Autumn 2017 On the Shelf
October 13, 2017 By Alyssa Schwartz

For many kids, the biggest back-to-school anxieties are about teachers and friends, but for more than half of moms, it is school lunches. And no wonder: Good nutrition in childhood can reduce the risk of obesity and chronic disease now and in the future, and improve concentration, memory, and behaviour, which can set kids up for greater success at school. For parents of children with diabetes, a nutritiously balanced lunch that meets their child’s individual carbohydrate requirements is also an important way to keep blood sugar at target levels.

A lack of time and the challenge of coming up with fresh, interesting lunch ideas that appeal to picky eaters are just a few issues parents may face. Not surprisingly, makers of convenience lunch kits for children saw their opportunity. But just because these kits are easy does not mean they are the solution to the nutritious lunch challenge, says registered dietitian Stephanie Boutette, education coordinator with Diabetes Canada.

“Many people think because [lunch kits] are targeted at kids that they must be good for [them], but that is not always the case,” Boutette says. “They often contain processed meats, refined grains, and some form of dessert, making them high in salt, fat, and added sugar, and low in fibre and important nutrients and vitamins.”

But these kits do get one thing right: Including small amounts of different foods incorporates a variety of food groups. “Try mimicking that mix but with healthier options,” says Boutette.

Diabetes Canada recommends using the Plate Method—in which half of a dinner plate is filled with vegetables, one quarter with grains and starches, and one quarter with meat and/or protein alternatives—for balanced meals. Take the same approach with your child’s lunch.

Nearly six in 10 children do not eat the recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables, points out Boutette. Quick, kid-friendly options for your child's lunchbox can include baby carrots and cherry tomatoes or side salads, while whole or cut-up fruits are good for dessert.

Whole-grain foods can help meet daily fibre recommendations (for children, Diabetes Canada’s guideline for grams of fibre is the child’s age plus five). However, Boutette says that some kids may not like the taste at first. “Gradually including more [foods] such as whole-grain breads, brown rice, whole-grain pasta, and whole-grain tortillas can help them start to [move] away from refined products,” she says. Easy protein options include leftover lean meats (such as skinless chicken or turkey), canned tuna and salmon, beans and legumes, tofu, lower-fat cheeses, and whole hardboiled eggs.

Do not forget about drinks. “Sugary drinks such as regular soft drinks are the largest source of sugar in our diets,” says Boutette. Instead of pop, choose low-fat milk or water.

Kid basics

A nutritious lunch includes veggies, grains and starches, and meat and/or protein alternatives. Here are some ideas to help you think beyond the sandwich:

  • Wraps made from whole-grain tortillas, rice paper, or lettuce
  • Brown rice, veggie and protein bowls
  • Pasta, bean, or grain salads
  • Skewers and satay sticks
  • Quesadillas and flatbreads

Did you know?

Kids enjoy eating meals they have made, so get little ones to help with cooking and food preparation. Read more from “Healthy Eating for School-Age Children” now.

Receive a great diabetes-friendly recipe every month when you subscribe to Diabetes Current, Diabetes Canada’s monthly e-newsletter. Sign up for your free subscription here.

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