Updated: Oct 29
We’re only 2 months into school, and you may already be stuck in a rut when it comes to making your kids' lunches and snacks. Sometimes all it takes are ideas from other parents to shake things up a bit (if you decided to homeschool, you’re 8 months into having your kids at home, and you definitely need ideas too)! The other day I reminded my sister about green peas as a protein option for lunch or snack, and she was like, “Oh yea! Peas!” Healthy lunches and snacks don’t have to be complicated!
As a way to encourage eating more fruits and vegetables, share litter-less lunch and snack ideas, and give back to our community, I’m spearheading Rainbow Lunch Day at my kids’ school.
Research has shown that, “kids are severely lacking colour and the majority of their intake of fruits and veggies comes from fruit juice and white potato” (1).
Rainbow Lunch Day challenges parents and students on the first Tuesday of every month to include food from as many colours of the rainbow as possible in their lunch and snacks.* We’re also asking on that day for parents to consider a donation to The Parkdale Food Centre. Even if your kids don’t attend St. George, I encourage you to do your own Rainbow Lunch Day every month!
*Aim for as many rainbow colours in one day, but it’s ok to spread the colours out that week as well. The point is to increase the overall intake of fruits and veggies whether it’s on one day, or over the course of 5 days!
If this all sounds overwhelming, here is a guide to get started. When making your child’s lunch and snacks, try to include food from each of the following categories (some foods are found in both categories - BONUS!).
PS. I would recommend the "Ask the StoryBots" Episode: Why Can't I Eat Dessert All the Time? It's SO informative, and may motivate you and your kids to make healthier choices!
Protein is key for proper growth and development, blood sugar balance, metabolism and energy. Whether it's animal or plant-based, try to include protein every day in your child’s lunch (3).
Animal Based Protein Options: Eggs (my kids love fried or boiled!), grilled or baked fish (I love putting canned light tuna in my kids’ lunch!), shrimp, roast chicken or ground turkey, pork or beef (I like the PC Free From line of fresh and deli meats), plain Greek yogurt or kefir, white cheese (try to avoid orange cheeses as they may contain artificial dyes).
Plant Based Protein Options: tempeh (fermented soy), tofu (choose non-GMO), lentils, beans, peas, seeds: hemp, pumpkin, sunflower (unsweetened sunflower butter is one of my favourite school-safe ingredients!), or chia, quinoa and protein powder (added to smoothies or energy balls - I like the Vega or Genuine Health brands).
Incorporating good fats in our kids' diet on a daily basis is so important for a healthy brain (memory, focus, attention) and nervous system development. Fats can also help kids feel satisfied longer as they keep blood sugar levels balanced (unlike white carbs and sugar that provide a quick surge and crash of energy!) (3).
Good Fat Options: avocado, tuna (light is best), salmon, olives, all nuts and seeds (include seeds for school-safe options, but try to include nuts in your kids diet after school and on weekends), plain full-fat Greek yogurt or kefir, white cheese, olive oil, coconut oil, hummus and butter.
Increasing our daily intake of fibre is important for healthy digestion (means better nutrient absorption!) and a healthy microbiome (your personal collection of good bacteria in your gut!) (3).
Fibre Options: all fruits and vegetables, and plant-based foods like legumes, nuts & seeds, quinoa and whole grains. With packaged options like bread, choose sprouted or 100% whole grains (I like Silver Hills and Stonemill bread), or pasta, choose whole-wheat, brown rice or chickpea pasta (I like Chickapea). Expand your horizons when it comes to grains, try ancient grains like bulgur, farro, freekeh or millet!
Natural chemical compounds found in ALL plant foods that have powerful antioxidant properties and provide a variety of health benefits from strengthening the immune system to regulating hormones to healthy aging (2).
Phytonutrient Options: all fruits and vegetables, and plant-based foods. Red, orange, yellow and green fruits and vegetables are the best sources of phytonutrients: tomatoes, watermelon, carrots, oranges, yellow bell peppers, pineapple, broccoli, snap peas, or leafy greens just to name a few. Whole grains like brown or wild rice, quinoa, ancient grains, 100% whole-wheat pasta. Legumes like lentils, beans and peas. Nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, hemp and chia seeds.
The best way to get our kids to eat healthy is to model healthy behaviours - if your kids see you eating the rainbow, it's more likely they will too!
Rainbows have been a sign of hope during the global pandemic. My hope for this program is to promote healthy eating for families, reduce packaged foods and provide hope in the way of food to those in need in our community through The Parkdale Food Centre.
Recipe and Ingredient Spotlight: Hemp Seeds or Hearts!
Hemp seeds are one of my favourite healthy ingredients. I love them because they are a great source of plant-based protein and good fats, and easy to incorporate into your kids lunches or snacks. They don’t have a strong flavour so you can sprinkle them in sandwiches or wraps, in oatmeal, cereal, or yogurt, add them to baking or blend in a smoothie.
I also love using them to make my Green Monster Pasta. This recipe is perfect to make for dinner, and the next morning, simply reheat leftovers and pop into your kids’ thermos for lunch. I always pack a big container of sliced apple, cucumber and bell pepper on the side. Enjoy!
Green Monster Pasta
½ package of whole-wheat, brown rice or chickpea pasta
For the Sauce*
2 cups organic baby spinach
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ cup nutritional yeast OR shredded white cheese (parmesan, asiago, white cheddar, etc.)
¼ cup hemp seeds
1 large or 2 small ripe avocado
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
Sea salt & pepper to taste
Optional pasta additions:
Organic chicken meatballs (frozen section Superstore)
PC Free From Pork Sausages
Any other pasta topping that your kiddos like!
Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in your food processor or blender, and pulse until smooth.
Boil pasta according to package instructions, drain and rinse. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in sauce until everything is combined. Put on the stovetop on low heat to keep warm.
Pasta sauce keeps in fridge for 5 days or can be frozen for up to 3 months.
*Notes: This recipe makes a lot! Sauce can be made ahead, and extra sauce can be frozen for another dinner!
You can also use this sauce as a dip for raw veggies and whole-wheat pita!