The first day of school is right around the corner, and many of us are faced with the seemingly daunting task of packing healthy lunches every day for our kids. Because this seems to be a common source of anxiety for moms everywhere, I thought I'd create a list of kid-friendly lunch-box staples that have my dietitian's stamp of approval.
But first, here are five tips that will help you feel a little less overwhelmed and a little more prepared for making healthy lunches that you kids will actually eat:
Take the pressure off of yourself and know that you can easily create a yummy and healthy lunch that your kids will eat without it having to be fancy and pin-able.
It's a great idea to sit down with you kids and create a big list of ideas for school lunches. If you're not a meal planner, make it much simpler by just posting a list of ideas in your kitchen somewhere as a reference when you're looking for ideas. Involving your kids is key, as they will feel a sense of control over what's going into their lunches and will make it much more likely that they'll actually it! Alexandria Durrell, YMC's Irritated By Allergies blogger has created a stellar lunchbox idea list (88 ideas in total!) over on her blog that I would highly recommend you check out.
Refer to your list weekly to make sure that your fridge and pantry are stocked. Write a list of what you need and head to the store on the weekend so that you're not panicking come Monday morning. Go one step further and rinse, and cut up veggies and fruits for quick and easy packing.
Establish a routine that is realistic for you and your family. I know that for us, weekly meal planning is just not going to happen--not at this point anyways--so having our handy list of ideas to choose from, always having our kitchen stocked with the foods from our list and having pre-cut vegetables and fruit that we can throw into our lunch box works great. We also always pack our lunches the night before, because we seem to always be running behind in the morning. Regardless, it's important that your routine fits with your schedule and life and that you can stick to it.
What I tend to see when it comes to school lunches is that they are heavy on the carbs (think fruit snacks, crackers, cookies, breads, treats, juice) and light on more nutritious and filling options containing more protein and fat (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, seeds and lentils, hummus, soy) and fibre (fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, beans and lentils). Don't get me wrong, carbohydrates are an important source of fuel for our kids, especially if they are athletes and are training before and/or after school. However, foods rich in protein, fat, and fibre are also important for many reasons, including establishing fullness, concentrating during school and receiving important nutrients for overall health, growth and development.
Here is my list of top 15 lunchbox staples:
We often make popcorn in the evening as a snack, so I always make extra to pack in our lunch the following day. Popcorn is high in fibre and fun to eat, making it a fantastic and healthy addition to your child's lunch.
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. They're rich in protein, iron, and many vitamins and minerals that are essential to your child's health. We boil several eggs at the start of the week and use them for lunches on they're own, or make them into egg salad for sandwiches or as a dip for veggies or crackers.
Whether it's store bought or homemade, hummus is a great dip for veggies because it contains both protein and fibre. It also adds some flavour to raw veggies, which makes it more likely that they'll munch on them! We pre-cut garden carrots, mini-cucumbers, bell peppers and celery to pair with this tasty dip. Find a small (1/4 cup of so) container to store the hummus in.
I find that we use tortilla wraps much more often than plain bread, because they tend to be less messy (and soggy, after sitting in a lunch kit), and more fun to eat. I make the standard meat, cheese and lettuce wraps often, or I'll get a bit more creative and pair cream cheese with various fruits in a wrap (I like to sprinkle chia seeds or hemp hearts on top), or make a hummus and veggie wrap. Some kids like their wraps cut into "sushi" pieces and some kids like to eat them as a roll.
Greek yogurt is a great protein and calcium-rich option for lunches and snacks. Greek yogurt contains double the amount of protein than regular yogurt, which adds to the fullness factor of your child's lunch. It also has a much creamier texture. Plain is the healthiest way to go (I usually add a bit of honey or maple syrup), or if buying individual flavoured yogurts (which I often do), I don't buy the fruit on the bottom varieties (these tend to be higher in sugar) and stick to ones that have less than 10 grams of carbohydrate per 100 g serving.
Cottage cheese is high in protein, which helps to keep your kids fuller longer, and when paired with yogurt or fruit makes a yummy sweet and salty combination. You can purchase individual-sized cottage cheese containers (with or without fruit), or just use your own containers.
I always keep a supply of frozen homemade muffins in the house for lunches and snacks. My kids love them, they're easy to make and they're healthy. I throw them into the lunch kit frozen so that they keep the rest of the lunch items cool all morning. My favourite two nut-free recipes are these four bowl banana bran muffins and these pumpkin spice muffins (do not use the optional nuts).
I love cheese strings, baby bell cheeses, or laughing cow cheeses because they are individually packaged and I can throw them into my child's lunch kit with no fuss. Cheese is a great source of protein and calcium, and most kids love it.
There aren't too many packaged food items that I'll buy for my kids, but I will purchase unsweetened apple (or other fruit) sauces for snacks and lunches. Even though fresh or frozen are the best options, unsweetened fruit sauce adds some variety and fun to your child's lunch kit.
Crackers are always a favourite when it comes to school lunches and after school snacks. Paired with cheese, hummus, or meat, and fruits or vegetables, they can be a healthy option. The key is to find a whole grain cracker without a lot of additives, preservative, salt, or trans fat. Look for the term "whole grain" as the first ingredient on the ingredients list (and be sure that it's not a lengthy ingredients list) and you're on the right track.
Fresh fruit is an easy, nutritious and delicious addition to any school lunch. Frozen fruits are great too when added to yogurt parfaits, however on their own, they can be a bit messy. Dried fruit is fine in moderation, but if consumed too often and it too large of a quantity can pack a punch in the sugar department.
When you layer Greek yogurt with any fresh fruit and homemade granola (or healthier nut-free store-bought option), you've got a tasty and healthy lunch that most kids love. Let your child choose the type of fruit and ask how they would like it layered (better yet, get your child to make it!). Add chia seeds, flax seeds or hemp hearts for added fibre and healthy fat.
As a healthier alternative to store-bought granola bars, which are often full of sugar, additives, preservatives, and trans fats (not to mention, often contain nuts), homemade, nut-free granola bars—if made with nutritious ingredients—are a great option for school lunches. Nicole MacPherson, one of YMC's fabulous food bloggers, has an amazing recipe for school-safe, nut-free granola bars that you should check out.
These healthy cookies are a great way to add a bit of sweetness to your child's lunch without using processed, packaged treat foods. I use large-flaked oats as well as stone-ground whole grain flower in this recipe, which adds lots of fibre and staying power when compared to other cookie recipes.
Veggie chips make for a great appetizer before supper, or snack at a party, but they also make a fun addition to your child's lunch. Kale chips are always a hit, but other vegetables such as yams, parsnips, sweet potatoes, beets, and zucchini can also be made into chips! Check out the recipe for these delicious baked dill pickle zucchini chips. Make sure to pack the chips in a dry air-tight container.
I post daily nutrition tips, recipes and resources for Moms and kids over on my facebook page, so please feel free to check it out!
When you and your partner make the decision to have a baby, the initial excitement and happiness that you feel at the thought of conceiving can slowly turn into worry and anxiety if it doesn't happen right away. The deep desire to become a mom is like no other—it can be all-consuming and heart wrenching. And the waiting game...almost agonizing. Especially if you've had no success for a number of months or even years, or if you've experienced a miscarriage or still birth.
I know this because I've been there.
Although I'm a firm believer in relaxing, having fun, and letting nature take its course, I also know there's a good chance that simply improving the way you eat can boost your chances of becoming pregnant.
Whether you’re planning a pregnancy or struggling to conceive, here are some tips on how to boost your chances of conceiving and prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy:
Bridget Swinney, RD, author of "Eating Expectantly," mentions in her book that "One of the most important factors affecting fertility is weight. Conceiving is more difficult if you’re underweight or overweight. In fact, it’s believed that weight issues cause 12% of infertility." She goes on to explain that because fat cells produce estrogen, a hormone affecting ovulation, having too few (underweight) or two many (overweight) fat cells can negatively affect fertility. She suggests that it's a good idea to get as close as possible to your ideal weight before seeking help with fertility treatments because reaching a healthy weight alone may be enough to spur normal ovulation and a successful pregnancy.
Reaching a healthy weight prior to conceiving can also reduce the risk of birth complications and having a baby who is too large or too small at birth. Being overweight is also linked to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which can cause insulin resistance, often resulting in difficulty conceiving and even infertility. Luckily, even a weight loss of 5-10% can dramatically improve someone's chances of conceiving.
Organic fruits and vegetables do not contain synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and are not genetically modified (do not contain GMOs). Certified organic meats and poultry are free from hormones and antibiotics and are most often grass fed and pasture run. Because we don't know the how these chemicals or GMOs affect babies in utero, it's a good idea to eat organic whenever possible when you're pregnant and while trying to conceive.
When you cannot buy organic meats and poultry, search out grass-fed meat (perhaps from a local farm or farmers market). While I'm suggesting this, I realize that buying organic can be pricey and may not be realistic all the time. Focus on the “dirty dozen” (12 most chemically-contaminated fruits and veggies) and don’t worry so much about the “clean 15” (least contaminated fruits and veggies).
Get at least 3 colors of veggies and fruits per day (5 is ideal). The brighter and more colorful the vegetable or fruit, the higher the antioxidant and phytochemical content is. These natural healthy compounds combat other harmful compounds called free radicals, which can cause damage to your reproductive organs, eggs and an embryo. Free radicals can negatively affect virtually every step in the reproductive process, from egg maturation to conception.
Including a variety of colorful veggies and fruits everyday is very important to keeping free radical damage to a minimum and preparing your body for a healthy pregnancy. Fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, red currants, plums and pomegranates are among the richest in antioxidants. Veggies such as spinach, olives, asparagus, broccoli, arugula and red peppers are packed full, and many spices such as mint, sage, oregano, cinnamon, ginger and cloves are also high in antioxidants. Nuts, seeds and whole intact grains are great sources as well.
Too much alcohol can not only harm a developing fetus, but it also may have a negative affect on conceiving in the first place. While many babies were likely conceived after a cocktail or two (ahem...), this should likely not be part of your conception plan. Although studies of alcohol’s affects on fertility are inconclusive, some do show a slight link between drinking and difficulty conceiving. When Danish researchers looked at 430 couples trying to have their first child, they found that women’s ability to get pregnant decreased as more alcohol was consumed. Women who had fewer than five drinks a week were twice as likely to get pregnant as those drinking ten drinks a week.
What's more is that alcohol intake by both men and women during the first week of conception is associated with higher risk of miscarriage. If you are already having difficulties conceiving, consider playing it safe and limiting alcohol all together.
If you are trying to conceive, it's not a bad idea to limit your caffeine intake to the equivalent of one to two cups of coffee per day (about 200 mg caffeine per day max). You may even want to cut out caffeine altogether if you’re having difficulty conceiving or undergoing in vitro fertilization, as caffeine constricts blood vessels, slowing blood flow to the uterus and potentially making it harder for fertilization of the egg to happen at all.
If you’re a regular coffee drinker, don’t quit cold turkey as you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches. Gently decrease the amount of caffeine that you consume and consider switching your java to decaf.
If it’s a starchy white food, only enjoy it once in a while. The same goes for candy, sugary drinks such as pop and sweet desserts. These foods are yummy and enjoying them once in a while is fine, but they also spike your blood sugar level, sending your insulin levels flying. Women who suffer from infertility often have elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance (most common in women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). Overproduction of insulin can decrease the quality of eggs and it also constricts the tiny arteries that supply blood to the uterus and ovaries.
It’s best to stick to whole, unrefined grains and fruits and veggies for carbohydrate energy and make sure to always pair your carb foods with protein (coming from meats and alternatives as well as dairy foods).
Fish is not only a great source of protein, but certain fish contain large amounts of omega-3 fatty acid which is essential for a baby’s mental, visual and neural development. It’s important that you consume enough omega-3 fat while pregnant (2-3 oz servings per week of oily fish, such as salmon, trout, Atlantic mackerel, anchovies, and herring).
If you are trying to become pregnant, stay away from high mercury fish such as white canned tuna, swordfish, ahi tuna, and marlin. Mercury is toxic to a developing fetus and can linger in a woman’s blood stream for over a year. If you don’t eat fish, include plant sources of omega-3 such as walnuts, almonds, omega-3 enriched eggs and chia seeds. You can take a DHA/EPA supplement that contains both DHA and EPA.
It is important that you’re getting enough iron before you become pregnant so that you do not become deficient once you conceive. You can obtain iron from meats, poultry, and fish as well as beans and lentils, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals and some vegetables.
Folate is a B vitamin that is essential for protecting your growing baby from neural-tube defects such as spina-bifida. It’s especially important to get enough folate or folic acid before you become pregnant, because your baby’s neural tube will form just three to four weeks after conception, when many women don’t even realize that they’re pregnant.
You can get Folate from spinach, broccoli, asparagus and fortified breakfast cereals. Your pre-natal multivitamin (which you should be taking at least three months prior to starting to conceive), should contain 27 mg of iron, 0.4-1.0 mcg of folic acid (synthetic form of folate), no more than 770 mcg (2565 IU’s) Vitamin A, 2.4 mcg Vitamin B12 and at least 400 IU’s Vitamin D.
Listeria is a harmful bacterium that can cause Listeriosis. Listeriosis can cause early miscarriage—possibly before you know that you’re pregnant. Pregnant women are 20 times more likely to get sick from Listeria as compared to other adults.
Follow these tips to avoid Listeriosis:
Wash your hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods. Always rinse produce thoroughly under running tap water
Stay away from raw (unpasteurized) milk, as well as foods that have unpasteurized milk in them.
Cook raw meats, poultry, and seafood thoroughly to a safe internal temperatures
Wash hands, knives, countertops, and cutting boards after handling and preparing uncooked foods.
Consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible.
Always heat hot dogs, cold cuts, and deli meats until steaming before eating them.
Make sure that your partner is maximizing his fertility as well. If you are having trouble conceiving, get him to lay off alcohol. He should also be taking a daily multivitamin for at least 3 months prior to conceiving—this will help with healthy sperm development. Make sure that the multivitamin contains 90 mg vitamin C (Vitamin C helps to prevent perm defects and also increase sperm motility), 11 mg of Zinc (Zinc deficiencies can lead to decreased sperm count), 400 mcg folic acid, 100 mg calcium and 400-1000IUs vitamin D. Overweight men tend to have a lower sperm count and a higher numbers of sperm with DNA damage, therefore, it is important that your partner works towards reaching a healthy weight, especially if you're having trouble conceiving.
I often post nutrition tips and resources for pregnant women and new moms over on my Facebook page, so feel free to check it out!
Being a work-at-home Mom is blissful for so many reasons—you are able to stay in your pajamas for the better part of the day, the coffee is free and flowing, and you're available for your little ones when they need you (ok, maybe not always so blissful). As a Mom to two wee ones myself, I value having the flexibility to be at home for my kids and witness their milestones, while still fulfilling my career dreams. It's a constant juggle, and sometimes a struggle to find a healthy balance, but all in all, it's pretty great.
One of my biggest struggles is taking the time to eat a nutritious lunch. As much as I love food and value good nutrition, when I get going on a work task (such as writing an article or blog post), time seems to fly by at warp speed. Before I know it, three hours have flown by and I'm starving. Let's face it—work time is precious. Working through hunger, however, increases the likelihood of you mindlessly over-eating later on, and hinders your ability to focus and concentrate on the tasks at hand. That is why I've come up with several quick and healthy (and tasty!) lunch ideas for my work-at-home days, which keep the creative juices flowing and my hunger at bay.
Here are my top five go-to lunches:
Smoothies are, by far, my number one go-to lunch during the Spring and Summer months. I always keep my kitchen well-stocked with smoothie ingredients, such as frozen fruit, fresh bananas, greek yogurt, natural nut butters, spinach or kale, and milk (almond or coconut milks work, too!), so that I can whip up this healthy meal-in-a-cup in a flash. I sometimes pair my smoothies with a piece of whole grain toast with peanut butter or a homemade muffin, but more often than not, I enjoy them on their own. Packed full of protein, energy, and vitamins and minerals, smoothies are nutritious and balanced enough to be considered a meal.
My favourite recipe:
Blend all ingredients in a good quality blender until smooth.
I love this lunch for so many reasons—it's quick and easy, tasty, filling, and nutrient-packed. Eggs are my #1 go-to quick protein source, not only because they're so versatile and yummy, but also because they are chock full of nutrition, specifically protein, Iron, Vitamins A, D, E, and B12, Folate, Selenium, Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Choline—all important nutrients for optimal health. I find that eggs satisfy me for hours, which is important when I don't have time to stop for snacks every couple of hours. The spinach and tomato add a nice variety of nutrients to this lunch, and the cheese adds...well...bliss.
Even quicker and easier than the two options above, this light and tasty meal, that is a popular breakfast option, works well for lunch too. Greek yogurt contains double the amount of protein than regular yogurt and has a thick and creamy texture, which is what I love most about it. I often choose a 2% plain variety and add a bit of honey for sweetness, but if you prefer a flavoured yogurt, try to find one with 11 grams of sugar or less in a 3/4 cup serving (5 of those sugar grams are naturally occurring from lactose). Interesting fact: higher fat options (2% or more) are often significantly lower in sugar than fat-free options (and much more satisfying in my opinion).
Top greek yogurt with fresh berries in a medium-sized bowl and sprinkle with 1/4 cup granola (preferably homemade—here's a great recipe) and seeds. Drizzle with honey.
Can you tell that I love eggs? I often make this one for dinner (although, it makes for a great lunch too!), because my kids both love that it's fun to make and eat. I love it because it's easy and healthy. Pair with fresh fruit, veggie sticks, and hummus, or simply top with fresh salsa.
What I love most about this lunch is that it can be made ahead of time (it's tastier better when it's a day or two old). Quinoa—the most beloved whole grain, particularly because of its high protein content—cooks in less than 15 minutes and couples nicely with most fresh veggies, fruits, meats, and alternatives. The options are endless when it comes to quinoa salad, so I suggest using up any veggies and fresh cooked meats that you have in the fridge, and topping with your favourite vinaigrette. I also like adding nuts or seeds, as well as dried fruit, for crunch and sweetness. Add extra tang with a squeeze of lemon, and extra flavour with a finely chopped garlic clove.
I like making a large batch and enjoying it all week (it's kid-friendly, too!).
Hopefully these lunch ideas will make your life healthier and easier as a stay-at-home Mom!
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