Written by Alanna Mitchell
Monday, August 27th, 2018
We've all been there. You're running late. The kids are clamouring for a lunch to take to school. You toss crackers and cheese strings into baggies, throw in a mini yogurt and a juice box, stuff it into a plastic bag and scoot them out the door, hoping that not too much of the food comes back home.
It can add up a bunch of ways. Wasted food. Wasted plastic. Wasted money. Kids who come home "hangry."
What can you do?
Healthier and Greener
Emma Rohmann, founder of Green at Home (greenathome.ca), a Toronto-based company aimed at helping families make greener and healthier choices, has been thinking about this exact question. Her daughter Claire, 6, is heading back to school for Grade 2 and Connor, 3, is preparing for junior kindergarten.
"Definitely packing a lunch and taking the time to put it in containers is the number one way to save money," she says.
Her Top Strategy: Bento Boxes
Originally from Japan, bento boxes are homemade meals in special containers with compartments, so the different foods don't touch.
Kids love small portions of lots of different foods. Her preferred material? Stainless steel, because it's easy to clean, non-toxic and lasts for years.
Bentos cost about $20 each. Plastic baggies are about 5 cents apiece and usually aren't reused, so they can really add up over the years, both financially and in terms of plastic trash.
Say Goodbye to Single Yogurt
And Rohmann won't buy single-serve foods like plastic yogurt tubes. She finds them both expensive and environmentally wasteful. Scooping yogurt from a large container can save as much as $11 a month per child, if they eat yogurt every day.
Ask Your Children What They Like
But what if they go off yogurt? Rosie Schwartz, a Toronto-based consulting dietician and author of The Enlightened Eater's Whole Foods Guide (enlightenedeater.com), says this is the perfect time of year to sit down with kids and figure out what's on the lunch menu.
"It's very important that parents be the gatekeepers, but not the food police," she says.
Her golden rule is to make lunch rather than buy it ready-made.
"If you're buying prepared foods, you're not only wasting money, but you're not doing your kid a favour nutritionally, either," she says. "This is the time when kids are learning about healthy eating."
Helping Kids Balance Food Groups
A top tip is to make lists of choices from the different food groups and then encourage kids to customize their own meal by mixing and matching from each category.
For instance, if they always want pasta and tomato sauce, maybe you let them have that, but you get them to choose a protein to eat with it. This will prevent them from eating too many carbs and will keep meals balanced.
Try Easy-to-Portion Meals
Schwartz is also a big fan of making tasty tidbits in muffin tins, like eggy frittatas or little lasagnas. Some kids are partial to kebabs. Others are crazy for cheesy quesadillas.
One of the ways she keeps up with the lunch squeeze is to pack lunch as she's making dinner. She'll make extra and then pop it in a container and into the fridge before it even hits the table. The next day, all she has to do is send it out the door.