The Lunch Box Makeover

It is said that you eat with your eyes, and that premise could not be truer for children and pre-teens. Naturally drawn to foods that are colourful and presented creatively, the convenient, instant meals and snacks that usually fall into this category tend to lack nutritional value and are laden with sodium, sugars and a host of questionable preservatives. But healthier choices can be just as enticing if prepared with a bit of inspiration.

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Andrea Hill, a holistic nutrition educator of 15 years, says the building blocks of a balanced lunch include lean proteins, which provide energy; whole grains for fibre and minerals, as well as their ability to maintain blood sugar balanced; fruits and vegetables for essential nutrients and energy; and healthy fats, which help you feel full and satisfied. The balance of these staple ingredients is key to ensuring that children are focused and fuelled after meals and snacks.

Segmented containers like the bento box help parents add variety and colour to their children’s healthy lunches. The containers usually have anywhere between two and six compartments, depending on the size of the box, and make separating foods like sliced red bell peppers and green grapes a snap. In a pinch, using foil cupcake liners is an inexpensive alternative that is just as effective.

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Bento boxes aren’t just for kids – adults can adopt this practice for their own lunch

“Keep it simple and fresh,” says Reno Ciantar, manager of human resources, sales and business development at Mise en Place, a catering company. Recognising the importance of offering Balanced meals for students, the company kicked off its School Catering programme in 2006.

“Always include fresh fruit and vegetables,” Ciantar says. “Read the labels of packaged foods to make sure you know what you are feeding your children. Generally speaking, the fewer the ingredients, the better. Phase out fatty foods like mayonnaise, and replace sandwich meats with grilled-at-home chicken breasts, as well as processed cheeses with real cheeses.”

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Hill adds, “Parents will want to limit refined grains such as white bread and white rice; sugary foods like cookies and flavoured drinks and juices; and packaged foods listing hydrogenated oils or ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup.”

MAKE YOUR OWN BENTO BOXES:

Bento Box #1

Cooked whole wheat rotini or spiral pasta with Greek dressing, feta cheese and grilled chicken
Sliced cucumbers or cherry tomatoes
Red or green grapes
Snack: Yogurt and fresh blueberries

Bento Box #2

One whole boiled egg or two devilled eggs with light mayonnaise, sandwiched together so they don’t roll around
Whole wheat crackers and cubed cheese
Fruit cup in juice, not syrup
Snack: Sliced almonds and almond butter

Bento Box #3

Sliced turkey breast on whole wheat pita, tortilla or grain bread with mild cheddar cheese and whole-grain mustard
Sliced avocado
Baby carrots or orange segments
Snack: Almonds and raisins

Bento Box #4

Cubes of cooked ham or folded salami with Colby jack cheese, alternated on small skewers
Whole wheat fettuccine tossed in a light pesto sauce
Greek yogurt with sliced peaches and raspberries
Snack: Pretzel sticks and hummus

Note: Most schools limit a child’s access to refrigerators and microwaves, so pack your lunches in an insulated lunch bag to keep foods at their ideal temperatures. Ice packs and stainless steel containers can help.

. . .

Published: Skies Magazine: November 2014

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