use these foods in a child's lunch. It can be quite exhilarating to tell one's friends, "I grew these tomatoes myself!"
Elizabeth Nider is a freelance writer living in Richmond.