I recently had the opportunity to get some lunch box tips from dietitian Anne Marie Armstrong.
Anne Marie is a registered dietitian with Atlantic Superstores and a mother of two. She liaises with stores across the Atlantic region, providing nutrition tips and answering customers’ questions about healthier eating.
With “back to school” in full swing, it was great to be able to pick her brain and get the low down on bagged lunches from a dietitians point of view. Anne Marie was able to offer some great suggestions, innovative ideas and awesome tips.
Monica ~ When packing lunches, should we be including something from each of the four food groups found in Canada’s Food Guide?
Anne Marie ~ Yes, aim for all food groups. Try to keep your fridge and cupboards stocked with staples from the four good groups. If a lunch contains all four food groups there is a good chance the child will reach all the recommended servings from Canada’s Food Guide by the end of the day. Unbalanced lunches can also lead to hunger in the early afternoon.
Monica ~ How do I keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold while maintaining a safe temperature for both?
Anne Marie ~ Check to see if the school has a way to reheat foods normally served hot (a soup for example). If they do then the hot food item can be sent cold and packed with other cold items in the lunch bag. If this is not the case then my suggestion would be to keep hot foods in a thermos or thermos style container. That way, the hot food (in a thermos) could still be packed with cold items.
Monica ~ Are granola bars healthy?
Anne Marie ~ There are so many choices in this area of the grocery store! A “healthier” choice would be one that provides less than 10 grams of sugar and 8 grams of fat. I would avoid using these as a staple snack item as it provides less opportunity for more wholesome choices like fresh fruit and vegetables. In my household we try to limit these to the weekends or on Fridays.
Monica ~ Any tips to get a picky eater to finish their lunch?
Anne Marie ~ Get children involved! Let them pick the type of fruit that is packed with their lunch or the type of bread or pasta used. Always serve a new food with a familiar food. If your evening meal was a fan favorite, send leftovers for lunch! Make it fun, if time allows: use skewers or cookie cutters, coloured napkins, fun lunch boxes etc.
Monica ~ Whether at the end of a long day or the beginning of a hectic morning, the whole lunch making process can sometimes seem overwhelming. Is there any way to streamline the process and make packing lunches easier?
Anne Marie ~ Yes! Do it the night before, perhaps when you clean up from supper. If children are older, get them to help you. As mentioned above, have foods from the four food groups on hand at all times. As a result, you will always the things you need to put together a healthy lunch. When children come home at the end of the day, make it their responsibility to empty lunch bags and put re-useable containers/bags in the sink or dishwasher to be cleaned.
Monica ~ Should we always include water with lunch?
Anne Marie ~ Water should be sent for children to sip on throughout the day. Milk is great choice for the mid-morning snack or lunch. I love the PC® 1% M.F. Partly Skimmed Milk! These tetra packs of milk are an easy fit in to the lunch box.
Monica ~ I am sure this is a much asked questions, but with thousands of new students starting school each year it bears repeating. Most schools are now “nut free”, is there any alternative to the much loved peanut butter?
Anne Marie ~ Many schools are now peanut free! Soy nut butter is readily available and well received by children. Pumpkin butter is also growing in popularity! Your local Atlantic Superstore offers over 100 President’s Choice® and no name® peanut free products. These products are clearly labelled as “Made in a Peanut Free Facility”.
Monica ~ What are some healthy snacks?
Anne Marie ~ The opportunities are endless! A general rule is to aim for 2 of 4 food groups. Some examples are:
Cheese and crackers
Apple wedges and soy nut butter
Vegetables and Hummus (try the new PC® Mini Hummus containers!)
Yogurt and granola
Milk and cereal
Homemade mini muffin and cheese
Monica ~ Would you mind offering some suggestions for replacing the sometimes very boring sandwich?
Anne Marie ~ Sandwiches are definitely a lunch time staple! For a change of pace pack the fillings for a sandwich (meat and cheese, for example) and add some whole grain crackers or rice cakes so your child can make their own.
Think outside the box and consider what your children like. Do they like pancakes? If you make pancakes on the weekend, make extra and freeze. Extras can be placed into a lunch and eaten cold or heated (if microwave available). Did you have spaghetti for supper? Use leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
Monica~ Many families are now very environmentally aware, how can we pack a “greener” lunch?
Anne Marie ~ Packing a greener lunch is much easier these days. Re-useable sandwich/snack bags and lunch containers are readily available. Avoiding juice boxes and plastic water bottles (opting for a re-useable water bottle) and packaged/processed foods at lunch time can go a long way in reducing waste.
Monica ~ What are some healthy drinks to include in lunches?
Anne Marie ~ As mentioned above, low fat milk and water are the best choices. If your child enjoys juice, ensure it is 100% juice and limit it to ½ cup per day.
Monica ~ Would you share some of your favourite healthy lunch packing tips?
Anne Marie ~ Other than the tips I mentioned above, I love to remind families that a healthy lunch is only healthy if it is eaten! So, consider what your children like and go from there. For many families, leftovers are lifesavers especially if is a meal your child enjoys. Finally, remember, a lunch doesn’t have to be ‘fancy’; it could be whole grain crackers, fruit, cheese cubes and leftover chicken. As long as the four food groups are represented, you are good to go!
Awesome answers Anne Marie, thank you so much for sharing your expert knowledge and enabling us to make informed, healthy choices!