HEALTH: Back to school lunchbox solutions

Community Health Aug 26, 2011 at 11:02 am

Ask Your Holistic Nutritionist

By Kalayaan Garcia de Vera

Q: My son is starting first grade in a couple of weeks and I don’t know what to pack for lunch. The school doesn’t allow any peanuts, and I grew up with peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, aside from deli and cheese sandwiches. Any suggestions for healthy lunches?

With school starting a couple of weeks it’s a perfect time to start discussing different options for lunch menus with your child. Take the time to sit down with him and make a list of foods he likes from each of the 4 food groups. Use the list to compile a number of lunches that incorporate all the food groups. Once you have come up with a number of lunchbox ideas, put the list on the fridge door and encourage your child to add a few more foods to the list every so often. This may seem time consuming but we all know that children will only eat what they like especially if you are not around. By getting them involved in the planning as well as the preparation, they will most likely enjoy eating their lunches.

Take your child grocery shopping and explain that most of the snack for kids are high in sugar and are not very healthy. If your child wants pre-packaged cookies for snacks, suggest buying the ingredients and having them help in baking homemade cookies instead. Most kids love to bake and it is also a great way to get them in the habit of helping out in the kitchen. The easiest way to avoid the appeal of highly processed and packaged foods is to stick to the outer isles of the grocery store.

Eating habits are learned behaviors. Children who are taught healthy habits early in life are most likely to sustain them throughout their lives. Below are some helpful tips in surviving the school year of packing lunchboxes.

1. Provide a lunchbox that can hold a variety of containers for lunch and snacks. A good idea is to buy a lunchbox that comes with it’s own containers that way space is efficiently used. An excellent one is the Laptop Lunch Bento Boxes. This is great because it has different containers with covers and has a small container for salad dressings, or dips

2. Organize your fridge in sections, designate an area for each food group.

• vegetables& fruits (all washed and cut in serving size containers), Milk and alternatives (yogurt, cheese, soy etc) on one side of the shelf.

• cooked meat (baked/grilled chicken) hard boiled eggs, and tuna salads etc in a container ready to be added on to salads, sandwiches, wraps, soups, pasta and rice.

• And some cooked grains like rice, pasta, bread and wraps on one end of the fridge.

By having pre-washed, cut and portioned veggies and fruits, pre-cooked meats and eggs, and a variety of carbohydrate sources like breads, rice and pasta, it will make packing lunches and snacks so easy that your child can help in preparing his lunchbox.

3. Avoid the morning rush. For most families mornings are hectic. The best way to avoid the rush is to prepare as much as you can the night before. Set out the lunchboxes and any containers and utensils you may need.

4. Use the weekends to make baked goods and homemade soups and place in individual containers ready for lunches and snacks.

Remember that lunchboxes are usually stored in the schoolbag or locker, which means it is exposed to room temperature for a few hours which increases the risk of bacterial growth and contamination. The easiest way to reduce the risk is to pack your child’s lunch in a thermally insulated lunchbox with an ice pack. Or to save space, freeze the water bottle or yogurt, and by lunchtime the drink or yogurt should be thawed.

Try this simple recipe:

Chicken wrap

1/3 cup diced cooked chicken
1/3 stalk of celery, diced
1Tbs. Yogurt/mayonnaise
1/4 cup carrot thinly sliced
1/4 tomato, diced
1/4 green onion, cut into strips
1 large leaf lettuce
1 10-inch whole wheat soft flour tortilla
1/2tsp light cream cheese

The night before: combine chicken, celery, and mayo/yogurt
Cut up carrot, tomato and green onion
In the morning, place the lettuce in the centre of the wrap. Spread chicken mixture in the 2 inch strip in the centre of the lettuce. Top with carrot, tomato, green onion and spread 1/2 inch strip of cream cheese along right hand end of tortilla
Wrap lettuce around filling, then fold 11/2 inch bottom end of tortilla toward centre, and roll up tightly from left toward cream cheese edge, press to seal. Place seam side down in a reusable container.

Other lunchbox ideas:

• Quesadilla with chicken, beans and cheese

• Pita pockets filled with meatballs and veggies

• Pita pockets with tuna salad and cucumbers

• Veggie Hummus wrap filled with red bell peppers, cucumbers, red onions, carrots, lettuce and wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla

Homemade snacks are great, try this recipe for a wholesome snack:

Date Squares (makes approx. 16 squares)

1 Package of pitted dates, chopped
1 cup water
2 tsp lemon juice
1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups quick oats
3/4 cup agave nectar
1 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 F

In a small saucepan, add dates, water, and lemon juice. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for approx. 5-10 minutes, or until dates are soft. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, agave nectar, baking soda & salt. Add melted butter and combine.
Press half of oat mixture in bottom of ungreased 9×9 inch pan. Evenly spread date mixture on top and sprinkle with remaining oat mixture. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool for 10 minutes, and cut into squares. Allow to cool thoroughly before serving.

Other snack ideas are:

• nut free trail mix (combine sunflower seeds, toasted pumpkin seeds, raisins, dried cranberries, chocolate chips in an airtight container)

• berries with plain yogurt sweetened with agave nectar/honey

• veggies with hummus dip or tzatziki dip


(Kalayaan Garcia de Vera is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and studied at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. Visit her website at Her email: your