WHAT DID YOUR CHILD TAKE FOR LUNCH TODAY?
Most parents and teachers want children to be fit, healthy and ready to succeed in school. Children whose nutritional needs are met are more likely to:
- achieve healthy growth and development, and
- have an increased ability to learn and pay attention in school.
In recent years and in most schools, the quality and variety of foods offered through school-based programs has improved as schools have adopted the Alberta Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth. Most schools haven’t used these Guidelines to limit the food options brought from home. Rather, schools have encouraged parents and students to make the choice as to what foods to bring in their lunch or snack.
Despite parent’s strong intent to promote the well-being and learning potential of their child/youth, studies show that lunches from home are often high in sodium, low in vegetables and seldom include milk. Many lunches contain sweetened drinks and high fat and high sugar snack foods as well.
Without a doubt, making a healthy lunch for a child – day after day – is not an easy job. We know families are under stress and often struggle to find the time or resources to prepare meals at home. However, it may be easier than you might think if you try a few of the following tips.
Tips for Parents to Pack Healthy Lunches and Snacks:
Time: Busy schedules can lead to pre-packaged, more costly choices, or ordering from fast food restaurants.
- Be organized and plan ahead. Shop from a list to be sure you have all the food items needed for the week.
Marketing by Food Processors: Colourful packages and television ads can cause a child to prefer the latest fad food or drink that is often high in salt, fat, or sugar and lower in nutrients.
- Teach your child to understand food marketing tricks and how to read a label to compare foods.
Food Labels: Labels are often confusing and the number of options to choose from in the store increases daily.
- Get the handout on label reading at the web-site below or join a Dietitian on a grocery store tour to learn about label reading and healthy food choices (inquire at Community Health Services for the schedule).
Lack of Food Skills: Many parents choose not to cook from scratch or lack the skills to do so.
- Join a community kitchen to improve your cooking skills or take a basic cooking course. Practice and experiment so you can slowly improve and model your successes and efforts.
Children not involved with packing lunches: Children who are involved with packing their own lunch are more likely to eat it.
- Have your child help you in the kitchen with age-appropriate tasks. Start by involving him/her in meal and menu planning, making sandwiches or peeling vegetables. Slow;y move up to more challenging tasks as they get older.
Children not having a say: Most children or youth want to have some control over the foods they eat.
- Offer a child some control by giving them choices, but make these between two healthy options rather than a healthy choice and a poor choice.
Financial: Given the tough financial times, the cost of food may affect many of families.
- Good news! Homemade lunches and snacks are often more affordable than many of the less healthy, pre-made or ready-to-go lunch options.
- Inquire if your school offers a healthy school lunch or snack program to all children at your school.
- Get involved with the school food programs at your child’s school.
Being aware of the need for change is the first step:
Parents can have a vast impact on a child’s health, well-being, and success at school. Eating habits are formed early in life and home foods play a vital role in how these are shaped. Now is the best time to give a child his/her best shot at healthy living, learning, and growing – for life.
Many tips and ideas for healthy eating and for making healthy lunches and snacks can be found on the web-site: Healthy Eating Starts Here – School Nutrition
For specific nutrition handouts: Healthy Eating Resources
These resources can also be accessed on the Moving and Choosing web-site under links www.movingandchoosing.com/links-2.
For information on Grocery Store Tours call Community Health Services at: (403) 502-8249
For information on or Community Kitchens see the Community Food Connections web-site: www.foodconnections.ca
Submitted by: Marcia Stodalka RD