Dear whomever is in charge,
Please help me through another back to school season; I know that summer’s freedom and lazy ways are about to be replaced by the hectic juggle of school schedules, homework, making lunches, extracurricular activities, work and stress. If you have tips to keep my family on track without resorting to using words of the four letter variety, packing processed lunches and providing drive-thru dinners, I am all ears!
Parenting is hard enough
Yes, this time of year can be hectic, and it can be difficult to serve your family healthy lunches and dinners. As a nutritionist I am inundated with food products that sent to me by organizations who want my endorsement. And well many are convenient most of them get tossed because they are unhealthy, and I can’t in all good conscience recommend them. As a nutritionist, I know that there are shortcuts though when you’re pressed for time to rush out the door in the morning, and out in the evening for after school activities. Here are some of my tried and true back to school systems that will help you plan, and give healthy meals, all year long.
Back to School systems:
- Get kids to make a chart of what they will enjoy for lunches. The chart must be filled in under these categories: Protein, Vegetables, Fruits, Carbohydrates. Dairy can be a protein in a pinch and carbohydrates must be whole grain otherwise they are “treats” and that is a different category. You can change this list monthly as the lunches begin to becoming boring.
- Prep veggies and fruits on the weekends. This way, they are ready to be lunchbox loaded.
- Double up on dinners. Baked chicken, barbecued pork or beef and grilled tofu are all great cubed as protein for the following day as leftovers or packed for lunch.
Other things to keep in mind:
- Fruit is best if it is whole but if you are looking for a packaged product, it should be sugar free. You need to know that even fruit juice or peeled fruit can spike blood sugar levels and that can create behaviour or fatigue issues. Be sure to serve these products with some kind of protein or good fat like cheese to slow them down.
- Consider using ingredients other than bread for sandwiches and wraps such as: rice paper, sushi nori, lettuce leaves, steamed cabbage or kale leaves. They are just as good at holding fillings as bread but contain more nutrients and less sugar and salt.
Treats and Snacks:
- Pure, unadulterated treats are fine once a week, like an ice cream on the weekends. But, there is more evidence that daily sugar consumption isn’t just about cavities anymore. A diet too high in sugar can be directly related to diabetes, obesity but also dementia. In fact, the World Health Organization has reduced the recommendation of sugar consumption to about 6 teaspoons per day for an adult and less for children. One “fruit filled” snack bar can contain about 3 teaspoons if you don’t make the right choice.
- I am frequently asked if there are any treat bars that I will endorse and I have discovered Nature’s Path Envirokidz line. They are made with whole grain flours, natural sweeteners (like brown rice syrup, cane sugar and molasses) and are low sodium non-gmo, wheat and gluten free. These treats have an average of 1.5 teaspoons of sugar per bar, less than half of some of the more popular ones. Since they contain fibre and protein the sugar is slower on the uptake so your kid won’t be. Don’t be fooled by some products that say they are “naturally sweetened” but still contain too much sugar.
- Consider using Xyla (often referred to as Xylitol) as a sweetener instead of sugar or artificial sweeteners. It is a natural sweetener derived from the sugar molecule but only has one portion of the entire composition. The net result is that it is lower on the glycemic index which makes it safe for diabetics and it has 33% fewer calories. Canadian born, Xyla is derived from hardwood and looks like sugar, tastes like sugar and bakes like sugar and can be swapped 1:1 in any recipe. Yet unlike sugar, there are actually benefits to its consumption. It blew me away to discover that Xyla actually protects tooth enamel by changing the PH of saliva. It has also been shown to prevent ear infections in children. Xyla is available in a free pour bag but it is also used in products like sugar free ketchup (the ubiquitous kid dip), toothpaste and mouthwash.
And finally here are some of my personal food rules I consider non-negotiable no matter what time of year it is as I believe they help kids to become adults that can feed themselves well!
- Parents decide what gets served, kids can decide how much.
- Food is the fuel for our cells allowing us to function, think and grow. It shall be respected.
- We will not fight or finagle over food.
- The goal is to get kids to grow into adults who can feed themselves well when they are on their own (in a few short years…believe me)
When thinking about healthy eating one doesn’t necessarily think of pizza, though some are still convinced that it is the ultimate food offering something from all food groups. So does pizza have anything to offer nutritionally? Well unfortunately, any nutrients that you might get from the toppings are cancelled out by the high sodium, high sugar, high fat delivery system. No matter how much we try to count the tomato sauce as a vegetable, and the cheese as protein, most pizza recipes aren’t healthy recipes. Does that mean you have to avoid pizza forever? Naw…
Don’t avoid pizza – make it healthy!
It is all about the nutritional ratio. H=N/C or Health = nutrients over calories. If you can keep the nutrients high and the calories low, you will indeed have a quintessential kid food that doesn’t derail your efforts at healthy eating.
For pizza delivery try these tips:
- Thin crust beats thick or deep dish crust
- Whole grain is only better if it is thin crust, the amount of fibre isn’t worth the extra dough
- Chicken is the best meat, all other meats are too fatty
- One cheese is plenty but if you have to add some, add goat’s cheese, it is lower in fat
- Add as many vegetables as possible to a veggie pizza; olives, sundried tomatoes and capers count
- Ask for double the tomato sauce
- Order double the salad and half the pizza that you think you will need
- Skip all appetizers, they are never worth the calories
When opting for frozen pizza keep these things in mind:
- Choose whichever thin crust pizza has the lowest sodium count
- Avoid all meats other than chicken
- Spread extra tomato paste on frozen top before baking and sprinkle extra herbs, ground flax or chia seeds
- Add a shake of grated parmesan to keep your new toppings in place
- Top with arugula or spinach after you remove from the oven
- If you just can’t cope without a little meat, choose lean prosciutto into small pieces and add after baking
If you would like a crust dip, consider:
- Tomato or marinara sauce or another healthy pizza sauce
- Avoid all creamy or cheesy sauces
- Salsa is low fat and high flavour nutrient dense dip, it goes with everything
So if you want pizza go for it! By following some of these nutritional tips to enhance pizza recipes you can still make this Italian treat a part of healthy eating.
About the Author:
Theresa Albert is a Food Communications Specialist and Toronto Personal Nutritionist. She is @theresaalbert on twitter and found daily at www.myfriendinfood.com
They always love the food they plant!
People often ask what it is like to feed half dozen kids. Feeding families can be a “thing” and many parents report that dinner time can be the most stressful time of the day. I decided early on that I didn’t want meal time to create anxiety for me or my kids, so here are my few tips for relaxing and enjoying fun family meals.
- I don’t let myself get upset if the kids turn their noses up at what is being served for dinner. There’s enough variety that they’re going to like something on the menu. As long as they try one bite of what is being served up, they are welcome to fill their bellies with the raw carrots on the table. No one has starved yet.
- We keep meals simple and kid friendly. The Daddy-o works out of town during the week and I’m not a foodie, so this adult is happy to make easy dinner recipes and eat with the kiddos.
- For me, the only thing more annoying than cooking is coming up with fast recipes and meal ideas. I have a four week meal planner posted in the kitchen for everyone to see. It makes for effective shopping, creates less wasted food and saves me from hearing, “what’s for dinner?” six times a day.
Here is an example of my September meal plan filled with quick recipes. I use one of our quick dinner ideas on Wednesdays because the kids have hot lunches at school that day. I also try to have something they all like on a Monday, because let’s face it – Mondays can be tough. On the last Friday of the month, we order in. The menu is based on different children’s preferences and the evening activity schedule. Some meals are faster to prepare and clean up. Those are meals we have on nights where we have to be at music, dance, hockey and taekwondo right after dinner.
||Fish and Chips/raw veg
||Chicken drumsticks/mashed potato/corn
||Breakfast for dinner (eggs/bacon)
||Pasta: spaghetti and meatballs
||Home-made pizza/raw veg
||Chicken breast/ mashed spuds/corn
||Chicken and Cesar salad
||Butter chicken and rice
||Chicken snitzel/roast potatoes/tomato and avocado salsa
||Hotdogs and hamburgers/salad
||Ribs/noodles/corn on the cob
||Crepes and omelets
||Bangers and mash/ peas
Substitutes: curried sausage, chili, perogies, Swedish meatballs and rice, lasagna.
How does your family survive the dinner hour? Do you have any quick and easy dinner ideas or meal planner tips that make this time of day less stressful in your house?
About the Author:
Julie Cole is co-founder of Mabel’s Labels Inc., the leading provider of kids’ labels, and a proud mom of six.