Get answers to your nutrition and healthy eating questions. Visit www.eatrightontario.ca or call us toll-free at 1-877-510-510-2.
Get answers to your nutrition & healthy eating questions.
Call us toll-free† at 1-877-510-510-2 to speak directly with a Registered Dietitian.
1. Why are healthy lunches and snacks important at school?
2. What’s a good approach to building a healthy lunch? (see chart and menu ideas)
3. What should I do for snacks?
4. My children want the same thing to eat everyday. How can I introduce some new lunch ideas?
5. How do I involve my child in deciding what to have for lunch and snacks?
6. What foods should I keep on hand for preparing healthy lunches and snacks?
7. How do I know how much food to give my child for lunch?
8. How do I make sure my child's lunch and snacks are safe to eat?
9. What should I know about food allergies and the classroom?
10. Where can I find more ideas for healthy lunches?
11. Resources for the Ministry of Education School Food and Beverage Policy
Your child’s school lunches and snacks are a major source of the essential vitamins and minerals they need to grow and develop over the years.
The foods you pack for your child will give them the energy and nutrients they need to learn and play at school. Without enough energy from food, they may feel tired and find it difficult to concentrate in class. Just like adults, if tasty healthy foods are not available when your child is hungry, the chances that he or she will reach for unhealthy junk food is greater.
The foods and beverages available at your child's school may be changing because of the Ministry of Education's new School Food and Beverage policy. Here's what you need to know about packing a healthier lunch.
Step one: Think food groups. Aim to have at least three of the four food group represented in your child’s lunch. Check out Canada’s Food Guide to review the food groups.
Step two: Think outside the sandwich! Get creative when choosing items for your child’s lunch. Sometimes changing something as simple as the type of grain. For example, using pita, flatbread, tortilla, or cereal instead of bread can make lunch more interesting for your little eater. You may even want to write up a simple chart to brainstorm different options. Here are some ideas to get you started. Mix and match the options in the different columns to get a variety of lunch meals.
Fruit yogurt or soy yogurt
* Foods that need to be kept cold or hot can be packed into a thermos to keep the food at a safe temperature. Cold foods can also be stored with an ice pack or frozen juice box.
Sample lunch #1: Pepper strips with hummus dip, and cheese-filled pasta with tomato sauce.
Sample lunch #2: Marinated cooked tofu in a whole wheat tortilla wrap with shredded lettuce and grated carrot. Add a fruit yogurt on the side.
Sample lunch #3: Why not breakfast for lunch? Hot cereal in a thermos topped with frozen berries and sliced almonds with a cold milk or soy beverage.
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As you plan snacks, think of them as a “mini meal” that includes two of the four food groups. Try these simple nutritious snack ideas:
Your child’s taste may change from one day to the next. Try new foods regularly and don’t be afraid to try them more than once. You may have to offer new foods many times before your children learn to like them!
Children experience food using taste, touch and sight. Keep them interested with lunches that include a variety of shapes, colours and textures.
From planning to packing, get everyone in the family involved when making lunches and snacks.
Pick a few from each list to keep on hand so that you’ll always have healthy foods to pack in the lunchbox.
In the pantry:
Helpful hint: Set aside time in the evening to pack lunches and snacks. You’ll be happy you did during the next day’s busy morning rush!
Use Canada’s Food Guide to figure out how many servings are recommended from each food group for your child. Then take that number and divide it by three (ie: 3 meals).
Let’s use an eight year old boy as an example:
For his entire day, he would need to eat 5 servings of Vegetables and Fruit, 4 servings of Grain Products, 2 servings of Milk and Alternatives and 1 serving of Meat and Alternatives.
A balanced lunch could then be 1-2 servings of Vegetables and Fruit (1/2 cup of carrots and an apple), 1 serving from the Grain Products (1/2 a pita), ½-1 servings of Milk and Alternatives (carton of milk) and ½ a serving of Meat and Alternatives (1/4 cup of tuna in pita).
The rest of the servings he needs would be eaten at snacktime and the other two meals at home.
Every child has different energy needs, which can change from day to day and over time. Some schools send uneaten food home so parents will know how much their child has eaten, which can be helpful. Involve your child in planning lunches so that they can help you figure out how much food they need.
During growth spurts, a time when your child is growing very quickly, he or she may feel hungrier and want more to eat. It's a good idea to send 'extra' snack foods that won't spoil (such as an apple, whole grain crackers or almonds) for your child to munch if hungry, or save for another day.
Keep these food safety tips in mind when packing your child's school lunch and snacks.
Schools have different policies when it comes to food allergies. Many schools have a nut-free policy throughout the whole school. Or there may be policies just for some classrooms. Find out about the food allergy policy at your child's school. Once you know about the foods that need to be avoided, keep them in mind when reading the ingredient list on food labels and when packing lunches.
What are some peanut-free lunches?
For more information and ideas on planning healthy lunches, visit:
EatRight Ontario’s Family Friendly One-Week Sample Menu Plan.
Print out a copy of EatRight Ontario’s or Health Canada’s meal planning checklist.
For more information about food allergies and the classroom, visit Allergy Safe Communities.
What parents need to know about the new school food and beverage policy
The School Food and Beverage Policy: A new way to look at food and beverages sold in schools
Healthy lunch ideas for the new school year
Resources to help understand and use the School Food and Beverage Policy
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Dietitians of Canada acknowledges the financial support of EatRight Ontario by the Ontario government. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.