Healthy Living in the North

Make school lunches nutritious, delicious, and fun!

Mother and daughter making scrambled eggs.

Make school lunches a family affair! Even young kids can take on tasks like washing fruit, filling water bottles, and packing lunch bags!

Summer is coming to an end, which means it’s back-to-school time for families across northern B.C. Getting back into school routines often means busy schedules! Fuelling those busy days can be challenging, but there are some easy things you can do to make back-to-school lunches nutritious, delicious, and fun this year.

Follow these five simple steps for stress-free mornings and happy tummies throughout the day.

  1. Be prepared. The Boy Scouts knew what they were talking about! Taking some time during your evenings or weekends to get prepared makes busy weekday mornings a breeze. Plan meals, chop vegetables, bake muffins, or batch-cook something tasty (like soup or chili) to eat throughout the week. Check out Holly’s post for some great lunch prep ideas!
  2. Get the tools. Make sure you have a variety of reusable containers, including cutlery and drink containers, so that no matter what you pack for lunch, you’ll have something to put it in. An insulated lunch bag and a food Thermos are both great investments, too.
  3. Make it a family affair. Get the kids involved in prep! Even young kids can wash fruit, fill water bottles, and pack their lunch bags. And make sure to involve your kids in planning their lunch, like asking whether they want carrot sticks or celery. Offering them a choice means they are more likely to eat those healthy foods. There’s lots of inspiration for preparing food as a family on the Northern Health Matters blog, like Emilia’s tips for age-appropriate ways to include kids in cooking.
  4. Seek out healthy helpers. Save time with some pre-prepared nutritious items like washed and bagged salad greens, baby carrots, unsweetened applesauce cups, individual cheese portions, and yogurt cups.
  5. Think beyond the sandwich bread. While sandwiches are definitely a lunchtime favourite for many, it can be fun to switch it up. Instead of bread, try wraps or pita pockets. Or skip the sandwich and try a pasta salad, soup, crackers and cheese, or even last night’s leftovers.

Looking for a little lunch inspiration? Try this easy pasta salad recipe! You can get the kids involved, prep it the night before, and break out of the sandwich rut. Sounds like a win for healthy school lunches!

Chicken Pasta Salad

Adapted from cookspiration.com

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ cups cooked whole wheat pasta (such as rotini, penne, or macaroni)
  • 1 ½ cups diced cooked chicken
  • 1 large carrot, coarsely grated
  • 1 cup diced cucumber
  • ¼ cup of your favourite salad dressing (such as Italian, caesar, or balsamic)

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine the pasta, chicken, carrot, cucumber.
  2. Drizzle with salad dressing and mix to combine.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for up to two days.

To switch things up, try replacing the chicken with shrimp, ham, chickpeas, or tofu. Try out different vegetables, too, like broccoli, peppers, peas, or corn.

For more inspiration, check out our Foodie Friday posts!


A version of this article was originally published in the August 2015 issue of A Healthier You magazine.

Marianne Bloudoff

About Marianne Bloudoff

Born and raised in BC, Marianne moved from Vancouver to Prince George in January 2014. She is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health's population health team. Her passion for food and nutrition lured her away from her previous career in Fisheries Management. Now, instead of counting fish, she finds herself educating people on their health benefits. In her spare time, Marianne can be found experimenting in the kitchen and writing about it on her food blog, as well as exploring everything northern B.C. has to offer.

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Back to school… to the kitchen?!

Salad bar

Chetwynd Secondary School students with their salad bar.

When I was in high school, cafeteria food was a lot different than it is today! We didn’t have nutrition guidelines that I knew of, our pop machines were well stocked with what is now contraband pop and every Friday was (deep fried) fish and chips day. Nowadays we recognize that having healthy food in schools is important for students’ growth, learning and their health later in life. Some may argue that it’s too complicated or expensive to feed kids healthy choices in schools, but there are schools that are making it work and they are glimmers of hope across the north!

This week I went back to school, to Chetwynd Secondary School, to see how they’re making food skills a priority and getting the students involved in their cafeteria. Vice Principal and Foods Teacher Helen Toppin filled me in on some of their offerings, which includes a daily breakfast program (free to all students), daily hot lunch service, and a twice weekly salad bar. They also have vending machines that are filled with water, milk, juice, sandwiches, yogurt and granola bars. The best part? The students prepare all of the food daily in a credited cafeteria class led by Diane Mallia. As well, Ms. Toppin’s foods classes are mandatory for Grades 8 and 9, and her three optional senior foods classes are well attended.

Salad bar prep

Prepping for the salad bar at Chetwynd Secondary School.

I was never even encouraged to take a foods class (or home economics, as we called it) in elementary or high school. At the time I didn’t miss it, but I was also fortunate to learn those food skills in my home, from my parents and grandparents who knew how to cook and bake. If today’s parents are like me and didn’t get that educational opportunity, then it is even more important to ensure that their children are taught these skills at school! I’m happy to see that across B.C., foods courses are making a comeback and that schools are again recognizing the value of food skills for life.

When asked what they thought of the cafeteria class, the students had a lot to say. Some admitted that they only took the course because they needed the credit, but others shared that they now cook more at home with their families and enjoy eating the foods that they help prepare. It brought a smile to my face when one male student marvelled that making pizza is actually really easy and cheaper than buying it!  Another student told me that the food tastes better because it is homemade and she feels better knowing who has touched it.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say! Ms. Mallia informed me that they usually sell out of everything they make and the students know to get there early so that they don’t miss out. On the day I visited, the salad bar was offering Greek ribbon salad, Caesar salad, and white bean and vegetable soup. And yes, believe it or not there was a student excited about white bean soup, but I was told that “he’ll eat anything.” J

Did you take foods classes in school? Are your kids taking foods classes now? Do you live in northern B.C.? We’d love to hear your experiences!

[Editor’s note:  This is a great example of what the key message “Healthy eating supports healthy individuals, families and communitiesmeans to Holly. Tell us what it means to you! Visit our Picture YOU Healthy contest page for more details on your chance to win!]

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is a Regional Lead for Population Health. She has a passion for healthy living and health promotion and is a foodie at heart. Originally from Ontario, she has fully embraced northern living, but enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She swims, bikes and runs, and just completed her first marathon.

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