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MARGARET PROUSE: Time to load up that lunch box

Parents and children will be coming up with tasty and affordable lunch box options for the new school year.
Parents and children will be coming up with tasty and affordable lunch box options for the new school year. - 123RF Stock Photo

Plenty of options for noontime meals with the school year around the corner


School is about to begin, and, unless things have changed since my kids were students, parents across the province are feeling perplexed as they try to imagine what to pack in their children’s lunch. 

Every parent knows that it isn’t enough that a lunch is healthy. It must meet school standards. For example, it can’t contain nuts, it has to remain safe to eat after spending the morning in a lunch bag and it has to be something the student will eat. Oh, and it has to be affordable.  

What comes to mind when you think of a standard school lunch? For me, it is a sandwich, an apple, a cookie and a glass of milk. This is one way, but far from the only way, to assemble a healthy lunch that includes vegetables or fruit, whole grains, protein foods and something to drink. 

Fruits or vegetable choices add appealing colour and texture, as well as nutrients.

Children who don’t like to mix their foods can have any raw vegetable cut into sticks or other shapes, chunks of melon, cherry tomatoes, a whole apple, orange, pear, a fruit cup with a single fruit such as peaches or a serving of applesauce. Vegetables and fruit also appear in countless mixed foods such as salads, soups, sandwiches and combination dishes such as chili, casseroles or curries. 

Sandwiches have earned a place in packed lunches because they’re portable and easy to eat out of your hand. By varying the bread – sliced whole wheat, raisin bread, pita, tortillas, biscuits, rolls, English muffins – and the fillings – cheese, thinly sliced vegetables, shaved meat or poultry, canned fish – you can make any number of variations. Think sliced cucumbers on whole grain seed bread spread with hummus or curried chicken salad wrapped in whole wheat tortillas or sliced cheddar on raisin bread. However, if using raisin bread, make sure it doesn’t contain nuts if the school is nut-free. 

Sandwich fillings, such as sliced tomato that might get soggy before noon, can be packed in a small container to be added to the sandwich at lunch time.

These chicken salad wraps provide protein, whole grains, vegetables and fruit. Make half the recipe if desired.

Curried Chicken Salad Wraps

Adapted from Callaghan, Bev., RD, and Lynn Roblin, RD: “Great Food Fast”, Robert Rose Inc., Toronto, 2000.

750 mL (3 cups) cubed cooked chicken
250 mL (1 cup) chopped celery
250 mL (1 cup) halved seedless red or green grapes
15 mL (1 tbsp) lemon juice
4 mL (¾ tsp) curry powder
150 mL (⅔ cup) light mayonnaise
10 large (25 cm/10 inch) whole wheat tortillas
10 lettuce leaves

  • In a large bowl, stir together chicken, celery, grapes, lemon juice, curry powder and mayonnaise.
  • Place a lettuce leaf on each tortilla. Divide chicken mixture evenly down the centre of each lettuce leaf.
  • Fold up bottom and roll tortilla.
  • Makes 10.

The bread or grains in lunches doesn’t have to be in sandwich form. You can pack mini pitas and a little container of baba ghanouj or other dip or whole grain muffins and little cubes of cheese to eat with them or a slice of last night’s pizza. Whole grain croutons, packed separately, to top a full meal salad, can be a good choice. Pasta salad, brown rice or a dish containing these can make a good lunch as well. 

Another option is to batch bake hand-held pastries such as empanadas, spanakopita, meat turnovers, fatayer or mini quiches, to keep in the freezer and pack into lunches from time to time. 

For those pastries that you make yourself, you can usually replace up to 50 per cent of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour if you prefer. 

Besides the more conventional ways of including protein via, for example, tuna salad sandwiches, you can use plant sourced protein. Try hummus (inexpensive if you make your own), vegetable chili, marinated tofu in a salad or sandwich or a bean burrito. Keep these and other perishable foods safe by packing them in insulated lunch bags with an ice pack.
Include a refillable bottle of water with your child’s lunch. Drinks don’t get any less expensive.

And finally, get more buy-in from your kids by involving them in planning and preparing their own lunches. It isn’t foolproof, but it helps.

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at

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