Turkey, mayonnaise and a loaf of white bread. Every weekday during the school year you find yourself reaching for the same sandwich ingredients, wishing your kids would try new and healthier foods. But you want to make sure they eat something, so you give them what they’re familiar with. Is it possible to take school lunches up a notch without your kids turning up their noses? Of course! With a little planning and a bit of patience you can start making small changes now that will hopefully stick over time.
Start With the Bread
Once upon a time you had two bread choices – white or brown. Now there are endless varieties of bases that you can build a sandwich on. Take the standard slice of white bread. It’s made from enriched flour, but what does enriched really mean? When whole grains go through the milling process, they are stripped of the outer bran and germ layers that actually contain all the vitamins and minerals. All that’s left is the starchy endosperm that ends up as white flour. Canadian food standards require that three B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin and niacin) plus iron are added back to white flour to replenish some of the nutritional value that’s lost. On the other hand, whole grain flour breads retain all the important vitamins and minerals and have higher magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, selenium and manganese levels than white bread. Whole grains also contain phytochemicals and antioxidants that can help protect us from disease.
It seems like there’s always something new in the bread aisles of my local grocery store. Here are some white bread alternatives:
Whole grain mini bagels – perfect for small hands and appetites
Whole or sprouted grain tortillas – thin enough not to fill up small tummies
Whole wheat mini pitas – fun little pockets to fill with a different combination every day
Whole wheat naan – a delicious flat bread for a change or dipping into hummus or yogurt-based Tzatziki
Lettuce wraps – These can be a fun alternative as well! Try a turkey or chicken taco wrapped with a soft and almost buttery Boston or Bibb lettuce leaf.
Making the transition from white to whole wheat or whole grain bread can be a challenge. Ease your kids into the change slowly by making sandwiches with one slice white and one brown and eventually ditching the white.
Endless Spread Options
While margarine may be an inexpensive alternative to butter and easy to spread on a slice of bread, it’s not something the body can easily process. Vegetable oils have a high concentration of polyunsaturated fats which become unstable when kept for long periods of time and exposed to light. When these unstable fats are eaten, they are incorporated into the body’s cell repair and new cell creation process, leading to inflammation and cell mutation resulting in a host of health problems. The extraction process necessary for making margarine stimulates the production of free radicals, or damaged cells, that promote aging, further cell damage and disease.
There are much healthier spread options you could try that add a lot of flavour to a sandwich, too! Here are some ideas:
Avocado – simply mash and spread. Avocados contain more potassium than bananas and are high in oleic acid (a heart-healthy fat), Vitamins K, C, B5, B6, E and folate
Hummus – creamy and flavourful, hummus now comes in a variety of tastes and combinations like black bean, roasted red pepper, pumpkin and curried. For those with sensitive palates, there’s always plain
Peanut Butter Alternatives – there are many “school-safe” butters on the market now made from sunflower seeds or soy nuts. Your child might not even taste the difference!
Cream Cheese – full fat cream cheese used in moderation can be a good source of calcium and protein. The thickness of cream cheese creates a barrier that when spread on wraps, keeps the contents from leaking through and creating a soggy sandwich
The Main Attraction
Have you ever noticed that one of the first things kids do with sandwiches is open them up to see what’s inside? As tempting as it is to stop by the deli counter and pick up a few hundred grams of assorted meats, it might be good to switch to healthier options. Processed meats are just that, meats that have been preserved by salting, curing or adding chemicals to increase shelf life. Meats compressed into lookalike hams or unnaturally round turkey breasts have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Just two slices of deli meat will fill your child’s sodium quota for the day and can lead to high blood pressure, stroke or heart and kidney disease down the road.
Experiment with these options, they just might be winners:
Homemade roast beef and turkey – Sunday slow cooker dinners can easily be carried over to weekday lunches. Regulating the salt and fat content yourself gives you peace of mind when it comes to your kids’ lunches
Assorted vegetables – There’s nothing wrong with occasionally giving your kids a meatless sandwich. Cucumber and cream cheese, broccoli slaw and hummus, sliced avocado and date spread, the tasty combinations are endless!
Assorted fruits – A banana rolled up in a whole wheat tortilla spread with a nut butter or substitute, a no-added-sugar apricot or blueberry preserve atop cream cheese or thin apple slices or halved grapes in a mini pita with chopped chicken and low-fat Greek yogurt make sneaking fruit into a sandwich healthy and fun
Sometimes it’s the little changes that make the biggest differences.
Unfortunately, kids don’t get a lot of time to eat lunch and can bring home half of what you’ve lovingly packed. If that’s the case, making sure every piece of food you put in their lunch bag is nutritious and tasty at the same time. Here are a few more ideas:
Instead of this Try this
Store bought granola bars Homemade cookies
Imitation fruit snacks Small cubes of mixed melons
Potato Chips Whole grain baked tortilla chips
High-sugar yogurt tubes String cheese or cubed cheese
High-fructose corn syrup juices Flavoured water (bonus: flavour it yourself with lemons, strawberries, cucumbers…options are endless!)