Packing healthy balanced meals for your school-aged children can be difficult task. However, this can help ensure they get a nutritious meal in a world of not-so-healthy options. Many packaged foods marked as “kid-friendly” or “healthy” are actually chalk full of added sugars, salts, and preservatives! Make sure to read the labels to check for hidden sugars or other unwanted ingredients even if the food is marketed as “nutritious.” Not only will this prevent unwanted and potentially harmful chemicals from entering your child’s growing body, it will also help to ensure that your little one has the building blocks to grow up healthy and strong!
Children need a variety of foods to get the required essential nutrients to support their developing organs. It is important to include protein, healthy carbohydrates, and healthy fats at each meal. All three of these are necessary to provide a balanced meal to aid in your child’s growth. Proteins help build up strong muscles. Carbohydrates such as vegetables and fruit are full of vitamins to help keep them energized and are full of fibre to help with intestinal and heart health. Healthy fats are also very important as they aid in the manufacturing of hormones, cognitive development, and prevention of chronic diseases! Eating a variety of foods (eg. not always the same vegetable or protein for each meal) guarantees that a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals are available.
Let’s start with some of the things you want to be keeping out of your kid’s lunchbox:
- Packaged Snacks. Although some brands may claim to be “healthy,” many are filled with added sugars, salts, and chemicals! Not only will your child be ingesting these potentially harmful ingredients, they may also be linked with unneeded weight gain. The convenience of these foods may seem so easy to grab and go, but the cons definitely outweigh the pros.
- Juice and Soda: Although these beverages may give you a quick rush of energy, they leave you hungry and tired soon after as they don’t take long to break down. Plus, even a small can of juice and pop contain an excessive amount of sugar (up to 12 teaspoons per can of pop)! The resulting sugar crashes can lead to distraction at school and a cranky kid at home!
Some better choices to incorporate in your child’s balanced lunch include:
- Whole Fruit and Vegetables: Not only do whole fruit and veggies contain fibre and tons of vitamins and minerals, they also keep your child fuller for longer! Plus they come in their own convenient packaging so less waste is produced. Choose a wide range of colours to get a more complete range of nutrients!
- Minimally Processed Foods: These foods will be close to their natural form and there is a lesser chance that they contain harmful chemicals and added sugars! Remember to read the labels – if you can’t pronounce the word, it’s probably not good for you!
- Healthy Fats: A small amount of these healthy fats go a long way! Adding 1-2 tablespoons of nuts or seeds to your child’s lunch can guarantee that they will feel more satisfied after their meal!
Remember that the habits your child builds in their youth are more likely to stick with them when they are older. Involve them in the planning process, take the grocery shopping and ask which fruits and vegetables they would like, and be a great example for them!