Although school will be different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lunch remains an essential part of every student’s day.
According to Meghan West, program manager with Airdrie Food Bank (AFB), an important point parents should remember when assembling school lunches is to pack foods their kids will want to eat.
“Being fed and fuelled to learn is the biggest factor,” she said. “Sending something balanced is a double win, but make sure they’re going to eat what you send with them.”
West said the more ownership students have over what they eat, the more likely they are to eat it.
“Creating some control choices depending on their development and how old they are can be a good option, which is one of the things my mom used to do for my brother and me when we were little,” she said.
According to West, her mom would let them choose food for their lunch from a variety of “mom-approved” snacks.
“Because we were choosing what we would take, we were more likely to eat it,” she said.
When it comes to snacks, West added, those with natural sugar are a better choice than those with added sugar. Items with fewer listed ingredients are generally healthier.
Dayna Kadri, holistic nutritionist at Simply for Life in Airdrie, recommends pairing up a type of food containing sugar – like fruit – with a fat – like nuts – to keep kids energized throughout the day.
“If you have the fruit on its own, you’ll have a shorter energy spike,” she said. “Whereas when you have it with some nuts or cheese, the energy is prolonged, and kids won’t have that up and down energy or attitude because they’re more stabilized with their metabolism.”
Nutritious, “conveniently packed” food items are often more expensive. According to both West and Kadri, one solution is preparing healthy snacks for school lunches earlier in the week, which can help save time and money.
“Vegetables keep well,” West said. “Things like carrots and celery, you can cut up a bunch at the start of the week and put them in some water and make little veggie bags you can use throughout the week instead of having to carve out time to prep day after day.”
Ideally, half the lunch should be made up of fruits and vegetables, West said, while grains and a protein source should each make up a quarter.
“Think about adding different things from the food groups to a wrap or a sandwich,” she said.
Kadri added lunches should include foods with nutritional value that are enjoyable to eat.
“Sandwiches are great, well-rounded food items,” she said.
Sandwiches made with fermented or sprouted bread provide more nutritional value than white bread, she said, and are available at any major grocery store.
Ensuring kids are getting a variety of different foods throughout the week is also important, she said.
“You want to make sure you get all the colours of the rainbow onto your plate throughout the week,” Kadri said. “You want whole grains, a good amount of protein and incorporate lots of fruits and vegetables into your diet because our main source of energy comes from having a whole foods diet.”
When it comes to drinks, West said water or juices with minimal or natural sugar should be part of school lunches.
Additionally, to reduce the spread of COVID-19, parents should consider packing foods that require less direct hand contact, she said.
“There’s more to think about now when you’re sending lunches,” she said. “Maybe consider sending things your kids use utensils for so they’re not eating with their hands as much. Maybe you need to be a bit more flexible with what you’ll buy when you’re shopping, so they don’t end up trading with their friends.”
Kadri recommends washing store-bought fruits and vegetables in water and a small portion of vinegar to help kill harmful germs.
For families worried about providing food for their families, AFB is there for support, West added.
“Please reach out via 403-948-0063 or email@example.com,” she said.