A dietician’s tips for making lunches
School supplies and non-marking sneakers? Check.
Another year of making school snacks and lunches? Ugh.
Kids are heading back to class, and the often-dreaded task of preparing and packing school lunches has started up again. I’d like to say I’ve been inspired by Instagram bento boxes and dinosaur-shaped sandwiches, but going into my tenth year of prepping yogurts, veggies, and pasta, it’s become a tedious chore that has me gritting my teeth every morning and evening.
Between school nutrition guidelines that aren’t always clear and trying to pack balanced meals, making lunches can be very stressful. So this year, we sought some help from an expert.
For insight and tips on how to make preparing snacks and lunches a bit easier, Montreal Families spoke with Robin Glance, a dietician offering nutritional advice and counselling through her private practice in the Montreal area. She has worked with schools, sports teams, and clients of all ages. And with two kids of her own, Glance knows how tough it can be to navigate school meals.
Are there any snacks or foods that have an unnecessarily bad reputation, that we may want to consider when packing our kids’ bags for the day?
I think that we have gone overboard as a society with our fear of anything that’s in a package or that is sweetened. Yes, of course, there are many reasons why schools may have policies not to have packaged foods, and I respect the ones that are for reducing our impact and waste. But this notion that if it’s in a package that it’s not healthy — it’s simply not true. Convenience foods are just that. They can be extremely convenient for families who are very busy, and kids may feel more secure around food when there’s the familiarity of that package that can help them feel comfortable and calm.
Children have very high energy needs and sugar-sweetened products can give that wonderful taste and good boost of energy and are not as terrible for us as we’ve been made to believe, but very often it’s not so much that the granola bar is so terrible, but it may not be quite enough on its own to get our child through a long gap.
If a granola bar on its own isn’t enough, what else could a child have at snack time to meet their nutrition and energy needs?
Because kids have such high energy — their bodies are growing, they’re doing a lot, they’re moving a lot, and thinking a lot — I find that snacks are key, and I usually say that it should consist of two foods.
Combining a protein like yogurt or milk with that same granola bar can go a long way. Protein breaks down slowly; it makes you feel full longer. Especially when kids don’t have much time to finish their lunch, as is often the case, it would really help them out to pack two solid snacks, ideally containing protein.
What are some examples of proteins that travel well and can keep for the entire day?
I usually have the perishable protein — that’s generally something dairy based — as the morning snack, and when the kids are staying after school, I want things that will last. When I have time to bake I love to do things like higher protein muffins with Wow Butter or seed butter, extra Greek yogurt or an extra egg, or even milk powder, which will make muffins more filling. And I’ll often throw in a box of frozen soy milk and that can serve as an ice pack that will usually be melted enough by the end of the day to have along with their granola bar or other food item.
Are seeds a good option for kids?
Schools are nut-free environments, but unless there’s a specific allergy, they are not seed-free, and seeds are amazing protein. I’ll often make a kind of nut-free trail mix with pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds, or a bit of both along with their favorite breakfast cereal, raisins, cranberries, and even a few chocolate chips.
When kids are waking up early— for before-school daycare or because they have a long commute — and they’re not necessarily hungry at that time, are there foods that aren’t too filling, but will hold them over until their morning snack?
That’s such a common concern, especially if you’re getting up super early and rushing out the door. I often say that when you’re not hungry, drinking something is a little bit easier than chewing and swallowing down something. So a morning smoothie is something that parents might make. Kids can take a few sips here and there as they’re getting ready or travelling to school. You can get all the elements of a balanced meal in a smoothie. We usually need a fruit or veg like a banana or frozen fruit. The protein could be milk — or if it’s not being drunk at school it could be a nut butter or seed butter — and you need a carb to feed the brain so I often throw in some raw oats to my smoothie and just let it blend up.
Do you have any tips for parents who have been making lunches for many years and are just over it?
It helps to have your child involved, whether that be in any stage of making lunches, or at least keeping you informed about what they are willing to eat. I’ve recommended to families to keep a bit of a running tally, like here are the five vegetables that you still like, the fruits that you still like, and the meals that you like. And if something changes, okay, we’ll come up with a new idea so we don’t get stuck in a rut.
Getting kids involved with making their own lunches, there’s a little bit less likelihood of them saying “oh, this is gross I’m not going to eat it.” But, if our child is happy and even if [their lunch] is quite repetitive, if they eat it and they enjoy — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Do your kids have a favourite snack that you can share with us?
One of the snacks that they’ve never gotten sick of is so simple and it has everything in there. I’ll put some frozen blueberries at the bottom [of a reusable container] with a bit of maple syrup so it’s almost like a fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt and the frozen fruit keeps it cold. I’ll top it with yogurt, our favorite granola that also has a bit of chocolate in it and they pour that in themselves. It’s such a filling snack that they love it and they’ve never gotten sick of that one.
To find more kid-friendly lunch ideas and easy-to-make snack recipes, visit robinglancenutrition.com
Related read: 4 ways to reduce morning chaos