Healthy lunch box ideas

9-year-old John has been making his lunch each morning for a couple of years.

9-year-old John has been making his lunch each morning for a couple of years.

Even for the most organized family getting the daily routine of making our lunches can sometimes seem monotonous and boring, day in, day out.

Here are some tips to get creative with those lunch box ideas and make packing lunch fun for kids!

What can parents do?

Healthy eating begins at home, so it is important that children are encouraged to eat a proper balanced diet.

  • Involve children in grocery shopping, planning and making their lunch
  • Inform teachers and volunteers of any food intolerance/allergies that your child may have
  • Put a secret note, sticker, or cartoon with lunch. Everyone enjoys a surprise!
  • Be a role model. Set an example by trying new foods yourself.
  • Promote a healthy attitude towards eating and exercise.

Brown bagging

Include foods for lunch that encourage healthy eating behaviours.

  • John Luncho2Sit with your child and make a list of lunch options. Try to get them to choose something from each food group: grains, vegetables & fruit, meats & alternatives, and milk & alternatives. Once you have a list, all you have to do is mix and match.
  • You can use water bottles and fill them with something healthy they enjoy… and save money too.
  • Have your child make their lunch as part of their bedtime or morning routine – if they make it themselves, they are more likely to eat it!
  • Set your child up with a lunch box or bag that they like

There are many websites, books, and other resources that have ideas for packing lunches. For an unlimited supply of lunch box recipes check out The Lunch Box.

Kristin Harris is a registered dietitian with Kids Eat Smart Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador.

Spring clean your routine

Spring Salad with Strawberry Lemon Basil Dressing from Oh She Glows

As the evenings get longer, it’s time to dust off those walking shoes, tune-up that bike and get outdoors to enjoy the fresh air. Take the dog out for an evening stroll, rake the winter debris off your lawn or prune your perennials.

Encourage your children to get outside with you to get the recommended amount of activity for their age group. Biking, running, rollerblading, walking and using your scooter are all great ways to get your body moving again.

In order to boost your energy level, you will also need to spring clean your menu:

  • Sort out your pantry cupboards and clean out your freezer to remove expired products and junk food from your house.Start the spring off with fresh ingredients for easy healthy meals.
  • When planning your menu, think about simple meals that can be made quickly to allow you some time for exercise. Think fresh, fast and fun! Improved weather conditions should (hopefully!) make it easier to find fresh produce at your local grocery store or farmers market.
  • Try new salads with spring ingredients, grilled fish, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Eat fresh fruit as snacks or enjoy a fruit smoothie on those warmer mornings.
  • Have containers of washed and chopped fruit and vegetables in the fridge ready for your children’s after school snack before they rush off to skip rope or play hop-scotch.
  • Craving fresh salad ingredients? Why not start your own salad garden? Jump-start your garden by setting seeds indoors on a windowsill or under a light early in the spring. You can transfer seedlings to your garden after the last frost. Try growing a variety of lettuce, spinach, tomatoes and herbs. You will save money and have fresh produce at your fingertips throughout the summer months.

With spring just around the corner – we hope this winter will end soon – it’s the time of year to get moving, get cooking and get your energy level back up to speed.

Many people think of spring as the time of the year to sort out and clean their house. Why not think the same way about your lifestyle?

Here’s one of my favourite salad recipes that help me get in the mood for spring:

Spring Green Salad with Strawberry Lemon Basil Dressing


For the dressing (yield: 2/3 cup)

  • 1 cup fresh strawberries
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp pure maple syrup, to taste
  • fine grain sea salt & black pepper, to taste (I used 1/4 tsp each)

For the salad

  • slivered almonds, toasted
  • shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted
  • mixed greens
  • strawberries, chopped
  • chiffonade fresh basil


  1. Preheat the oven to 300F. Toast the almonds for about 7-8 minutes and then remove and add the coconut. Toast another 2-4 minutes, or until lightly golden, watching closely so the coconut doesn’t burn.
  2. In a food processor, add the strawberries, basil, lemon juice, and oil. Process until smooth. Add in the salt, pepper, and maple syrup to taste and process again.
  3. Assemble the salad as desired. Leftover dressing should keep for at least a few days in a sealed container.

(Recipe adapted from fellow blogger Oh She Glows)

Today’s blog post is courtesy of Victoria White, Program Development Coordinator: Western School District with Kids Eat Smart Foundation.

Starting healthy habits for life: 2-5 years

Dinner with preschoolersPreschool is an exciting time when kids are curious and love to try new things. This is the perfect time to start your child eating a variety of nutritious foods. Variety will help them get the nutrients they need and provide a source of pleasure as they discover new tastes and textures.

Tips and Basics

  • You are in control of the food and drinks that are offered. Your child is in control of whether or not she eats them and how much.
  • Offer the right portion sizes. Depending on your child’s age and appetite, this might be a full Food Guide serving or only half. Start with a small amount and give seconds if he wants. Serving too much at once can make a child feel like not eating at all.
  • Every day is different. Remember that appetites can change from day to day or meal to meal. Children should never be forced to eat or to stop eating. Accept that your child will eat as much as she feels she needs.
  • Eat together. Children tends to copy what adults do. Serve food at the table and get rid of distractions. Turn off the TV/tablet/computer/Smartphone and don’t allow toys or books at the table. Enjoy your time together.
  • Have regular meal and snack times. This should usually be 3 meals and 2-3 snacks each day. Don’t serve snacks within an hour of a meal. Other than water, try not to offer foods or beverages outside of these times. Extra snacks can lead to tooth decay and interfere with the development of healthy eating habits.
  • Make eating easy. Cut food into small bits. Cook meat until it is softer. Be creative and colourful. Accept that messes are a part of learning to eat.
  • Offer a variety of foods at each meal. Always include some foods that your child has eaten before. Don’t draw attention to the new food. Just serve it and let your child decide if he wants to try it.
  • Don’t force them. If your child refuses a food, DO NOT try to make him eat it. Coaxing, forcing, bribing, punishing or playing food games may create problems and cause stress.
  • Don’t prepare something different for your child if she refuses all or part of the family meal. If you do, she will quickly learn that she can ask for something different, and she will be less likely to eat the foods you have already prepared. If you allow your child to pick and choose from the variety of foods you have prepared for the family, eventually she will learn to try new foods.
  • Be patient. You may need to offer a new food 20 times – yes, that much or more before your child tries it. And he may taste it many times before he decides to eat it. Let your child learn to enjoy foods at his own pace.

For more information, there is a great resource for parents and caregivers you can download from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Health called You, Your Child, and Food – Healthy Eating for Preschool Children: Age 2-5 Years.

If you have specific questions, check in with with your health care provider.

Kristin Harris is a registered dietitian with Kids Eat Smart Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador.

Starting healthy habits for life: 12-24 months

My niece Lily at 12 months "enjoying" some spaghetti

My niece Lily at 12 months “enjoying” some spaghetti

Sometimes the biggest challenge with starting your child on the right path to healthy eating habits is actually having them EAT their meals during meal times.

Anyone with a toddler knows the frustration of cooking up a nutritious meal for the family and having half of the baby’s meal end up either on the floor or in the family dog’s belly.

It’s important to note that adults and toddlers each have their own jobs to do. It’s always important to keep in mind WHO is the boss…

A parent’s job is to decide:

  • What foods to serve
  • When to serve them
  • Where to serve them
  • How often to serve them

A toddler’s job is to decide:

  • How much to eat
  • What food to eat from the foods you offer

It’s often important to prepare the same food for your toddler as the rest of your family.

Toddlers do not need special foods, just smaller portions and cut into smaller pieces.

Toddlers like routine – try offering 3 meals and 2-3 snacks on a regular schedule throughout the day. This way if your child doesn’t eat a whole lot at one meal they have the opportunity to make up for it at the next snack or meal time.

Give your child the time to explore the foods without any pressure to eat a particular food or to eat a certain amount. If the child is hungry the child will eat – the child knows how hungry they are.

For more information, check out this helpful publication from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Health Healthy Eating for your Toddler Age 12-24 months. This excellent resource provides practical information on how to help children develop healthy eating habits for a lifetime. It provides answers to questions from parents about healthy eating for toddlers and will help make mealtimes more pleasant for the whole family.

If you have specific questions, make sure you connect with your health care provider.
Kristin Harris is a registered dietitian with Kids Eat Smart Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador.

Starting healthy habits for life: 6-12 months

My niece Lily gets her first taste of solid food at 6 months of age

My niece Lily gets her first taste of solid food at 6 months of age

Long before school, your child needs healthy foods to grow and to develop properly. Right from when they are babies, how children eat will help build the foundation for healthy eating habits for life.

Healthy eating is critical to good health. Children and adults who eat healthy reap the benefits of healthy living and have less chance of developing certain diseases.

When it’s time to introduce solid foods for your baby, you will probably have many questions.  Remember first and foremost that there is no need to rush solid foods. As discussed in the previous post, Top 5 reasons for breastfeeding, breast feeding is encouraged for as long as possible and is recommended as a child’s exclusive food source for the first six months.

The two main questions I get from moms are “How do I know if my baby is ready?” and “What should I feed my baby when they are ready?”

How can you tell if your baby is ready for solid foods? Look for these signs:

  • Can sit up with very little help
  • Can hold her head up
  • Opens her mouth when food is offered
  • Is able to take food from a spoon and swallow it
  • Can turn her head to refuse food
  • Is six months old

What should I offer?

  • A variety of foods so your child can learn to enjoy many different tastes. Your baby may even like foods you don’t.
  • Plain vegetables, fruits and meats without added salt or sugar.
  • Serve foods separately (for example, don’t stir meat and vegetables together) so your child can learn to like different flavors and textures. Do not give your baby store-bought baby food dinners which combine different foods.
  • Foods without added sugar. Babies do not need custards and desserts.
  • Plain foods without sauces or gravies. Your child should be able to taste the food and does not need sauces or gravies.

Another local blogger, Felicie Young,  wrote a great post for Baby Friendly Newfoundland and Labrador about her experiences called Starting solids or the truth about how lazy I am, which is definitely worth reading.

For more information, check out this helpful publication from Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Health Feeding your Baby: 6-12 months. As always, if you have specific questions, make sure you connect with your health care provider.

Kristin Harris is a registered dietitian with Kids Eat Smart Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador.

Top 5 reasons for breastfeeding

Top 5 Reasons to BreastfeedBreast milk is all your baby needs for the first six months of life. Plenty of benefits come along with breastfeeding your baby.

Check out the top 5 reasons for breastfeeding your newborn:

  1. Nutrients and Protection – Breast milk is custom-made by each mother for her own baby, and contains the perfect amount of protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals. Remarkably, as your baby grows, your milk will also change to keep up with your baby’s needs. Breast milk contains valuable antibodies that help prevent disease and may reduce the risk of your baby developing allergies. After birth, your first milk, called colostrum, offers vital early protection and helps to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria by coating your baby’s digestive system. This early protection is even more important if your baby is born prematurely – colostrum protects!
  2. Brain Power – There is strong evidence that children who were breastfed score higher on IQ tests, as well as on teacher ratings of their academic performance.
  3. Convenient and Portable – Breast milk is always safe, fresh and exactly the right temperature. It’s ready for baby at a moment’s notice, and you don’t have to heat it, boil water, or sterilize bottles – no mess no stress. This makes night time feedings a lot easier. Since breast milk is always with you, traveling and shopping with your baby is simpler, with no equipment to carry or refrigeration needed.
  4. Benefits Mothers Too – Research suggests that breastfeeding provides a measure of protection against breast cancer, ovarian cancer and weak bones later in life. Your body uses calories to produce milk, so breastfeeding can help you to gradually lose weight gained during pregnancy.
  5. Continues the Special Relationship – The closeness and comfort of breastfeeding strengthens the bond with your baby, as one part of all the things you can do to build a secure, loving relationship. Dads and moms can’t spoil a baby, so give your baby all the cuddling she or he wants.

YouWon'tRegretItCheck out this newly released breast feeding promotion video, called You Won’t Regret It, produced here in Newfoundland and Labrador. This celebrity-packed exploration of the choice of breastfeeding is a must-see for its entertainment value alone. (And it even features Krystin Pellerin and Andy Jones, two of the Very Special Guests appearing at our upcoming Kids Eat Smart Foundation Gala – Alice in Newfoundland!)

You can also find more information on breastfeeding from the Baby-Friendly Council of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Information for this post was also sourced from 10 Great Reasons to Breastfeed your Baby by Public Health Agency of Canada in partnership with the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada.

Kristin Harris is a registered dietitian with Kids Eat Smart Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador.

Eating Healthy for Mom and Baby

Recommended Servings during pregnancyWith so much information available on pregnancy, it can become difficult for women to know how to best take care of their health.

Often in my personal life I get many questions from expecting mothers on What should I eat? What should I avoid? How can I improve my overall health during pregnancy?

Usually my first answer is that a healthy balanced diet for mom and baby is key; before, during, and after pregnancy! Pregnancy usually brings more awareness of healthy eating to moms which is nice to see as a dietitian.

Eating well during pregnancy will ensure that your baby gets all of the vitamins and minerals required in the early weeks of development. Eating well after pregnancy also ensures baby is getting key nutrients while mothers are breastfeeding.

Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide helps you choose the foods that will give you the nutrition you need in preparation for pregnancy. All women 19-50 years of age should aim every day to eat a variety of foods from each of the four food groups:

  • Vegetables and Fruit: 7-8 recommended servings of a variety of vegetables and fruit
  • Grain Products: 6-7 recommended servings emphasizing on whole grains more often
  • Milk and Alternatives: 2 recommended servings of lower fat milk, cheese, yogurt or enriched soy beverages
  • Meat and Alternatives: 2 recommended servings of poultry, fish, lean meat, dried peas, beans, lentils, eggs or tofu.

It only makes sense that pregnant and breastfeeding women need more calories. For most women, this means only an extra two or three Food Guide Servings from any of the food groups each day in addition to their recommended number of Food Guide Servings per day as above.

For more information check out this neat resource  to make sure you’re getting the required servings a day – the My Food Guide Servings Tracker for pregnancy is handy to post on your fridge.

(Don’t forget to use Canada’s Food Guide to help you determine how much food is in “one serving”!)

Important nutrients for you and your baby

Folic Acid
Folic acid, also known as folate, is a vitamin needed both before you conceive and during pregnancy. This vitamin helps reduce the baby’s risk of developing a type of birth defect, called neural tube defect, which affects the brain and spinal cord. Cooked asparagus, cooked spinach, romaine lettuce, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, orange juice and sunflower seeds are some excellent sources of folic acid.

Since it is difficult to get enough folic acid from food alone, women of childbearing age should take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains 0.4 mg (or 400 μg) of folic acid before becoming pregnant and in the early weeks of pregnancy. Make sure the supplement contains no more than 1 mg (or 1000 μg) of folic acid unless your physician recommends otherwise. Talk to your health care professional about taking a multivitamin supplement before you become pregnant.

During pregnancy, your requirement for iron increases from 18 mg to 27 mg per day. This extra iron will be used to make red blood cells that carry oxygen through your own body and to your growing baby. Feeling tired may be the first sign that you are low in iron. Start to build up your iron stores now by eating more whole grain and iron-enriched breakfast cereals, lean meats, dried peas and beans, dark green vegetables, dried fruits and nuts. Talk to your health care professional about your iron levels during pregnancy.

Calcium helps keep your bones and teeth strong. Get used to eating lots of calcium-rich foods now. Milk and fortified soy beverages are excellent sources of calcium and they also contain vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. If you have a milk allergy, talk to your health care provider about calcium supplements. Other calcium-containing foods to include in your diet are: yogurt, cheese, orange juice with calcium, tofu set with calcium sulphate, almonds, canned sardines or salmon with bones, legumes and leafy green vegetables.

Caffeine crosses into the baby’s blood when you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Take a look at your caffeine intake and keep it to less than 300 mg a day. Instead of caffeinated beverages, drink water, milk, soup and fruit and vegetable juices before and during your pregnancy.

To stay within the recommended limit, a pregnant woman could drink a little more than two 8-oz cups of coffee a day, as long as she did not take any other products that have caffeine in them. It is important to realize, however, that many coffee mugs are larger than 8 oz. Also, takeout coffees can be as large as 16 oz (474 ml) or 20 oz (592 ml). Just one 20-oz coffee would contain more caffeine than the daily limit suggested for pregnant women.

For a breakdown of the approximate caffeine content of certain drinks and foods, click here. For more information, about caffeine and your health, visit Health Canada’s page Caffeine and Your Health.

For more information, check out Health Canada’s terrific resource The Sensible Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy – you can view it online, download a copy or order a free copy by mail.

The Sensible Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy

Information for this post was also sourced from the Dietitians of Canada’s pregnancy section of their website.

Kristin Harris is a registered dietitian with Kids Eat Smart Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador.