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Easy Lunch Ideas for Back to School

Sue Heather beet hummus

A study by researchers at the University of British Columbia found that Canadian children are not eating enough vegetables and fruit during the school day.

The first of its kind, this study looked at 4,827 children across Canada between the ages of six and 17. Using a 24 hour recall, their dietary intakes from 9 am to 2 pm was scored against a School Healthy Eating Index. The Index looks at 11 specific criteria based on Canada’s Food Guide’s recommendations, such as intake of vegetables and fruit, whole grains, milk products and meat and alternatives.

Here are the highlights from the research:
– 1/3 of daily calories (about 750 calories) are consumed at school; almost 25% of these calories came from “other foods” such as candy bars and salty packaged snacks
– Kids are falling short on vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium and protein
– The lowest scores were for green and orange vegetables, whole fruit, whole grains and milk products
– The average score was 53.4 out of a possible 100 points
– Teens’ diets scored worse than that of younger kids aged six to eight

Here are a few of my lunch ideas, as shown on my interview with CBC Morning Live today.

Chickpea Lettuce Wrap – Kids are attracted to colours in their meals! A great protein packed and flavourful recipe! Add a glass of milk or fortified soy beverage to round out the meal.
Chickpea lettue wrap

Chicken Pasta Salad – My daughter won 3rd prize in a recipe contest for this recipe when she was in grade 3. Ask your kids to grate the carrots and chop the cucumbers. Balance the lunch with a serving of yogurt.
Chicken Pasta Salad

Beet Hummus with Veggies – Kids love to dip! A great way to team up protein plus produce in the lunchbox! Add mini pitas with cheese cubes for a nutritious lunch.
Beet hummus

Apple Sailboats – It’s as easy as it looks! Slice an apple into wedges and dip in lemon juice to prevent browning. Cut cheese into triangles and attach with a toothpick. Add a handful of whole grain crackers to complete the meal.
Apple sailboats

Zucchini Waffles – Breakfast for lunch, why not? These waffles are made with grated zucchini. (Sneak in the veggies wherever you can!) Add a hard cooked egg or small piece of cooked meat / poultry for protein. Mix a few extra berries with yogurt for “dessert”.
Zucchini Waffles with Fresh Berries

5 Ways to Up Your Protein

sue-kelsey-1

Want to build those muscles? For optimal muscle protein synthesis, aim to have 20-30 grams of protein at every meal. For most of us, this means pumping up the protein at breakfast and dialing down the protein at dinner time.

Watch my TV interview to see if you’re getting enough protein at every meal.

Here are 5 easy ideas to help you get enough.

1. Egg Sandwich – Start with 2 large eggs and add 2 T of grated cheese. Whip up some scrambled eggs or an omelet with veggies. Roll it up in a whole wheat tortilla. 20 grams of protein.

2. Greek Yogurt Smoothie – Make your favourite smoothie with 1 cup of Greek yogurt. Easy! 20 grams of protein.

3. Soup and Sandwich – Warm up to a bowl of minestrone soup and 1/2 veggie sandwich. For the sandwich, try Canadiana Rustic Bean Bread (made by Country Harvest) with with 2 T hummus and your favourite fresh veggies. Add a slice of cheese to the sandwich or add 3/4 cup Greek yogurt for dessert. 30 grams of protein.

4. Super Salad – Fill at least half your plate with leafy salad greens and colourful veggies. Top it with 3 ounces of cooked lean meat (about the size of a deck of cards). 20 grams of protein

5. Protein Power – Grab a handful of nuts and team it up with a latte made with 1 cup of milk or fortified soy beverage. 20 grams of protein.

Back to School Routine…with a Teen!

Well, we’re finally settled into a new schedule that’s packed with school team practices, extra curricular lessons, and after school clubs. Now that my kids are teens, I’ve learned a few things and have had to adjust my eating plan for them.

1. My teens go to sleep late. What’s happening is a change in their melatonin which is a hormone that regulates the wake-sleep cycle. In young kids, melatonin is released early in the evening, triggering an early bedtime. In adolescents however, the melatonin isn’t released until 9 pm or even 10 pm, meaning that my teens aren’t feeling sleepy until at least 11 pm.
The food fix: Keep plenty of grab-‘n-go foods in the kitchen. With dinner typically at 6 pm, my teens are often hungry for a snack around 9:30 or 10 pm. By creating an environment of healthy food choices such as bagels, tortilla chips, grated cheese, yogurt, fresh cooked meat, fresh fruit and fresh veggies, they can make their own smart snacks while I’m catching my ZZZs.

2. Teens like to sleep in. This is a corollary to lesson #1 above! My teens might have only have 15-20 minutes on a weekday to get up, eat breakfast, change, groom themselves, print out their homework assignment, pack their bags, text their friends, slap on some sunscreen, and then finally jump out the door.
The food fix: Keep it simple in the morning. 20 minutes is definitely doable in the mornings, but to keep things moving along, we focus on easy to eat, protein-filled breakfast options. Some of their favourites are Greek yogurt smoothies, fresh fruit, grilled cheese sandwiches and eggs.

3. Teens can have changing lunch times. Last year,my daughter’s lunch period was at 12:45 pm. This term, it’s at 11:15 am. Next term, her lunch period switches to 12:15 pm.
The food fix: Pack a snack.To ensure that she’s hungry for her early lunch, we try not to have an overly big breakfast. By the time 3:30 rolls around though, she’s absolutely starving, so we pack a little something extra in her lunch bag for those after school munchies.

4. Teens like to buy their lunch. Like all teens, my crew is becoming quite independent and enjoys the freedom to buy their lunch from the school cafeteria or nearby quick service restaurant.
The food fix: We follow the 80-20 rule. On most days of the week, my teens will bring a packed lunch to school. Once a week, they buy their lunch. We talk about healthy choices and money sense. But I never judge them on their choices. I do however, sneak in an extra fruit or veggie at breakfast and suppertime!

How does a dietitian eat from 9 to 5?


Almost half of Canadians find it challenging to eat healthy meals and snacks at the workplace. From rushed mornings to back-to-back meetings to never ending deadlines, it’s easy to fall victim to brain drain and the mid-day slump!

That’s why the Dietitians of Canada have dedicated this year’s National Nutrition Month theme as Eating 9 to 5, with a focus on strategies to help you get through the day feeling alert and productive. Here’s how this busy dietitian eats from 9 to 5!


9:00 AM – Breakfast is a Yogurt Berry Parfait that I’ve made last night. Simply layer whole grain oats, Greek yogurt and berries in a glass. I’ve sprinkled some bran and hemp hearts in between for an extra boost of fibre and protein. The oats soften overnight and require absolutely no cooking. Using Greek yogurt helps me reach the target 25-30 grams of protein.

Your strategy for rushed mornings: Make breakfast ahead of time. Design a yogurt parfait with your favourite fruit, whip up a fruit/veggie smoothie or wrap a peanut butter sandwich to go.

10:00 AM – I’m on a conference call for an hour. Thanks to my solid breakfast, I’m not hungry. My water bottle is always nearby. Plus I’m standing for most of the meeting.

Your strategy for workplace meetings: Listen to your hunger cues. It can be tempting to nibble mindlessly during meetings. Have a small snack only if you’re feeling hungry.

12:00 PM – I’ve been working on a story deadline and have been sitting for a while now. Time to get moving! Thanks to a complimentary pass to the Yoga Tree studio, I make my way to a lunchtime yoga class. With their line-up of classes throughout the day, it’s easy to find a class that fits into my schedule.

1:15 PM – Lunch is a Quinoa and Shrimp Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts. It’s actually leftovers from last night’s dinner and tastes great cold! A cup of milk and an apple round out my meal. I’m feeling energized, fuelled and ready to take on the afternoon!

Your strategy for lunchtime: Love those leftovers! Don’t be one of the 36% of Canadians who skip lunch! Pack your lunch more often instead of heading to the food court – you’ll have better control of portion sizes plus think of all the money you’ll save!

4:00 PM – I’ve been working non-stop except to take a stretch break at 3 pm. To keep me going until quitting time, I’m snacking on baby carrots and snap peas with hummus. I love pairing P+P (produce plus protein). A big bottle of water with refreshing cucumber slices keeps me quenched.

Your strategy to beat the mid-day slump: Pack your own snacks rather than taking a trip to the vending machine. Include some protein to give you staying power for the homestretch. Swap the coffee for a decaf coffee, tea or water.

For more workplace eating tips, visit Dietitians of Canada.

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