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How to Make Healthy Lunches for Your Kids

10/20/2015 05:34 EDT | Updated 10/20/2016 05:12 EDT
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Healthy 5-a-day lunch box

Healthy eating has long been my passion. I've educated Canadians on nutrition and how to create delicious, well-balanced meals for over 20 years. My interest in spreading this important message stemmed from wanting to improve my health so I could be the role model for my family and for them to learn healthy eating practices.

From my own experience, I know it's hard to break out of our unhealthy ways in adulthood, and that's why I believe in helping our children set healthy habits early. A healthy lifestyle begins at home; as parents, it's up to us to set examples for our children. Next to home, school is where our kids spend the most time. Healthy eating is essential for children's learning.

Kids need proper meals during the day to provide them with energy and nutrients to keep them alert throughout the school day. When kids are hungry or filling up on junk food, they lose focus and have difficulty concentrating in class.

So many cafeteria offerings are a far cry from a balanced meal -- hamburgers and fries, pizza, and not to mention vending machines chock full of junk food. The importance of learning proper eating habits early is why I started Rose Reisman Catering's Children's Lunch Program, which provides healthy, made in house meals. Nothing is processed or manufactured off our premises. The menu is healthy and kid-friendly. If your child's school is providing a lunch, check out the menu to see what kind of food they are serving. The key is to get away from deep fried foods and simple carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta and foods filled with sugar, such as pastries. Deli meats should be avoided, as they contain large amounts of sodium and saturated fats.

If you're packing a lunch for your child, it can be quite the challenge to keep coming up with different healthy options that your kid enjoys eating. You've got to think outside the lunch box! The key is to include at least three of the four food groups in each lunch. These groups include fruits and vegetables, grains, meat or alternatives, and dairy. Once you've got the essentials down, it's easier to build a tasty & unique lunch your kids will want to chow down on! Check out my tips for meals and snacks that get an A in nutrition and taste:

1. Follow the food guide

Remember to aim for at least three food groups for a balanced meal; four gives you superb nutrition.

Fruits and Vegetables

A serving of fruits or vegetables is only half a cup. Try to get two servings into each lunch. It's best to dice the fruit or vegetable into bite-size pieces rather than giving a whole piece -- it's easier and more appealing for kids to eat.

Grains

Grains include bread, pasta and rice, to name a few. Always go for 100 per cent whole grain or whole wheat rather than white -- you'll get double the fibre, more protein and more vitamins and minerals. This gives your child more energy throughout the day. Whole grain bread, pitas, English muffins or tortillas make for a great sandwich or wrap. Whole grain pasta, brown rice or quinoa keeps them full for longer and prevents overeating later in the day.

Meat or Alternatives

Three ounces of lean beef, chicken, fish or tofu should be included in each lunch. Beans and eggs are also considered a protein perfect for those children who don't enjoy meat. The key is to avoid smoked or deli meats that have excess sodium and nitrates. Go for roasted chicken, turkey or beef; avoid salami, smoked ham, bologna and corned beef. Leftover roasted meats is best for a sandwich or salad.

Dairy

Lean towards lower-fat milk, cheese and yogurts. Avoid processed cheese slices and go for either cheese strings, Babybel cheese rounds, or cubed cheddar or mozzarella cheeses. Opt for Greek yogurt which has over double the protein than regular yogurts; avoid those with artificial sweeteners and add diced fruit and maple syrup to plain Greek yogurt if more sweetness is required.

2. Avoid drinking calories

Don't drink your calories! Food is always a better source of calories and nutrition than the liquid calories of juices, sodas, smoothies or dairy-based sugary beverages. Have the fruit rather than the juice. Liquid calories also leads to weight gain, which contributes to one in three children today being overweight. Put down the pop and juices!

3. Reimagine fast food staples

You can't deny that kids love fast food. Preparing a healthy version of fast food that's nutritious and delicious is easy. Try baked chicken fingers and oven-roasted fries; tortilla or pita pizzas; wraps and burritos; homemade chicken or lean beef burgers; whole grain pasta with tomato sauce and lean meatballs or grilled chicken over a salad.

4. Smart Snacking

Please, no 100-calorie snack packs! I haven't yet found one with any substantial nutrition. They're loaded with either sugar, saturated fats or excess sodium. Snacks should include at least two of the four food groups. Some good examples include: cheese and whole grain crackers; dried fruit and nuts; Greek yogurt and fruit; 1 ounce of roasted meat and whole grain bread or sliced vegetables and hummus.

5. Get the kids involved

Kid's love being in charge. Ask your children what they like to eat and get them involved in the shopping and preparation. If they're part of the equation, they will take more ownership and be more into enjoying healthier choices.

The road to healthy eating for children can be an uphill battle. But you'll success over time and teach your children a lifetime of healthy eating practices.

For a quick breakfast the kids will love, try making my egg muffin!

Rose's Egg Muffin

Serves 4

4 whole wheat English muffins, sliced in half

½ cup grated cheddar cheese

4 eggs

1. Toast English muffins in oven at 450 F or in a toaster oven. Divide cheese over top and heat for another minute, just until cheese melts.

2. Meanwhile in large skillet sprayed with vegetable oil, cook 4 eggs, (in a 2" mold if desired) for about 4 minutes, just until whites are cooked and yolk is slightly runny.

3. Slip eggs carefully onto cheese filled muffin and top with remaining half.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Nutritional Information per Serving

Calories 243

Carbohydrates 28.6

Fibre 4.8g

Protein 16.9

Fat 7.9g

Saturated Fat 3g

Cholesterol 194mg

Sodium 510mg

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