Emma Waverman writes about the chaos of modern family life. She is the co-author of the family cookbook Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them and is hoping to one day finish her certification as a parenting coach. She lives with her three kids, ranging from tween to grade schooler, and husband in Toronto. Emma has written for a variety of national parenting and lifestyle magazines and newspapers. When she's is not making typos, telling you what she thinks, and thinking about dinner, you can find her on Twitter at @emmawaverman. You can contact Emma at embracingchaos@hotmail.ca.

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Thursday
Sep142017

You Can Love School Lunches with these tips 

*This post is sponsored by Whirlpool Canada, but all opinions are, as always, mine.

There are 189 lunches left to make in the school year. Per child.

If that number doesn’t scare you a little bit, then I am jealous. It doesn’t matter how many lunches you have prepared (about 3,000 in my case) it can still be daunting to think about how to creatively pack a lunch that your child will eat.

For new Canadians, school lunch can be an even bigger issue. A recent survey conducted for Whirlpool Canada found half of Canadians surveyed believe for a child who is new to Canada, lunchtime at school can be a stressful situation. Four in 10 imagine children who bring ethnic lunches to school might get teased.

Cooking a non-school lunch with Abeer and Sama. So much love!

When I explained to our Syrian friends who we sponsored to Canada about packing a school lunch, they were shocked that their son wouldn’t be coming home. In Syria, lunch is the largest meal of the day and would not survive a school lunch box.

I hope some of his new friends have had a chance to sample some delicious Syrian food. My kids have learned so much about the family while eating with them and trying some new dishes, which is not a surprise. The survey also showed 70 per cent of Canadians surveyed agree giving children an opportunity to try dishes from different cultures is a good way to encourage mutual understanding and respect.

I was trying to think of ways to encourage the family to pack a healthy lunch, and not get bogged down by the relentlessness of school lunches. Meal prepping is a part of caring for our families – it’s something we do day-in and day-out throughout the school year. Keep the below tips in mind to make it fun and healthy.  

Encourage Independence: The best way to ensure that a school lunch is eaten is by getting buy-in from  your kids. And best way to get that buy-in is to have them involved in the process. Young children can bag up their snacks and add in pre-cut vegetables. They can help plan and make the main course. By the time they reach middle school, kids can make their own lunch, and even bake up their own snacks.

Make it all reachable: Designate an accessible shelf in the pantry and refrigerator where they can reach snacks, fruit and vegetables. The new Whirlpool® door-within-door refrigerator, available late fall 2017, makes storage options very flexible and offers quick access for little (and not so little) hands to grab their favourites.

Consider it quality time: A rushed morning may not seem like the best time to bond over food. But working together in the kitchen is good for kids (and you). Baking together after school, batch cooking on the weekends and meal planning are opportunities for kids to feel empowered, and to teach them important skills.

Try something new: I’m always asking my kids what is in their friends’ lunches. It normalizes different foods for them and gives me some new ideas. Rotating new foods into their lunch can make a boring lunch a bit more exciting. Just make sure you try out a new dish before it goes into the lunchbox.

Stock up on healthy choices: Make sure there are always fruit, cut-up veggies and lunch items on hand. Tuck away a couple of emergency dishes in the freezer or pantry for those days (weeks?) that you just didn’t make it to the grocery store.

Create lists: Keep a list of favourite lunch items in a place where everyone can add in their ideas. The kids can add to the list as their tastes change and grow. Take a picture of the list for mobile access.

Don’t feel guilty: We are all familiar with the guilt of packing a less than perfect lunch, or having a lunch returned uneaten. School lunch is a mere 20 minutes and kids often get distracted with socializing so they don’t have enough time to eat everything. Instead of worrying about how much a child eats at lunch, look at the food consumed over the entire day.

Piggyback on other meals: Ceri Marsh, author of the Schoolyear Survival Cookbook told me this tip and it is a little bit genius. Only prepare lunches when you are making another meal. If you are cutting up carrots for dinner, throw some in cold water for the next day’s lunch. If you are making rice, make extra for lunch. My kids’ favourite lunch is homemade macaroni and cheese, which I break down into different parts – grate the cheese while making a grilled cheese, boil pasta. And then I can make it quickly in the morning and reheat it the next day.

As daunting as lunchtime prep may seem, it is truly an act of care for your family. By getting your kids involved you can turn what once felt like a chore into fun, quality time with your kids. And one day, maybe they will pack your lunch too.

I like to include a treat in my kids’ lunches. I make the banana bread recipe in silicone mini -muffin tins. The kids usually eat these muffins during recess. I also put out a platter with muffins and fruit after school and these are always a hit with their friends. These start with melted butter and are great because it is an easy one-bowl recipe.

I LOVE my mini muffin silicone mat.

Oatmeal Banana Bread Recipe

3⁄4 cup sugar

1⁄2 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs

1⁄2 cup quick-cooking rolled oats

1 1⁄2 cups mashed banana (3–4 very ripe bananas)

1⁄4 cup buttermilk (or thinned out yogurt or 1/4 cup milk with a tsp of lemon juice)

1 tsp vanilla

1 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat flour (or a different ration of white to whole wheat)

1 tsp baking soda

1⁄2 tsp salt

1⁄3 cup chocolate chips (obviously optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Combine sugar and melted butter in a large bowl and stir until uniform. Add eggs, one at a time, and stir to incorporate. Add oats, banana, buttermilk and vanilla; stir until uniform. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl; stir with a fork to blend.

Add flour mixture to banana mixture one third at a time; stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes or until loaf is dark brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool bread in pan for 10 minutes, then run a knife along the edges to loosen, turn out of baking pan and cool on a rack.

Makes 1 yummy loaf or a dozen muffins (bake for 20 mins), or about 36 mini muffins (bake for 16 - 18 mins).

 

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