Licking the Lunch Bag Blues

How To Liven Up the Lunchtime Routine 
By Kelly Barry

By this time of year, packing lunches is becoming a bit of a chore for most of us. The kids are getting bored with the same old sandwiches and when life gets busy it can be hard to find a moment to brainstorm some new ideas. These fresh tips and suggestions may help to spark some renewed interest in the packed lunch.

The basics

A healthy lunch should include something from at least three or four food groups (Grains, Vegetables/Fruit, Milk/Milk Products, Meat/ Alternates). It is important to include one or two fruit or vegetable servings with lunch to add important nutrients and fibre and to be sure all of the recommended servings of this important group are consumed each day. Making sure some protein (for example, meat, egg, cheese) is consumed midday helps to manage hunger and keeps kids more alert in the afternoon.

Try to avoid the ready-to-go packaged lunches as these are generally high in fat and sodium and low in fibre. To keep the lunch-making process as hassle-free as possible, be sure you are well prepared. Have re-useable food and drink containers, utensils, a thermos, straws and whatever else you might need stored in an easily accessible area of the kitchen.  Be sure these items are washed each night so they are ready to use the next day.

Perk up that sandwich

• Vary the bread by choosing whole-grain tortillas, pita, bagels, rice cakes, crackers or bread sticks.

• Pack lettuce, cucumber, and tomato separately to prevent your sandwich from getting soggy.

• Roast a whole chicken (or bone-in chicken pieces), cool, pull the meat off the bones and store in the fridge or freezer for a healthy and delicious sandwich filling.

Be sure to try these yummy variations:

• Roast chicken with canned cranberry sauce in a tortilla or pita (or mix the cranberry with some mayo).

• Cream cheese with sliced grapes wrapped in a tortilla.

• Cream cheese, salsa, grated Tex Mex Cheese and lettuce in a tortilla (add cold leftover taco beef as well).

• Hummus with red pepper and lettuce in a pita.

• Cheese and cucumber slices on a whole grain bagel.

• Tuna and crackers.

• A bran or oatmeal muffin and some cheese on the side. Send leftovers

To save time and energy, cook extra the night before and pack leftovers for lunch. And don’t forget to pack a spoon or fork! Try:

• Cold homemade pizza.

• Cold roasted meat or chicken on a whole grain bun (add lettuce, cucumber or whatever toppings you like).

• Spaghetti or other pastas. Heat with tomato sauce or olive oil and parmesan.

• Casserole (such as tuna casserole, shepherd’s pie, chili).

• Homemade soup or stew. Fruits and vegetables

• Cut up extra vegetables on the weekend for fast packing during the week.

• Send a dip or favourite salad dressing to make veggies more appealing.

• Use hummus or guacamole for a nutritious dip.

• Canned fruit cups or applesauce cups are fast and convenient. Look for unsweetened or those packed in juice or light syrup.

• Pack vanilla yogourt with fresh or frozen fruit. (Try packing it in a thermal container that keeps foods cold.)

• Try to include dark green, red and orange fruits and vegetables (broccoli florets, grape or cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, red pepper strips, cantaloupe, watermelon).

• Add vegetables to wraps or sandwiches.

Healthy additions to the lunch box

When choosing packaged foods like crackers, granola bars or other snack foods, always check the Nutrition Facts Table to make a healthy choice. Look for products that have little saturated fat (less than 10 per cent of the daily value), no trans fats and at least two grams of fibre per serving (more is better!) Granola bars covered in chocolate are really just a chocolate bar in disguise! Buy the plain ones with chocolate chips if they are low in saturated and trans fat and a good source of fibre (more than four grams per bar). You can also try:

• Snack-size low-fat microwave popcorn.

• Dry cereal (Shreddies, Cheerios, Mini Wheats).

• Frozen yogourt tubes.

• Hummus and bread sticks.

• Granola bars (check the labels for healthier choices).

• Milk pudding (preferably homemade or the ones you find in the refrigerator section of the grocery store).

• Homemade muffins or cookies (see recipes).

Be sure to keep food safety in mind when packing lunches:

• Use a thermos for hot foods. Fill the thermos with boiling water and let stand for five minutes. Be sure leftovers are heated to very hot before filling the thermos.

• Use an insulated lunch bag and an ice pack to keep cold foods cold.

• Freeze juice boxes or water for additional cooling.

• Wash fruits and vegetables just before packing.

• Clean lunch boxes, plastic containers and utensils every night in hot water.

Kelly Barry is a registered dietitian who has worked for more than 10 years in both community and health care settings promoting the benefits of healthy foods and active living.


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