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)