What’s in your child’s lunch?

With public school students across the country already back in class, the release of Good Food to Go could not have come at the better time. Co-authors Brenda Bradshaw and Dr. Cheryl Mutch, who also wrote The Good Food Book for Families, are here to show that packing a healthy lunch your child will enjoy does not have to be difficult. Together they’ve create the ultimate resource in lunch packing, including recipes, tips, and the latest in health research, and medical studies. From using lettuce as a barrier against soggy bread to a demystification of the Canada Food Guide this book includes all of the knowledge necessary to make any parent into a lunch packing expert. And Bradshaw insists this is something everyone can do, no matter how busy their schedule is. All it takes is some time spent on meal planning and a weekly trip to the grocery store.

Research has shown that children are more likely to eat food that they have helped prepare. Bradshaw suggests involving kids in every stage of the process, including meal planning. Talk to children about the different food groups and help them brainstorm a list of foods that they like from each category. Let them pick out a few of these foods at the grocery store each week and find ways of involving them in their preparation, whether it be washing veggies or mixing up sandwich spreads.

Packing an age-appropriate lunch increases the likelihood that it will get eaten. For young children Bradshaw suggests picnic-style lunches, which incorporate small pieces of different foods that their short attention spans are less likely to find overwhelming. For older children sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads offer endless possibilities for variety.

Although it can be tempting to opt for processed options to save time, Bradshaw insists that homemade is always better. A recent study shows that 89 percent of foods marketed towards children are poor in terms of their nutritional content. They are usually high in sugar, low in fibre and almost none of them live up to the nutritional claims designed to entice health-conscious parents. Instead Bradshaw encourages making foods from scratch whenever possible. However, she explains that there are healthy grocery store options for some foods, like hummus, but notes the importance of always reading the labels.

Not only are most processed foods unhealthy, they all generate a lot of waste.  With the average school-aged lunchbox producing 67 pounds of garbage, Bradshaw and Mutch promote packing litterless lunches. This means that the only thing leftover when your child is finished eating is compostable, meaning that it will breakdown over time rather than spending decades or centuries in a landfill. By buying a reusable lunchbox and filling it with packaging-free, homemade foods parents can create lunches that are healthy for their children and the environment.

Although it may seem overwhelming, Bradshaw and Mutch have put together a guide that makes packing a child’s lunch fun and you might even find some inspiration for your own lunchbox.

This article was previously published on September 12, 2011.