If you listen carefully each weekday morning, you can hear it – the collective sigh of exasperation from parents of school-aged children. Whether downtown or in the suburbs, the eternal question rings out, “What on earth am I going to pack in the kids’ lunches today?!”
The daily scramble to prep lunches can be further complicated by picky eaters – not to mention the fact that, as parents, we’re always seeking to put the most nutritional options in front of our families.
Parenting Times went to a local woman in the know – registered holistic nutritionist Stefania Moffatt (www.stefaniamoffatt.com) – for some tips, tricks and recipes to inspire our daily lunch box routines.
Moffatt – who offers customized eating plans and food log reviews – is quick to emphasize that it’s important to implement small nutritional changes.
“If you want to improve your child’s diet, work on one thing at a time,” says Moffatt. “If you try to overhaul everything at once, you’re going to feel overwhelmed and your family will revolt.”
When it comes to packing lunches, common nutritional pitfalls include too much sugar and food colouring – whether in the form of a drink or a treat – and too much processed food, says Moffatt.
While it can be difficult to remove a favourite food item from your child’s lunch, Moffatt suggests looking for ways to substitute healthier options.
“Many kids love those yogurt tubes, but they are just full of sugar and food colouring,” she says. “Instead, try buying a plain yogurt and adding a spoonful of jam in a favourite flavour.
“If your kid likes something, ask yourself how you can modify it to make it healthier.”
Moffatt, who has two school-aged daughters, shared a couple of her family’s lunchtime favourites – Squash Soup and Pumpkin Spice Muffins. Both are simple to prepare and pack a powerful, nutritional punch to fuel kids for an afternoon of focused learning.
“This soup has been in my repertoire for 10 years – I love it! It also freezes really well.”
~ Stefania Moffatt
• 1 tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil (sunflower oil also works well)
• 1 small onion, chopped
• 3 cups (710 grams) butternut squash, chopped
• 1 apple, chopped
• 2 cups (500 ml) vegetable broth
(or 2 cups / 500 ml of water and 1 bouillon cube)
• 1.5 cups (355 ml) milk (or non-dairy milk)
• pinch ground nutmeg
• salt and pepper to taste
1. Rinse squash and pat dry with a paper towel. Make several quick piercings in the squash’s skin with a fork, then microwave for about three minutes to soften slightly.
2. While squash is cooking, core and chop apple, then chop onion. Set aside.
3. Remove squash from microwave; allow to cool for a minute or two if hot. Peel and chop into small pieces (roughly two-inch / five-centimetre squares).
4. In a large saucepan, heat oil on medium-low and gently sauté squash for about five minutes. Add onions and apple, stirring to combine. Continue to sauté ingredients for two to three more minutes, stirring frequently to avoid squash from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan.
5. Add vegetable broth and bring mixture to a full boil.
6. Reduce heat and slowly stir in milk, then season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
7. Cover and simmer on medium-low for 20 minutes.
8. Remove lid and allow to cool. Working in batches, purée in food processor or blender, then return to pot briefly to reheat before serving.
Makes: Approximately 7 cups / 1.65 litres.
Pumpkin Spice Muffins
• 1 3/4 cups (400 ml) spelt flour
(this produces a denser muffin)
• 1 tsp. (5 ml) baking soda
• ½ tsp. (2 ml) salt
• 1 tsp. (5 ml) cinnamon
• ½ tsp. (2 ml) nutmeg
• ½ tsp. (2 ml) ground ginger
• ½ cup (125 ml) vegetable oil
• 2 eggs
• 1 tsp. (5 ml) vanilla
• 1 cup (225 ml) brown sugar
• 1 cup (225 ml) unsweetened pumpkin puree (canned)
1. Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C) and line
a muffin pan with paper liners.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and spices. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, eggs and vanilla. Add sugar and pumpkin, stirring until well blended.
4. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients. Stir until just combined.
5. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling 2/3 full. Bake for 18 – 20 minutes. Insert a toothpick in one of the muffins – if it comes out clean, the muffins are ready. Allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes; remove and let cool completely on rack.
Makes: 12-18 muffins, depending on pan size.
SHORTCUT TO A HEALTHY LUNCH
Time is of the essence for all parents, so why not streamline your lunch-making routine? Moffatt shares her top tips and tricks for making weekday mornings smoother:
• Pre-chop fruits and veggies – A bit of organization at the start of the week makes the day-to-day prep that much simpler.
• Make big batches – Whether you’re cooking soup or baking up a batch of muffins, why not double it? Many recipes – like those here – freeze well and can be pulled out as needed.
• Rediscover the thermos – “When I was young, my mom often packed my lunch in a thermos, but I find we’ve trended away from that,” says Moffatt. She suggests making a bit extra at dinner time – then packing the extras for tomorrow’s lunch.
• Set a schedule – “Parents shouldn’t feel that they always have to reinvent the wheel – you can repeat,” says Moffatt. Kids like a sense of routine, so put a schedule on the fridge and they’ll know what’s coming next; Monday is sandwich day, Tuesday is soup day, etc.
• Stock up on finger foods – Kids love finger foods, says Moffatt, so keep your cupboard stocked with some healthy options to pop into your little one’s lunch box:
• Canned chickpeas (room temperature or out-of-the-fridge)
• Popcorn (preferably without heavy butter and salt)
(Moffatt suggests Triscuit are a healthy choice)
(shelled is easier; top with a bit of salt and lemon)
• Unsweetened applesauce, topped with hemp seeds and cinnamon