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Headline: School lunch plannerHealthy eating
School lunch planner
Five nutritious school day dishes to help keep your child healthy
By Susie Strachan Photography by Marianne Helm Sept / Oct 2017
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Looking for some fabulous school lunch ideas?

Lana Pestaluky, a public health dietitian with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, has a few thoughts on the subject. She's come up with five tasty meals - one for each day of the school week.

In addition to being delicious, these meals are healthy, with each one incorporating at least three of the four major food groups found in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide.

Needless to say, they are also designed to appeal to kids.

"These lunches are colourful, as children often choose food based on how it looks," says Pestaluky. "The food is easy to handle, in small portions or bite-size pieces, again to entice kids to eat. Teens are often busy at lunch with clubs, sports or other activities, so smaller bites are easier to munch on when in a rush."

"These lunches are colourful, as children often choose food based on how it looks"

Pestaluky says the key to creating the perfect lunch is collaboration. Children should be involved in the planning and making of their packed lunch, she says. Avoid opening a can of noodles, or frozen mini-pizzas from the grocery store, as they can contain hidden salt and sugar. Instead, make a list of what they like to eat, with an eye to the allergy causing foods excluded by their school's lunch program, such as peanuts, eggs or fish. And then go shopping for food.

"It's okay to include a treat in lunches once in a while," says Pestaluky. "Follow the 80/20 rule: 80 per cent of the time, choose healthy foods; 20 per cent of the time, indulge!"

Along with attention to food allergies, many schools are asking children to bring in "litterless lunches" that forego paper napkins, zip-lock bags, drinking boxes and other non-recyclables. Pestaluky favours making your own Bento box by using a large plastic container to hold smaller containers with snap-tight lids along with washable drink containers and utensils, plus a freezer pack to keep food cool and safe.

Here are five lunches Pestaluky recommends:

Day 1: Mini Pizzas

There isn't a kid who doesn't love pizza.

But rather than buying frozen mini pizzas, why not make your own? For this lunch, Pestaluky made pizza buns from English muffins, with pasta sauce, ham, pineapple, green pepper and cheese on top and put them in the oven until the cheese melted. "You can switch the toppings around to whatever your kid likes. And you can make your own pizza sauce, to avoid the added sugar of a store-bought sauce," she says. "Make a bunch and freeze them. Your kids can then microwave the pizza buns at school."

Cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices and sugar snap peas are brightly coloured and bite size, and sure to appeal to picky eaters. Round out the lunch with a treat: a homemade muffin, blueberry in this case. Drink of choice is plain water, which Pestaluky favours over juice or pop, as it rehydrates without any added sugar.

Day 2: Spaghetti

For an easy lunch that takes next to no planning, use leftovers of whatever you've cooked in bulk. Spaghetti, rice, stew, soup - all these dishes can be made into lunch box-size portions and frozen until needed. For this lunch, Pestaluky spooned tomato sauce over whole-wheat pasta, and garnished it with blanched broccoli florets and cucumber slices.

Sliced strawberries and kiwi, mandarin orange segments, and a chocolate chip cookie round out the meal. The drink of choice is chocolate milk, which contains calcium, vitamin D and protein, and is a great recovery drink for the days when your teenager has gym class before lunch.

Day 3: Burrito Wraps

Homemade burritos are tasty, and even more appealing to kids when presented in an easy-to-handle tortilla wrap. Pestaluky used a simple bean burrito recipe, which has kidney beans, diced tomatoes and spices mixed with cheese, and baked them in the oven. Once again, these can be frozen and reheated in a microwave. "Beans are high in fibre, iron and protein and are a great, low-cost meat alternate," she says.

The burritos are accompanied by cut veggies and dip, along with colourful fruit. Pestaluky made homemade pudding for the dessert: chocolate avocado pudding. "It's just two avocados, cocoa powder, milk, vanilla and maple syrup," she says. It has the same taste and texture as pudding made with milk. "You could also get your kids involved with making pudding by shaking together instant pudding, milk, and cut-up fruit.

Day 4: Egg Salad Sandwich

Eggs are a great alternative to meat. For this lunch, Pestaluky made a simple egg salad sandwich, using a hardboiled egg, mayonnaise and celery on whole-wheat bread. It's important to remember to chill this lunch ahead of time in an insulated bag or box, and include a freezer pack to keep the eggs cool and safe.

An apple may be a traditional teachers' treat, but kids love them, too. Apple slices can be kept from browning by dipping them in lemon juice, she says. For a drink, she says you can't go wrong with milk, as kids need the calcium for growing bones and energy.

Day 5: Banana Roll Ups

Spread a little nut-free butter onto a tortilla and roll up a banana, and you get a kid-friendly lunch called a Banana Roll Up. "Peanut allergies are everywhere these days, so why not try peanut-free butters, like soy-based Wow butter, or Sun Butter, which is made from sunflower seeds," says Pestaluky, adding that other spreads include pea, pumpkin seed or hemp butters. "Try a few, until you find one your kids like."

Yogurt with cut-up fruit covers both dairy and fruit, and gives your kids a calcium and protein boost to keep them going until school starts again in the afternoon. Here, Pestaluky used a tiny cookie cutter to make watermelon stars, perfect for small fingers to pick up. Plain milk is again the drink of choice. "You can't go wrong when you include milk in a lunch box," she says. "There's choice here, too, with lactosefree milk, or soy milk. It all depends on what your kid likes to drink."

Susie Strachan is a communications specialist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This story originally appeared in an earlier edition of Wave magazine.

Foods to limit

Sugary Drinks: Choose soft drinks less often. Avoid energy drinks, fruit drinks, cocktails and punches as they usually contain a lot of added sugar and not much in the way of nutrients. Sports drinks are generally not needed to hydrate during exercise. Water is always the best choice.

Chocolate Bars and Candy: While the occasional treat is not a bad thing, it is best not to include sweets in every lunch you pack. Chocolate bars and candy contain a lot of "empty" calories, which do little for your child in terms of nutrition. Fruit is always a better option.

Packaged Foods: Avoid packaged products that contain, cheese, crackers and/ or deli meat. These products tend to be high in sodium and fat. Instead, create your own lunch boxes, using lower-fat lunch meats or left-over meat from dinner, non-processed cheese and vegetables.

Food allergies

It is important to be aware of food allergies when preparing your child's lunch. Most schools generally follow a policy of informing parents to avoid sending certain items in lunch bags whenever a student in that class is allergic to a particular food.

For example, the Winnipeg School Division asks parents not to send food that contains peanuts or another food if there is a child with a life-threatening allergy in their child's classroom or lunch program. Some common foods that trigger allergies include peanuts, other nuts, eggs, fish and citrus.

For more information, contact your local school.