Vancouver – With school about to start, parents are bracing for the battle over packed lunches. Parents want to provide food that’s healthy while kids often ask for processed or junk food.
The trick, according to registered dietitian Arlene Cristall at the hospital’s Centre for Healthy Weights “Shapedown BC” program is to involve kids in the planning of meals right from the start.
This could begin with kids growing their own vegetables in the garden or patio planters to include in salads or sandwiches, to going grocery shopping with mom and dad, to preparing meals and packing lunches the night before.
The Shapedown BC program helps children, adolescents and their families manage weight concerns. Cristall, the program’s coordinator and a dietitian for more than 35 years, has counselled nearly a thousand families about how they can eat better. Here are some of her tips:
1. Families need to have a plan – what will kids eat, what won’t they eat, and where are parents willing to compromise? It’s a two-way street; parents and kids need to work together.
2. Spend time thinking about what you’re going to pack for lunch to make it appealing visually as well as tasty and nutritious.
3. Include each of the food groups when packing a lunch; meat and alternatives; grain products; vegetables and fruits, and milk and alternatives.
4. Don’t worry if kids indulge occasionally. Follow the 80/20 rule. If they’re eating well 80 percent of the time and getting plenty of exercise, the 20 percent they indulge in unhealthy choices won’t be a problem.
5. Involve your kids in preparing lunches – if they’ve had a hand in making them, they’re more likely to eat what’s in their lunch bag.
6. Stay away from processed foods as these foods are high in sugar and salt and low in fibre, which means kids get hungrier faster. Processed deli meats are also low in nutrients – choose roasted chicken or beef instead.
7. Stay away from zero fat foods. For example, when buying yogurt – choose 1 to 1.5% fat – as it is less processed and will keep kids feeling fuller longer.
8. Get creative: if your child likes Caesar salad, put a little chicken in it for protein, substitute a lighter dressing and add it to a pita pocket. You’ve just added a couple more food groups for a healthy lunch!
9. Protect food in containers or zip lock bags, particularly whole fruit which may get squished.
10. Pack a healthy beverage – water is best – or juice, but limit the juice to one a day because of the sugar content.
Meal ideas and recipes are available on the Centre for Healthy Weights -ShapeDown website at www.bcchildrens.ca/healthyweights