When it comes to school lunches, variety is important to keep kids from getting bored. A healthy mix also provides different nutrients.
“No one fruit or no one vegetable is going to give you everything that your body needs, so the more variety the better chances we have of covering off our bases,” says Kate Comeau, spokeswoman for Dietitians of Canada.
“That same thing goes for bread. Some are going to have a bit more fibre. Some will have more folate. All will give you a little bit of something different.”
When it comes to picky eaters, research shows that the more kids try a food the more likely they’re going to like it.
“The biggest advice we can give to parents is to not give up,” says Comeau.
An idea that’s popular for picky eaters is build-your-own lunch kits. Put something from each of the four food groups in each part of a sectioned container.
“Maybe you’d have pita triangles in one, cheese cubes and hummus and sliced cucumbers. Your child can pick the four things they like and they won’t be touching or mixed up,” suggests Comeau.
“And don’t panic if one of those four sections comes home and it’s not eaten. Maybe your child just wasn’t hungry for it that time so maybe they’ll have it later as a snack or you try again the next day and see what they’d like.”
Here are some healthy yet fun recipes to add to your lunchbox repertoire from Dietitians of Canada.
These can be eaten for breakfast or tucked into a lunch bag for a snack at recess.
500 ml (2 cups) rolled oats
125 ml (1/2 cup) natural bran
50 ml (1/4 cup) wheat germ
50 ml (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
50 ml (1/4 cup) dried cranberries or raisins
50 ml (1/4 cup) slivered almonds or chopped walnuts
10 ml (2 tsp) baking soda
10 ml (2 tsp) ground cinnamon
2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground ginger
2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground nutmeg
250 ml (1 cup) unsweetened applesauce
125 ml (1/2 cup) milk (1 per cent)
45 ml (3 tbsp) packed brown sugar
For a nut-free option, replace almonds or walnuts with 50 ml (1/4 cup) dried fruits.
Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F). Spray a 20-cm (8-inch) square baking pan with cooking spray; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine oats, bran, wheat germ, flour, dried cranberries, almonds, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, applesauce, milk and brown sugar. Pour over dry ingredients and mix just to combine. Spread into prepared baking pan, smoothing top.
Bake in preheated oven until toothpick inserted near centre comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack before cutting into bars.
Makes 16 snack-size or 8 meal-sized bars.
MAKE-AHEAD BERRY PARFAITS
The varieties of yogurt parfaits are endless. Have kids pick which ingredients they’d like to add. The parfaits can be made ahead and served for breakfast, lunch or a snack.
250 ml (1 cup) large-flake rolled oats
50 ml (1/4 cup) chopped almonds, pecans or walnuts (optional)
50 ml (1 tbsp) ground flax seeds (optional)
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) 2 per cent plain yogurt
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) 2 per cent vanilla yogurt
500 ml (2 cups) blueberries, sliced strawberries and/or raspberries
In a skillet over medium heat, toast rolled oats and nuts, if using, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden and fragrant. Immediately transfer to a bowl and let cool. Stir in flax seeds, if using.
In a separate bowl, whisk together plain yogurt and vanilla yogurt.
Alternately layer oat mixture, yogurt and berries in four individual 375-ml (1 1/2-cup) reusable containers with lids or tall glasses. Seal with lids or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.
Makes 4 servings.
Kids can help chop and measure out ingredients for this colourful lunch salad, which combines poultry, rice, vegetables and dried cranberries.
For a vegetarian version, add cooked beans. It’s also a great way to use up leftover cooked turkey or chicken.
It came second in the 2012 EatRight Ontario Kids Recipe Challenge.
250 ml (1 cup) wild rice or wild rice blend
4 green onions, thinly sliced
125 ml (1/2 cup) chopped cucumber or celery
125 ml (1/2 cup) dried cranberries
250 ml (1 cup) diced cooked turkey or chicken
125 ml (1/2 cup) crumbled light feta cheese
45 ml (3 tbsp) raspberry vinaigrette
Omit for vegetarian version; replace with cooked beans or lentils, if desired.
In a pot, cover wild rice with water and bring to a boil. Cover slightly and simmer for about 30 minutes or until rice is tender. Drain well and place in a large bowl.
Add green onions, cucumber and cranberries. If using, add chicken and feta. Add vinaigrette and toss well to combine.
Makes six 250-ml (1-cup) servings.