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27 Jan, Friday
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Montreal Families

School lunches packed with nutrition

Getting her daughter to eat a nutritious lunch on school days is usually a lesson in frustration for Montreal parent Lezlie Tune. Her 11-year-old’s lunchbox, carefully packed with nutritious offerings, often comes home looking like it has not been touched. The situation leaves her baffled and Tune says she has to sometimes beg her daughter to eat her lunch.

Until now, the only solution to this food fight has been for Tune to pay for a hot lunch provided by the school. Her daughter adores them, but Tune hasn’t liked paying for something she wasn’t convinced provided a truly healthy meal. But now, thanks to new rules by the Ministry of Education, those school lunches will be providing kids with more of the nutrients their growing bodies need.

The new program, dubbed Going the Healthy Route at School, focuses on nine key points, including: offering a choice of vegetables with all main courses, making sure portion sizes are appropriate for children (not too large or too small) and ensuring kids drink either milk, water or 100 per cent fruit juice with their meal. Desserts will include healthy ingredients such as fruit, whole grains or milk products.

Anne Tetro, food services manager for the Lester B. Pearson School Board, which had already been following most of the recommendations, said the new program emphasizes helping children make good choices. “I think everyone is aware of the importance of eating well,” she said, “It’s just a matter of learning how to do it.”

Though most schools ousted soda beverages and bags of chips long ago, Tetro is well aware that kids still love such indulgences. “Moderation is the big message we want to get out,” she said. “If you have a treat recognize it as such (don’t do it all the time) and go for a good walk after.”

As part of this new program, schools are also encouraged to evaluate fundraising efforts that may include unhealthy nutrition choices, such as organizing hot dog lunches or selling candy.

The ministry has asked schools that choose to sell chocolates to select products containing a minimum 70 per cent cocoa, which generally has less sugar than milk chocolate or white chocolate products. Better yet, suggests Tetro, schools should consider selling non-food items.

Parents who choose to pack a lunch for their child can also follow the new guidelines as they prepare items for the lunchbox. Old standbys such as a ham and cheese sandwich probably seem less appealing after the recent recall of cold meats. But Tetro notes that lunch meats have never been a top choice when it comes to nutrition and should probably be relegated to occasional use.

“Lunch meats are processed, which is not a good everyday choice for any food item. We need to get back to eating foods in their natural state,” Tetro noted. Rather than buying cold cuts each week, she suggests cooking an entire turkey, chicken, or roast and slicing and freezing the meats, which can be used anytime in sandwiches.

Alternative suggestions can include hardboiled eggs, cold, lean meats such as chicken legs, low-sodium tuna spread served with crackers, or cheese and crackers.

Add fruit and vegetables to the mix along with milk or 100 per cent juice, a fruit muffin, oatmeal cookie, or pudding and you have a balanced, nutritious meal.

When it comes to age-appropriate nutrition needs, Tetro says all kids are not created equal. Kindergarten students, for example, may do just fine with less food.

Half a sandwich and half of a cut-up apple, along with some small snacks is sufficient and less intimidating than a lunchbox packed with too much food.

“You know how your child eats at home so follow their lead when packing a lunch for school,” Tetro advises.

To learn more about the nutrition policy, go to www.mels.qc.ca and type “virage santé” into the search function.

Lester B. Pearson’s school board also offers lunch box tips, menus, and recipes that teens can make at home at its website: http://nutrition.lbpsb.qc.ca

Food guide can influence choices

The Canadian Good Guide, created by Health Canada, helps people better understand nutrition. On the guide’s website, www.healthcanada.gc.ca/foodguide children can create and personalize their own food guide by selecting foods from different categories (fruits & veggies, dairy, protein, grains, etc) that they like.

The guide can then be printed out for regular reference and kept on the fridge or school locker. As well, parents can print the standard Canadian Food Guide, which looks like a colourful rainbow, and study it with their children. Even small kids can benefit from such lessons, and they don’t even need to be able to read to grasp the essential ideas of the chart, Tetro says. She notes that studies show “kindergartners could tell by looking at the smaller swatches of colour which foods they should eat less of and they knew which foods they should eat more of.”

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