Try these nutritious school snacks | Chef Dez

By Gordon Desormeaux | Sep 07, 2016

This week marks the start of yet another school year. If you pack a lunch for your child, that’s about 180 lunches from the first day of school to the last.

For many, packing kids lunches is seen as a chore, so its not uncommon for parents to opt for convenience over nutrition sometimes.

School-time snacks and lunches are not exactly the best avenue to practice "gourmet cuisine,” but I do get asked on occasion for some healthy ideas.

Therefore, this column will be my salute to parents who are willing to say "no" to pre-packaged, high-preservative foods for their children.

Nuts

Nuts are a very nutritious snack, as long as allergy restrictions aren't a concern. Nuts are a good source of protein and a great source of unsaturated fat (the good kind of fat).

Unsaturated fats have been proven to help reduce levels of LDL-cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) without lowering HDL-cholesterol (the good one).

Unsaturated fats are best described as the ones that are liquid at room temperature, while saturated fats are solid.

There are a large variety of nuts for picky eaters to choose from: almonds, cashews, peanuts, etc. Some are even flavored to make them more appealing – just watch for sodium content.

Fruit

Fresh fruit is an obvious choice, but make sure it is one your kids enjoy, to increase the probability of that they’ll eat it!

Make fruit more tempting by prepping it ahead of time. For example, a cut and/or peeled orange is much easier to eat than a whole orange.

Make it interesting – don't always send the same fruit. Every once in a while, pack some berries, seasonal fruit, or something more exotic like kiwi or star fruit.

The ease of eating dried fruit makes it an attractive option, as well. There are many naturally dried fruit options that don’t have added sugar, so it’s an easy addition to make lunch interesting.

Try dried plums, apples, apricots, pineapple, mango and banana, to name a few, which are healthier substitutes for pre-packaged fruit rolls.

Healthy carbs

Healthier carbohydrate-type snack options include granola bars or popcorn. When purchasing granola bars, check the ingredients for the amount of preservatives and refined sugar they have.

Do not choose chocolate covered bars, as they defeat the purpose of making a healthy choice. Also, the harder granola bars are usually healthier than the softer ones.

Popcorn, as long as it not drenched in butter, is a great option and a good source of fiber.

It is obviously OK (and recommended) that our children consume fat in their diets because it helps with brain development. Fat intakes should be monitored but not eliminated.

Whole-wheat crackers are another healthy option. Again, this may require reading a few labels, but it’s a perfect opportunity to replace amounts of white flour in your kids’ diets with whole wheat.

For those of you who have time, there are even cracker recipes that you can prepare with your children at home. The appeal of whole-wheat crackers will be much greater with the pride that comes along with making them.

Throw in some slices of cheese as part of their dairy intake, along with some lean meat slices or tuna salad, and you have a homemade “lunchable."

I am not a dietitian, so these suggestions are merely that. I feel that is our job as parents to keep educated. I highly recommend you contact a dietitian about keeping your children's diets balanced.

Dear Chef Dez,

Keeping perishables cool in my child's lunch box is a concern. I have tried sending ice packs, but I don't always get them back – you know how kids are! Any suggestions?

– Dawn M.,

Surrey

Dear Dawn,

An easy and inexpensive way to do this is to freeze juice boxes. One or two frozen juices in your child’s lunch will keep things cool through the morning and will make a great chilled drink by noon.

The addition of a thermal lunch bag works great, too.

Gordon Desormeaux aka Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary travel host and cookbook author. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Write to him at dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4.

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