Back to school with a real food resolution, once and for all!

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Create healthy and delicious food habits

We all know what September brings: a fresh start, a new school for some, new teachers, new school bags, new crayons & pencils, usually new shoes, for sure a lot of excitement; and of course for us parents, the dreaded thought and puzzling question of what to put in our kids daily lunch box…

Why not let this September be the beginning of new healthy & delicious food habits! Make this school year a year filled with flavorful real foods. It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating as often as possible: Real food is a must for active & healthy children.

There are lots choices available for lunch boxes, however, it can sometimes be challenging to decide which foods are healthy choices. The recurring question of what to put in our kids lunch box comes back every September and is a year round topic of conversation on mom’s blogs and school yard commiserations.

Lunch boxes should be simple, tasty, easy to prepare, ready to eat, and still appetizing after several hours of storage in the lunch box… but the big questions are: what do we make? And will our kids like it?

So lets tackle it once for all! How could this year be different and better than previous ones?

Better food habits right from the beginning of the school year is the answer. Lets not wait until January 1st to make new resolutions about it. There are a few simple rules to keep us in check to make sure our kitchen pantries and our children school lunches are varied, enjoyable, healthy and can help our kids concentrate and learn in a positive way.

In order to fill our kids lunch boxes with goodness, it all starts with colorful, varied and tasty foods filling our pantry and fridge.

Treat your pantry and fridge like they are your artist’s palette. Think bright and varied colors, different textures and inspirations. Think global flavors and locally produced foods.

Sending a hot lunch is a particular challenge since keeping food above 60 degrees C until lunch is a real challenge for small amounts of food. You need a very good thermos and a lot of pre-planning (unless you have a Real Food Lunch Club at your school – more on that later). Try making make big batches of stews and soup when you have the time and then freeze in small quantities (60-75g) which are easy to thaw and heat up just before sending your little cuties off to school in the morning.

With PB&J no longer an option in most schools due to the dramatic rise in peanut allergies, we have to get more creative with sandwich making and seed spreads are a great solution. Your simplest options are based on sweet or savoury spreads made with pumpkin, sunflower or sesame seeds flavored with fresh herbs (see recipes below), or the various types of hummus now readily available at your local grocery store.

Whatever the main course, always add 2 or 3 different types of fruits and vegetables of various colors to make it visually attractive such as celery or carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, slices of cucumber (or baby cucumbers), a whole avocado, a tiny apple, slices of oranges, a plum, a peach, a banana, etc. Add a sugar free grain (like quinoa) and/ or seed/dried fruit/ veggie bar, a handful of home made kale or sweet potatoes chips (see recipes below) or yummy rice, apple or bean crisps (A few brands have come up with some delicious healthy chemical free options) and of course fill their stainless steel bottle with chlorine/ fluoride free H20!

Kids need quality, sugar free hydration. Forget milk, chocolate milk and fruit juice – check the labels and you’ll see they usually have more sugar than soda. Instead, give them good old water or look for 100% coconut water on a day where you know they’ll be extra active to refuel well spent electrolytes (waaaaay healthier than chemically colored, artificially flavored so called “sports drinks” and “vitamin water”) Ontario apple cider is an awesome choice to boost immune systems with a bit of fibre and natural vitamin C to keep the common cold at bay.

Of course, a great way to provide a worry free hot lunch and not have to prepare the daily chore yourself is to introduce a Real Food Lunch Club (RFLC) to your kids school. You’ll be happy to only have to make a couple of meals a week or none at all if your school adopts the program for 5 days. Your kids and their buddies will love lunch as much as you’ll love the precious time saved in your nightly rituals (or, gasp, the early mornings when you forgot to prep lunch the night before!) To find out how to bring the RFLC to your kids school, visit http://www.rfrk.com/catering/lunchclubs/

All of this hard work goes to waste if you don’t carry on the same philosophy at home. Remember, with kids it’s “monkey see, monkey do.” Make sure that your dinners and weekend meals are based on healthy, whole, real foods that the grown ups eat right along side the kids. As previous generations learned with things like cigarettes etc, “do as I say and not as I do” does NOT work. Take this opportunity to make the fresh start at home carry through school and back home again. Your kids, grand kids and great grand kids will thank you!

I also recommend you check these awesome books by three Canadian authors for more on food education:

**French Kids Eat Everything, by Karen Le Billon
‘Combining personal anecdotes with recipes and practical tips, French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon provides a humorous, provocative look at the way we feed our kids. The result is a personal transformation in eating and parenting’:
http://karenlebillon.com/books/

She shares 10 useful rules that every parent should adhere to: http://karenlebillon.com/2013/01/18/et-voila-the-french-food-rules-for-your-fridge/

**Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products, by Jeannie Marshall
http://jeanniemarshall.com/new-book/

“An illuminating personal account of a journey that we all need to take: from the product in a box back to real food. Jeannie Marshall shows that parents know better than corporations what’s good for kids, and how solving the nutrition and obesity crisis will nourish generations to come.”

http://www.weightymatters.ca/2012/05/book-review-jeannie-marshalls-outside.html

** What’s for lunch? How schoolchildren eat around the world, by Andrea Curtis

‘The book’s simple to explain. Exploring 13 different countries’ school systems Curtis knew,

“Whether their school is under the vast umbrella of a banyan tree, in a dusty tent held up with poles, or in a sturdy brick structure in the heart of a bustling city, all children need a healthy lunch to be able to learn and to grow”

http://www.weightymatters.ca/2013/02/book-review-andrea-curtis-whats-for.html

**This blog: “100 Days of Real Foods’1 family. 2 kids. 0 processed foods.
http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2012/12/07/picky-eater-vs-problem-feeder/

Easy, tasty & Nutritious recipes for a nutritious lunch box:

Cheesy Kale Chips
Ingredients:
• 1 large bunch kale (black or green)
• 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive or sunflower oil
• 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
• sea salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Tear kale into bite sized pieces, wash, shake dry and place in a bowl. Spray kale with olive or sunflower oil or use a measured 1 tbsp and just mix to coat all the kale. Place kale on baking sheet and sprinkle with nutritional yeast and lightly dust with sea salt. Place in oven and bake 4-5 minutes, turn over and bake for another 4-5 minutes or until crispy. Be careful, it can burn quickly if you don’t keep an eye on it! Remove from oven when crispy. Store in airtight container.

Savoury Sunflower seed spread
Ingredients:
• 1 cup sunflower seeds (raw)
• ¼ cup brown sesame seed
• ½ juice of 1 lemon
• 2 garlic cloves
• 1 tbsp fresh ginger (grated)
• 1 tsp wheat free Tamari sauce
• 1 1/2 tbsps tahini
• 1 tsp of parsley, basil, mint, lemongrass or any other fresh herb you have handy

Directions:
Put all ingredients in Blender or food processor and mix until smooth. If you want a chunkier spread, don’t process quite as long. Store in airtight container. It can be stored in fridge or at room temperature, depending how fast you devour it!

Chocolate Sunflower seed spread
Ingredients:
• 1 cup sunflower seeds
• 4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips, melted or un-sweeten chocolate powder
• ½ cup coconut sugar
• 4-6 teaspoons coconut or sunflower oil

Directions:
Place sunflower seeds in blender or food processor and mix until almost powdery. (If you want a chunkier spread, don’t process quite as long). Add enough oil to form a smooth, soft paste. Add the melted chocolate or un-sweeten chocolate powder until smooth. Add coconut sugar and pulse until it forms a smooth, spreadable consistency. Store in airtight container. It can be stored in fridge or at room temperature depending how fast you devour it!

Sweet potato chips
Ingredients:
• 4 peeled, very thinly sliced medium size sweet potato
• 4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive or sunflower oil
• 1 ½ tsp Cumin
• 1 ½ tsp Paprika
• 1 ½ dried parsley
• Sea salt to taste
• Black pepper tp taste

Directions:
Heat oven to 400 degrees. On two baking sheets, toss sweet potato with oil and season with parsley, cumin, paprika, salt & pepper. Arrange in single layers and bake, flipping halfway, until crisp and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Store in airtight container.

Real Food for Real Kids is a Toronto-based catering company that aims to reconnect children and families to real food by providing delicious and healthy meals and snacks – made fresh from scratch.