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.

Quick tips for cooking @ home

Stir the saucePrepare more meals from scratch with good-for-you ingredients.

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated; nutritious convenience foods, such as frozen fruit, ready-to-go salads and pre-chopped vegetables, offer simple shortcuts.

Cooking from scratch allows you to control exactly what and how much of an ingredient you include in your family meals.

Tips for Cooking @ Home:

  • If sodium is a concern, choose low sodium ingredients and add only small amounts while cooking. This can drastically cut down on sodium levels in your meals.
  • If a lack of veggies are a concern, amp up traditional recipes with a variety of veggies, either frozen or fresh. You can add them to your chili, spaghetti sauce, lasagna, shepherd’s pie, stir fry and/or side dishes . For meaty entrees, double up on the veggie ingredients the recipe is calling for and halve the meat.
  • Keep it simple. Buy one main ingredient. Make multiple meals. I usually like to purchase ground meats in bulk and prepare it in a variety of ways. If I purchase ground beef or chicken, for example, cooking it in bulk can allow me to make spaghetti, tacos, shepherd’s pie and chili, all in one week!
  • Get fresh! Fill your cart with more fresh foods, like veggies, yogurt or fish, to cook from scratch.
  • Skip packaged meals. Cooking simple meals is an easy way to save money on your grocery bill. Pre-packaged frozen meals are usually packed with sodium and low in nutrients.
  • Cook n’ share! Prepare big batches on weekends and swap meals with friends.
  • Make cooking fun and include your kids in the kitchen to help out with portioning, stirring or dumping ingredients in the pot!

Remember cooking at home can be fun if we plan ahead and shop smartly!

Wishing you continued good luck in putting your Best Food Forward: Plan Shop Cook Enjoy!

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

Learning to love grocery shopping

Learning to love grocery shopping with Kids Eat SmartWhen it comes to grocery shopping, many of us view it as a rather dreary chore. What with reading labels, checking prices and comparing products, supermarkets can be an overwhelming place for those trying to stick to the plan!

You can learn to love (or least not loath) grocery shopping by remembering to not shop on an empty stomach and to stick primarily to the perimeters of the supermarket.

The perimeter of the store is where you will usually find the fresh whole foods we need to make up a healthy balanced menu plan for the week.

Do take some time to read food labels and compare products so you can choose the most nutrient-rich foods in every aisle of the store.

Fill your cart with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, milk products, lean fresh meat and meat alternatives such as legumes. Try to skip the processed foods that are convenient, but are often filled with fat, sugar or salt and are low in nutrients.

Dietitians can (and do!) help you learn how to put healthy food in your cart with a few well-respected and practical dietitian-developed tools that you can use to help keep on track:

  • Dietitian of Canada’s Eatracker – consumers can track food and activity choices, analyze recipes and plan meals at
  • Dietitian of Canada’s Nutrition Month videos – consumers can watch Registered Dietitians and Nutrition Month Spokespersons share shopping tips at
  • EatRight Ontario’s My Menu Planner – consumers can use this tool to develop a personalized menu plan at
  • Healthy Families BC’s Shopping Sense – consumers can take a virtual grocery store tour and watch shopping videos at
  • Dietitians of Canada’s eaTipster – download the eaTipster app for free at and get a new grocery shopping tip delivered every day in March

Wishing you continued good luck in putting your Best Food Forward: Plan Shop Cook Enjoy!

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

Best Food Forward: Plan Shop Cook Enjoy!

Kids Eat Smart celebrates Nutrition MonthWelcome to March! It’s Nutrition Month, brought to you by the Dietitians of Canada, of which I am proud to be a member.

Did you know that:

  • Two thirds (63 per cent) of Canadians struggle with making healthier food choices in the grocery store at least half the time they shop
  • While many Canadians write grocery lists (67 per cent), fewer plan meals (37 per cent)
  • Half (52 per cent) of Canadians always or very often read the nutrition label on a food before purchasing

This kind of information, (gathered from a 2012 Ipsos Reid Poll commissioned by Dietitians of Canada,) led to this year’s slogan – Best Food Forward: Plan Shop Cook Enjoy!

The key take-away is that healthy eating begins in the grocery store, so throughout the month, I’ll try and share practical advice to help make shopping for healthy food for you and your family a little easier.

Most of us purchase much of the food our family consumes from the grocery store. Busy lives and limited budgets sometimes mean our carts are not always filled with the best choices.

Research and common sense tells us that what is easily accessible is more frequently eaten. This is especially true with large quantities and packages of food such as snack food that requires little preparation.

Having healthier choices that are available, accessible and visible (e.g. fruit on the counter) can potentially increase the uptake and intake for everyone in the home.

I’ll kick us off today with a tip that I’ve talked about before – PLAN AHEAD.

Try to take these four steps BEFORE you head to the grocery store:

  1. THINK about what meals you’ll be making
  2. SCAN the flyers for specials
  3. CHECK your kitchen’s inventory
  4. MAKE a list

For more tips and tools on planning your trip to the grocery store, check out one of my previous blog posts Tackling the trip to the grocery store.

At Kids Eat Smart Foundation, we believe that Good Eating = Good Thinking, but you can also flip it around when heading to the grocery store – good thinking can help equal good eating too!

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

How to get your kid to eat more fruits and vegetables

How do I get my child to eat more fruits and veggies?How much is enough fruits and veggies for my child? How can I get more fruits and veggies in my child’s diet? These are among the most common questions I get asked from moms.

Most often I’ll encourage moms to try different fruits and veggies at every meal with their kids and try them in a variety of ways.

Have a look at Canada’s Food Guide, which can provide nutritional information for your child’s age group and recommended servings per day.

As for getting more in the diet, it’s important to include a wide variety of fruits and veggies for kids and with each meal/snack. It can sometimes feel overwhelming to get the recommended servings in the diet so start by including a fruit or vegetable with each meal and snack.

Don’t forget that it’s important to try and try again when it comes to getting kids to try new foods, especially vegetables – sometimes he/she may need to be offered a food 20 times or more before he/she learns to enjoy.

Be patient and don’t stick to his/her favourite fruit time and time again – open your mind and their plate to fruits and veggies of all kinds and colours and cooking them in a variety of ways! (For more tips, you can also check out one of my previous posts Why are some kids picky eaters?)

Here’s some easy ways to help add fruits and veggies to your – and your child’s – day from the terrific website Fruits & Veggies More Matters:

  • Plate method. Fill half of their plate with fruits and veggies at every meal and snack.
  • Pump up the veggies. Add extra fruits and vegetables to dishes, even if they already contain/call for them in the recipe.
  • Substitute. Substitute fruits and veggies in any meal – they’re lower in calories than many other foods.
  • Stock Up. Always stock frozen and canned fruits and veggies for quick meal prep. Try to choose canned fruit and vegetables without added sugar, syrup, cream sauces or other ingredients that add unnecessary calories.
  • Steam & Flavour. Steamed vegetables make great sides. Add flavour with low-calorie or low-fat dressings, herbs and spices. Garlic is one of my favourites!
  • Grab & Go. Always have fresh fruits and vegetables in easy-to-grab places (a fruit bowl, sliced in the fridge, trail mix) – Sunday prep days can go a long way to increasing fruits and veggies in the diet! (For more on this, check out my related post on Preparing for the work week ahead.)

And remember – if at first you don’t succeed, just try and try again!

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

Setting a good example when eating out with the family

Kids Eat Smart Eating OutEnjoying the many new and delicious restaurants around town is something my family enjoys doing on a regular basis. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming to look at the many different options on pages and pages of menus at these restaurants.

Small changes and requests to the menu items can help curb those extra calories we sometimes rack up when eating out. Our children learn by example – by adopting a positive attitude towards making healthier choices, you’ll help your kids think that way too.

Have a look below for some tips and tricks from the Healthy Canadians website for enjoying a healthier meal when eating out:

  • Treat your taste buds to something different. Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Caribbean, Greek, Indian, Middle Eastern, and other ethnic cuisines offer healthy choices.
  • Ask to see the nutrition information for the menu items in your cafeteria, restaurant, and fast food outlet. Use it to help you choose the healthier menu options.
  • Ask for your meal to be cooked without salt or MSG (monosodium glutamate), a seasoning that is very high in sodium.
  • Enjoy the taste of foods without adding butter, margarine, gravy, or rich sauces. Ask how your meal is prepared, and ask for the sauce to be left off or served on the side.
  • If you do eat a meal high in calories, fat, sugar, and salt (sodium), be sure to eat healthier meals the rest of the day.

Some examples of healthier menu options:

  • Foods like steamed vegetables, vegetable soups, fresh fruit salads, berries with yogurt, and salads with dressing on the side are just a few of the healthier options.
  • Choose dark mixed green salads with vegetables or fruit instead of higher fat Caesar, taco, potato, or pasta salads.
  • Order gravy, sauces, and dressings on the side and use only small amounts.
  • Choose tomato- or vegetable-based soups and pasta sauces instead of alfredo or cheese sauces.
  • Order sandwiches, subs, or wraps with whole grain bread, buns, or tortillas. Choose one spread instead of two (for example, mayonnaise or margarine, not both).
  • Choose baked, broiled, or steamed foods instead of breaded or deep-fried foods.
  • Limit cakes, cookies, and rich desserts. Get a smaller size or share with your family or friends.
  • Choose water, skim, 1% or 2% milk, fortified soy beverage or 100% juice instead of soft drinks or highly sweetened beverages.

Keep portion size in mind

Some restaurants serve a lot more food than you need. These tips will help you keep your portion size reasonable.

  • Avoid super-sizing.
  • Order a small appetizer or half a meal.
  • Share your meal with someone.
  • If you are served too much food, ask for a take-out container and keep the leftovers in the fridge for the next day.
  • Have the small-sized drink and ask for a glass of water instead of ordering a large. You can add a lot of extra calories in your day just from drinks.

Cool tools!

  • My Food Guide Servings Tracker helps you keep track of the amount and type of food you eat each day.
  • eaTracker (by the Dietitians of Canada) helps you set food and activity goals and compare your food choices to national guidelines.

A colleague of mine recently told me that when it came to going out to eat when she was a kid, it meant only one of two options: McDonald’s or Swiss Chalet. Now that she’s a mom, she deliberately tries to expose her son to different restaurants with varied cuisines, like Chinese and vegetarian.

Although she says she has had some regular success getting him to try non-traditional foods, she confesses that given the choice, McDonalds or pizza are still his favourites….oh well, at least Happy Meals can include yogurt and apples nowadays!

What are some of your family’s favourite places to eat out?

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

Breakfast from around the world

Breakfast around the WorldHave you ever wondered what people in other parts of the world eat for breakfast?

Seeing all of the coverage this morning of the meteor that passed over Russia as they were on their way to work, it made me wonder about the Russian breakfast routine.

Here’s what I learned:

“Russians usually have an early breakfast at about seven or eight in the morning right before leaving to work. It is very common for Russian families to have kasha (a type of porridge made from different grains), buterbrods (a kind of sandwich made of a single slice of bread and one topping such as butter or ham), boiled or fried eggs, tvorog (similar to cottage cheese) or cereal for breakfast. Coffee or tea is an essential drink for many Russians. Many people eat toast with cheese and drink juice for breakfast.”

Did you know that the tradition of having a separate food for breakfast was created in North America, whereas people in many other countries will often eat the same foods they have for lunch or dinner at breakfast time? For example, in many Asian countries, people will have rice, meat and vegetables for breakfast.

A lot of Western breakfasts are high in sugar and can include pastries, sweetened cereals, pancakes with syrup etc. Often other countries focus on healthier choices such as whole grains, vegetables and fresh fruits for their breakfast recipes.

If you look past your country’s border for breakfast ideas you may find some that are both delicious and healthy.

Turkey – A typical Turkish breakfast will include cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, honey or jam, French bread, and tea, with eggs or sucuk (spicy lamb sausage). This provides a well-rounded meal that includes vegetables, carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Olives are a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, honey has anti-inflammatory properties and tea contains antioxidants.

Israel – Some of the most healthful breakfast foods can be found in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea like Israel, Cyprus, and Greece. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, and garlic consumption. The typical Israeli breakfast usually consists of the Salat Katzutz, or chopped vegetable salad that generally includes finely chopped tomatoes, red onion, parsley, cilantro, and seedless, crunchy cucumbers, with red or green peppers on occasion and is served without salad dressing. Cheese is also usually a part of one’s breakfast in Israel, either Tsfatit, which is white cow’s milk cheese named for the Israeli city of Tsfat, or cottage cheese. Other traditional breakfast foods include yogurt, hummus and tahini with olive oil, pita or fresh bread, and hard-boiled eggs, olives, avocado, and fresh juices. It’s almost impossible to find meat on any breakfast plate in Israel, partly due to Kosher laws that require dairy and meat products be kept separate. Instead, many people choose to eat fish such as herring, smoked salmon, or mackerel, adding some healthful omega-3s into the diet first thing in the morning.

Gallo pinto and eggs from Costa Rica

Gallo pinto and eggs from Costa Rica

Costa Rica – A typical Costa Rican breakfast includes lots of pineapples, oranges, mango, papaya, corn, beans, rice, squash of all kinds, fresh cheese, and eggs. Gallo pinto is a popular breakfast dish which consists of rice and black beans with eggs on the side – a meal high in fibre that will give you the energy you need until lunchtime.

China – A typical Chinese breakfast might consist of a dumpling or bun filled with vegetables or meat, along with a cup of soymilk tea, or a soupy rice porridge called congee. Both of these breakfast choices are low in fat and sugar and allow for an early opportunity to incorporate vegetables into the daily diet. A favorite street-side breakfast food is a jian bing, which consists of a very thin, crêpe-like pancake cooked on a hot drum. The pancake is covered with green onions, a spicy chili/bean paste, and then topped with an egg. Once the egg cooks, the pancake is rolled up, sliced in half, and served hot to the waiting customer. It’s an excellent combination of carbohydrate and protein with a healthful dose of green onion and a bit of fibre from the spicy chili/bean paste.

Venezuela – In Venezuela, as well as in other Latin American countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, and Perú, the high consumption of corn is a big part of what gives this cuisine high marks. A Venezuelan breakfast often includes baked corn flour bread called arepas, which are filled with cheese, fish, beef, or chicken, or eaten as a side with shredded beef, black beans, white cheese, avocados, and/or fresh fruit juices.  This provides good sources of protein, carbohydrates, dairy, fruit, and fibre. Black beans, also a mainstay of this country’s breakfasts, contain flavonoids, fibre and folic acid, and the white cheese typically eaten with this meal is a great source of calcium. To round out the meal, Venezuelans enjoy fresh fruit juices such as papaya, mango, watermelon, orange, tangerine, cantaloupe, or pineapple, all of which add their own array of vitamins.

Why not try serving something from a different country in your home to celebrate diversity and add a little spice to your winter? Hopefully you won’t be interrupted by any meteoric distractions!

(My thanks to my colleague Peggy Orbasli for providing the inspiration for today’s post!)

Today’s Dietitian 14:3, March 2012

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

School-friendly snacks to share for Valentine’s Day

Kids Eat Smart Cinnamon Crisps with Fresh Fruit SaladSugar overload on any holiday is easy, but Valentine’s Day is one that is particularly heavy on sweets and giant heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. On top of being the month of love, February is also Heart Month—so what better way to show your tiny tots you love them than by showing them desserts can be both tasty and healthy.

This recipe, from the blog Chef Mommy, is perfect for any Valentine’s event – and a great one that your kids can help out with (see our earlier post Kids can help make nutritious meals too!). Pack it in some Tupperware containers and send to school with your kids for the class to enjoy during party time.

Heart Shaped Cinnamon Crisps with Fresh Fruit Salad in a Poppy Seed Dressing

Fruit Salsa


  • Fresh fruit, chopped (strawberries, melons, grapes etc…)
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. poppy seeds


  1. Combine all fruit in a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk lemon juice, sugar, and poppy seeds.
  3. Add to fruit and stir to coat fruit evenly.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Cinnamon Crisps 

Ingredients & supplies:

  • whole wheat flour tortillas
  • vegetable cooking spray (or water)
  • 1 tsp. white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • heart shaped cookie cutter


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
  3. Cut out hearts in tortilla’s and place the tortilla cut-outs onto a foil lined baking sheet.
  4. Lightly spray with the cooking spray or water, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mix.
  5. Bake for 6-8 min.
  6. Cool and serve with the fruit salsa.


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