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Prescription for a healthy lunch

It’s no secret that eating well and being active are key to a child’s healthy development.

In addition to helping kids grow strong, healthy bones and muscles, achieve great results at school and build healthy habits for a lifetime, eating well and being active are also key to preventing childhood obesity – a growing problem in Canada.

A 2015 report from the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that one-third of Canadians between the ages of two and 17 are overweight or obese. This puts children at risk of developing a range of preventable health issues, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and mental health issues.

The stakes are high, and the benefits of feeding your children a healthy, well-balanced diet are clear. Every meal counts – but the whole thing can be daunting when you’re faced with the chore of packing yet another week’s worth of school lunches.

That’s why Doctors Nova Scotia has prepared a handy guide to healthy school lunches.

Here are some other tips for making great lunches.

Involve your kids

Children are more likely to eat the food you send for lunch if they have helped choose, shop for and prepare it. Ask them what they want for lunch, take them with you to the grocery store, and get them to help prepare food. With appropriate parental supervision, even kids as young as four or five can help with basic kitchen tasks like washing veggies, stirring batter or slicing soft fruits (like bananas) with a butter knife.

Make a plan

Menu planning isn’t just for dinner time. Having a plan for a week’s worth of lunches – and prepping ahead when possible – means that you’re less likely to run out of a key ingredient midweek. It also eliminates some of the early morning rushing around that comes with packing a lunch when you’re also eating breakfast, getting dressed and trying to get out the door on time.

Think big

Spend some time on the weekend to make big batches of food that you can parcel out for the week’s lunches, such as a big pot of chili, a pan of granola or a dozen muffins. Freeze food in individual serving portions so you can grab it and go in the morning.

Just say no to packaged snacks

If a snack comes in a foil packet – like chips, fruit gummies or granola bars – it’s a good indication that the food is full of added salt, sugar and preservatives. Staying away from packaged foods is an easy way to avoid highly processed foods, and will usually help you save money, too.

Include one fruit and one vegetable

Apples and oranges are great, but they aren’t the only choice when it comes to lunch. Consider chunks of melon, a bunch of grapes, or even a handful of dried fruit (if you go for trail mix, make sure to read the package to ensure there aren’t any sneaky peanuts!). Frozen fruit, canned fruit – in water, not syrup – and unsweetened applesauce are also great options. Sliced veggies always make a great snack; try sending carrots, cucumbers and red peppers for a colourful combination that tastes great with a side of hummus.

Make water the first choice

When it comes to drinks, water or plain white milk should always be the first choice – sweet beverages like soda pop, chocolate milk, juice or energy drinks really pack a caloric punch, and they’re not great for your child’s teeth, either. If your child doesn’t tolerate dairy, look for soy milk with added vitamin D, the healthiest of the vegan dairy alternatives.

Remember, eating well is just one piece of the puzzle – it’s also important to ensure that your children don’t get too much screen time (less than two hours a day), that they get enough physical activity (a minimum of 60 minutes every day) and that they are getting enough sleep (kids need 9 to 11 hours a night). (Check out the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth for more information.)

Download the Doctors Nova Scotia Happy Healthy Lunch Guide.