10 ways to get your kids to eat more fruits and veggies in school lunches

Research shows that kids aren't getting enough fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Here's how to give your kid a healthy head start.

Photo: iStockphoto

Does your kid’s daily apple make a return trip to school and back simply for fun? Or have you just quit packing it because you know it’ll end up battered, bruised and eventually binned (as in: garbage)? You’re not alone. Research has found that Canadian kids don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables and dairy during school hours.

A 2017 study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Department of Food, Nutrition and Health, looked at nearly 5,000 kids ages six to 17 and found that, though they consumed about a third of their total calories during school hours, they got fewer important nutrients during that time, and more salty snacks and sugary treats and beverages. While kids are getting plenty of saturated and unsaturated fats, their intake of whole grains, and dark green and orange vegetables is practically nonexistent during school hours. The average score researchers gave kid’s eating habits during the day: 53 out of 100.

We’d like to help nudge all kids toward better grades. Here are 10 easy ways to work more vegetables and fruit into your kid’s day.

1. Stock grab-and-go veggies: Keep peeled and cut carrots in a container of water in the fridge. Trim and steam a bunch of green beans ahead of time, sprinkle with kosher salt and store in a container—instant snack. And make sure to have zero-prep options like mini cucumbers, tiny sweet peppers, sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes, too.

2. Cure apple fatigue: Your kid loves mango at home—why not pack wedges in her lunch? Or fresh berries in a cute little container?  No-sugar-added pouches and fruit sauces are excellent alternatives (some even have added vegetables), as are pure dried fruit, especially when combined with sunflower seeds and a handful of healthy cereal for a custom trail mix.

3. Make a slaw: Colourful, crunchy and the perfect side to a sandwich—maybe slaw is the solution? You could buy a bag of the pre-prepped stuff, or make your own with peeled carrot, finely shredded purple cabbage and kale, and even some thinly sliced apple if your kid is into that. The mix is hearty enough to stand up to an easy dressing (olive oil, apple cider vinegar and honey), so it packs like a dream.

4. Use your Thermos: Raw veggies aren’t the only game in town. Reheat and pack that leftover roasted broccoli, or a half corn on the cob, or throw a handful of frozen veg in with leftover pasta or rice (just thaw in a bit of boiling water first).

5. Make vegetables the main attraction: Perhaps vegetables are less attractive when packed as a snack, and more likely to get eaten when they’re part of the actual lunch? We love these salad rolls, lettuce wraps (just pack the meat separately in the Thermos), veggie cakes here and here, and quesadillas, because the best way to serve vegetables is to cover them with melted cheese.

6. Pack a dip: Vegetables tend to disappear faster when there’s dip involved. It could be hummus, tzatziki, this one with another vegetable blended right into it, or homemade ranch dip (combine equal parts sour cream and mayo, add a pinch of garlic powder and/or onion powder and dried herbs—done!).

7. Put fruit in something else: Blueberry muffins and banana bread are obvious fruity snacks, but what about packing cold yogurt or a smoothie in a Thermos? Or hot oatmeal with a container of berries or chopped apple on the side?

8. Always preempt dinner with vegetables: It’s a pretty sure bet your kid comes home from school and asks for a snack. If he’s still got veggies in his lunchbox, the answer is simple. If not, just serve more. Make the vegetable component of dinner first, then casually set it out—whether it’s a bowl of roasted or steamed veg, or the chopped salad without dressing—while you finish the rest of the meal. It’s amazing how much (and how quickly) kids will eat when they’re hungry.

9. Blend it: Soup is one of our favourite ways to sneak tons of vegetables into lunch. This Blended Vegetable Soup couldn’t be easier (zero prep when you use boxed broth and frozen veg!), but here are a few more options for fun.

10. Go covert: We don’t believe kids should be tricked into eating vegetables, but you do what you have to do. Solidarity.

Read more:
10 super easy portable hot lunch ideas

30 healthy lunch ideas for kids

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