Here we are once again at the start of another school year.
Packing kids lunches is a chore for many, and sometimes one can lose sight of nutritional value due to heavily marketed convenience foods. School-time snacks and lunches are not exactly the best avenue to practice “gourmet cuisine”, but I do get asked on occasion for some healthy ideas. Therefore, this column will be my salute to parents who are willing to say “no” to pre-packaged, high-preservative foods for their children.
Nuts are a very nutritious option, as long as allergy restrictions aren’t a concern. Nuts are a good source of protein and a great source of unsaturated fat (the good kind of fat). Unsaturated fats have been proven to help reduce levels of LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) without lowering HDL-cholesterol (the good one). Unsaturated fats are best described as the ones that are liquid at room temperature, while saturated fats are solid. Additionally, there are a large variety of nuts to choose from for discriminating tastes: almonds, cashews, peanuts, etc. and some are even available with different flavourings to make them more appealing — just keep your eye on the sodium content and other ingredients.
Fresh fruit is an obvious choice, but make sure it is something that they enjoy, to increase the probability of consumption! One thing you can do to make fruit more tempting is do some of the prep ahead of time. For example, a cut and/or peeled orange is much easier to eat than a whole orange. Make it interesting — don’t always send the same fruit. Every once in a while, pack some berries, seasonal fruit, or something more exotic like kiwi or star fruit.
The ease of eating dried fruit makes it an attractive option as well. There are so many naturally dried fruit options that do not contain additional sugar, that it is easy to make their lunch interesting for them. There are dried plums, apples, apricots, pineapple, mango, and banana to name a few, and they are healthier substitutions for pre-packaged fruit rolls.
Carbohydrate-type snack options could be granola bars or popcorn. When purchasing granola bars, read the ingredients to monitor the amount of preservatives and refined sugar they have. Do not choose chocolate covered ones as they defeat the purpose of making a healthy choice to begin with. Also the harder granola bars are usually healthier than the softer ones.
Popcorn, as long as it not drenched in butter, is a great option and a good source of fibre. It is obviously OK (and recommended) that our children consume fat in their diets as it is all part of brain development. Fat intakes should be monitored but not eliminated.
Whole-wheat crackers are another healthy option. Again this may require reading a few labels, but a perfect opportunity to replace amounts of white flour in their diets with whole wheat. For those of you who have time, there are even cracker recipes that you can prepare together with your children at home. The appeal of whole-wheat crackers will be much greater with the pride that comes along with making them.
Throw in some slices of cheese as part of their dairy intake, along with some lean meat slices or tuna salad for their own homemade “snack-packs”.
I am not a dietitian, and these suggestions are merely that. I feel that is our job as parents to keep educated. Contacting a dietitian, for proper moderations for your children’s balanced diets of all the food groups, is highly recommended.
» Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary travel host and cookbook author. Visit him at www.chefdez.com or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or PO Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC, V2T 6R4