Healthy Lunches for Children
• Involve your children in grocery shopping and
planning their lunch.
• Let your children make their own lunch, choosing
foods from Canada’s Food Guide..
Children want lunches that taste good and keep them
full, and parents want a healthy meal for their • Add interest by combining new foods with old
growing, active children. Children learn and focus favourites.
better when they eat foods from the four food groups • Everyone enjoys a surprise. How about a secret
in Canada’s Food Guide. Nutritious lunches and snacks note, sticker or cartoon with lunch?
are best when they are tasty, handy, fun to • Take time after dinner to prepare a healthy
eat, and safe from bacteria. lunch with your children for the next day.
What is a “My children eat the same food
healthy lunch Your children are developing their tastes
for children? and may be very choosy about what
they will eat. The more often they see
Include a variety of foods from at new foods, the more likely they will
least three of the four food taste them and learn to accept them.
groups: Vegetables & Fruit, Grain Don’t give up if your children refuse a
Products, Milk and Alternatives, and new food. Sometimes it takes up to
Meat and Alternatives. Children are 12 attempts before a new food is
eating too much fat, sugar, and salt, accepted. Help your children to accept a
and not enough vegetables, fruit, milk wider selection of foods by:
products and whole grain foods. Unhealthy lunches • Being a role model. Set an example by trying new
at school are part of the problem. foods yourself.
• Offering small amounts of the new food with a
Preparing a healthy lunch familiar one.
for your children
80% of children are eating lunch at school;
No meal is a good meal if it is not eaten. Work
it is important that the foods they eat keep
together with your children to make a tasty and
them healthy and help them learn.
healthy lunch that they will enjoy eating.
• Encouraging children to get to know Beyond Sandwiches
new foods by including them in Sandwiches may be
growing, buying, preparing or convenient, but they are not
serving these new foods. the only way to have a
• Respecting that children have delicious, nutritious lunch.
their own likes and dislikes. What about cold pasta
salad, a slice of pizza, a
“It’s just so easy to pick up chicken leg, a hard-boiled
something ready to go and egg or a bean burrito. Hot
pack it in the lunch bag!” soups, stews, chili, baked beans
Convenience foods are expensive and or spaghetti can also be carried to
high in fat, sugar and salt. It may be school in a wide mouth thermos.
the fancy packaging that interests your
children, so try packing healthier foods in
Vegetables and Fruit
fun packages. Try coloured lunch bags or Include 1 to 2 servings of Vegetables
plastic containers, add stickers, special and Fruit in lunches for nutrient
napkins and colourful straws for drinks. needs, and to add colour, texture and
flavour to the meal. Choose dark
Check out page 4 for ideas to help you green and orange choices such as
pack healthier lunches. green pepper rings, broccoli florets,
baby carrots, diced cantaloupe and mango pieces.
Jazz up that Sandwich Fruit makes a great finish to lunch, whether it is
• Look for different types of whole grain bread or fresh, canned in its own juices or in light syrup.
try two different types of bread
in a sandwich. Sliced turkey Beverages
may be tastier on Even drinks can help make a lunch healthy.
Try water – a thermos filled with cold tap water
grain or whole wheat
or a refillable container is a great idea.
bread. Crusty rolls,
bagels, rice cakes, Choose milk! Children who drink milk at
crackers, English lunch are more likely to meet their daily
muffins or pita bread calcium needs. Chocolate milk is just as
all add variety. nutritious as white milk and provides lots of
energy plus 15 essential nutrients. Chocolate
• Try combinations of
milk contains about the same amount of
sandwich fillings to
sugar as an equal amount of 100%
give new flavours
to old ideas:
- Canned light 100% Juice has some vitamins but no
tuna with sliced fibre, so have vegetables and fruit more
apples and raisins often than juice. When choosing juice, look
for labels that say “100% fruit juice.” When the label
- Lower-fat cheese with cucumber slices says drink, beverage, ade, cocktail or delight, the
- Egg salad with grated carrot, diced green pepper product contains mostly sugar and water.
and chopped celery
- Cottage cheese or ricotta cheese with orange Check to see if your children’s school has
segments a milk program and sign up so that they
- Hummus with roasted red pepper pieces can have milk at school every day.
refrigerator. To keep hot foods hot, use an
Snack Time insulated bottle or thermos. First, fill it with
Snacks are important because boiling water and let it stand for a few minutes.
children cannot eat as much Then empty the bottle and fill it with the hot
food as an adult can at any food.
one time. Your children need • Only use fresh foods or leftovers
a good supply of energy and which are not more than one day old.
nutrients to play, grow and
• Clean lunch boxes, thermal bags,
learn. As often as possible,
plastic containers and all utensils
the snacks that go to school
every day in hot, soapy water. Do not
with lunch should pack lots of
re-use wrappings, as they may carry
nutrition in quick, tasty bites.
Fruit, vegetables, cheese,
• Wash all vegetables and fruit well
milk, yogurt, muffins,
under cold running tap water.
breadsticks, whole grain
crackers or plain popcorn are
all great snacks. Limit cake, Lunches for a
granola bars and cookies, since
they tend to be high in fat and sugar. Choose foods Happy Planet
from the four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide. • Use cloth or nylon bags, thermal bags or lunch
boxes, instead of paper or plastic bags.
Keeping Lunch Safe • Use reusable plastic containers for sandwiches and
other lunch foods.
A healthy lunch is also a safe lunch.
• Pack metal spoons or forks for lunches
• Start with a clean counter, clean instead of disposable plastic cutlery.
fork or spoon, and freshly
washed hands. • Try a thermos, plastic cup or
reusable water bottle with a
• Foods that might spoil tight-fitting lid for beverages.
should be carried in
an insulated bag to • Include a washable cloth
keep them cold. napkin – maybe in a
different colour each day –
• To keep food cold, instead of using paper
use frozen bread products.
pack a frozen juice • Buy local fruits and
box or freezer pack vegetables in season as
with the lunch. much as possible. Try to
buy only as much as you
• Pack cold foods need to avoid wasting food.
directly from the
Reading Food Labels
Read food labels and chose those products with as little saturated and trans fat as possible. Avoid
products that are partially hydrogenated and contain vegetable shortening. Limit foods and beverages
high in calories, fat, sugar or salt (sodium).
Adapted from material developed by Toronto Public Health, Peel Health Department and York Region Health Services.
For more information please call Toronto Health Connection at 416-338-7600 to speak with a Dietitian.
For additional issues of Nutrition Matters, refer to publications on our Web site at www.toronto.ca/health.
September 2007 PH0707SS0102