Lunch Box Lessons

Pack in the life-skills

By Karen Kerr, Registered Holistic Nutritional Consultant

Happy Back to School to all of you tired and frazzled parents. Summer is a glorious time of year, but it can often be hectic with planning activities, extra laundry and kids being off their normal schedules. 

I look forward to the beginning of a new school year like it’s my favourite holiday. But one area I dreaded was the “Packing of the Lunch”. Sure, I start the year off with Instagram worthy planned out lunches, but even with my passion for nutrition I can get the urge to throw in the towel by mid-October and hand over the lunch money to my middle school aged daughter with the message “don’t spend it all on candy, or just don’t tell me.”

I couldn’t imagine trying to plan lunch boxes for more than my one child. Whether you have one hungry student or half a dozen something that I have learned in my nutrition business and in conversations with parents is that we tend to over pack the lunch box than not enough.

In lieu of giving you a long grocery list and a multitude of recipes that you can easily find on Pinterest, I’d like to share my philosophy. Boiled down it’s this. The quicker they can fend for themselves the better! It’s the teach them to fish principle. 

It all starts by helping nurture your child’s healthy relationship with food in the early years. As a parent it’s your job to make healthy choices their job as they go through the many development stages of growing up and becoming independent. They will not have you for their personal chef forever!

I think as parents we focus too much on the micro and not enough on the macro. Meaning we stress when Johnny only eats meat and hates vegetable or Sally won’t eat anything that touched something else on their plate.

My daughter is a selective eater, I’ve learned that is not a hill I want to die on. In my opinion teaching them how to feed themselves is more important than what to eat. This means that they need to be involved. Food is personal and we want to encourage a curiosity and not strict rules around it. They will learn what foods make them feel better and expand their tastes naturally. I can’t say that I know any adults that only eat pop tarts and pizza pockets.

This fall when you and your children look at the fresh new year ahead and set your sites on their growth and achievement don’t forget to add life skills to that personal curriculum development. If your child is performing the same life skills at the end of the school year as they were at the beginning then you should look at your own parenting lesson plans and find the opportunities to keep your children engaged, involved and excited about good food—it’s an education that will last a lifetime.

Kate Kerr grabs a bite. Having healthy snacks ready makes the decision easier. Photo: Bruce Murray / VisionFire

Lunch Packing 101

  • Even children in pre-school and kindergarten can pack their own lunches.
  • Make a game by placing several fun and healthy foods from different food groups on the counter and table and ask them to pick from those options. It gives children control and you piece of mind that you know they have some nutrition in that lunch bag to fuel them through the day.
  • As your child develops it’s easy for them to go to the cupboard to grab what they want but if they have a foundation at an early age, they will make their own healthy choices, most of the time.
  • When a child chooses what to put in their lunch bag, it also cuts down on food waste. You don’t want that banana or apple coming back battered and bruised at the end of the day. (If bruised fruit does come home, it’s great to use in muffins for the next day!)
  • Keep healthy snacks accessible. Start with putting snack options in a low cupboard or bottom drawer of the fridge and let them choose their snacks. You buy the groceries, so the options are your choice, but the selection is theirs. 
  • Each child is different and only you can gauge how much responsibility is appropriate for their age and stage of Development. But I’m sure you will find that having them involved in the process will be a game changer and set you up for a year of lunchbox lessons. 
Photo: Bruce Murray / VisionFire

Strawberry Cinnamon Vegan Muffins 

(makes 12 muffins) 

by Krissy Kerr

  • 1 cup fresh strawberries (or defrosted)
  • 1 banana
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or milk alternative)
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/3cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup light olive oil
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1 cup spelt or whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • TOPPING: 1/4 cup coconut sugar, 1 tbsp cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease 12 muffin pan with vegetable oil

1. Add apple cider vinegar to milk to make buttermilk

2. Mash strawberries and banana

3. Add apple sauce, maple syrup, oil, lemon juice, milk, vanilla, and flax to the mash and mix until combined

4. Sprinkle flours, salt and baking powder over mash and mix until just combined

5. Scoop into tins and top generously with the cinnamon sugar

6. Bake 20 minutes

*Vegan muffins won’t be as puffy as non-vegan, but they are very moist 

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