Involve children in dietary planning

With school starting, parents are bracing for the battle over packed lunches.

With school starting, parents are bracing for the battle over packed lunches.

The trick, says registered dietitian Arlene Cristall, is to involve kids in the planning of meals right from the start.

Here are some of her tips:

* Families need to have a plan – what will kids eat, what won’t they eat, and where are parents willing to compromise? Parents and kids need to work together.

* Spend time thinking about what you’re going to pack for lunch to make it appealing visually as well as tasty and nutritious.

* Include each of the food groups when packing a lunch – meat and alternatives, grain products, vegetables and fruits, and milk and alternatives.

* Don’t worry if kids indulge occasionally. If they’re eating well 80 per cent of the time and getting plenty of exercise, then 20 percent they indulge in unhealthy choices won’t be a problem.

* Involve your kids in preparing lunches – if they’ve had a hand in making them, they’re more likely to eat what’s in their lunch bag.

* Stay away from processed foods as these foods are high in sugar and salt and low in fibre, which means kids get hungrier faster. Processed deli meats are also low in nutrients – choose roasted chicken or beef instead.

* Stay away from zero fat foods. For example, when buying yogurt – choose one to 1.5 per cent fat – as it is less processed and will keep kids feeling fuller longer.

* Get creative: if your child likes Caesar salad, put a little chicken in it for protein, substitute a lighter dressing and add it to a pita pocket. You’ve just added a couple more food groups for a healthy lunch!

* Protect food in containers or zip lock bags, particularly whole fruit which may get squished.

* Pack a healthy beverage – water is best – or juice, but limit the juice to one a day because of the sugar content.

Meal ideas and recipes are at