It is back to school time, which is extra exciting for me because I am headed back to school both as a teacher AND a student! This week I’ll be starting my 2nd, and final, year as a student of holistic nutrition (!!!); and I’m also headed back to school as a kindergarten teacher 🙂 I’ve decided to combine my passions for nutrition and helping children through a little series about packing healthy lunches for kids!
Packing a lunch can sometimes feel like a tedious chore, but it’s really important because children need to eat healthy snacks at school to provide them with energy, helping them to concentrate and do their best. Unfortunately, not all foods provide this desirable effect, and can in fact result in hyperactivity, fatigue, or distracting stomach aches.
Cherry Chia Pudding
When thinking of foods that will benefit your child, you want something that is easily digested, will provide energy and nutrients, and won’t cause a sugar high and crash. The easiest way to find these foods is to choose foods that don’t require an ingredient list. These are fresh, whole foods such as vegetables and fruits, which are packed full of macro and micro nutrients, and fiber. Your child’s body will digest these real, whole foods easily, using the nutrients to help them focus on a new lesson, and apply their learning to their work.
Another tip about what to include in your child’s lunch is to pack foods that are a good source of protein. Proteins help to keep blood sugar levels steady, which in turn helps to keep energy levels stable. This again helps children to concentrate on the task at hand while learning at school.
Banana & Sun Butter (Sunflower Seed Butter) Chia Pudding
As for what to avoid packing in your child’s lunch bag, I would suggest staying away from foods with a high sugar content, fake food colouring, and highly processed foods in general. Processed food often contains added sugar, fat, salt, artificial colouring and preservatives. Check the ingredient list for the fruit gummies or pudding snack that you might buy; there are most likely many ingredients in it that you can’t pronounce, or don’t know what it is. These are chemicals that provide no nutrition to your child’s body.
In terms of sugar, it can hide in an ingredient list behind many different names including some you may have heard of such as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose and maltose. Consuming high amounts of sugar can lead to decreased focus on school work and lessons because it can result in hyperactivity during a “sugar high” and fatigue during the following “sugar crash”.
Lastly, artificial food colouring is another thing that should be avoided, and unfortunately processed foods aimed to attract children contain some of the highest amounts of colouring. Some studies show that different dyes may have many different types of negative health effects. For example, Yellow No. 5, which is synthesized from petroleum, has been found to have a variety of negative health impacts including causing ADHD-like behaviour in children, making it hard for them to focus in class.
With all of this information, it is most important to remember that the best way to pack a healthy lunch for your child is to swap out the processed foods, that are full of sugar and fake food colouring, for fresh, whole foods that are full of nutrients to energize your child.
Swap out a processed pudding snack for Chia Pudding!
Chia pudding is very fast and easy to make, so it’s a great recipe to get your children involved with. All you need are some chia seeds, coconut milk, and a handful of additions to add some extra flavour.
Chia seeds are wonderful for making pudding because when moistened, they expand and have a jelly-like texture. Chia seeds also have a lot of great nutritional value. They are full of omega fatty acids, and are a great source of fiber and protein. Eating protein with a snack helps to balance blood sugar, which in turn helps to keep energy levels stable, avoiding the sugar high and crash. The omega fatty acids and fiber can both help avoid stomach aches as they help to reduce constipation and promote a healthy bowl.
Chia pudding can be made with any type of milk, but I like to use coconut milk because it helps to add to the nice creamy texture of the pudding. Coconut milk also has its own nutritional benefits. It contains beneficial fat called lauric acid, which is easily absorbed and used by the brain and body for energy. Coconut milk also helps to prevent constipation by nourishing the digestive lining with electrolytes and healthy fats. The fat content also helps to slow the rate of sugar release into the bloodstream, helping to prevent a sugar high. If the pudding is too thick when made with just coconut milk, you can thin it by simply adding another type of milk (e.g. hemp, sunflower etc).
Cacao powder gives the pudding a nice chocolatey flavour. You can add in more to make the flavour stronger. Cacao is a great source of magnesium, which also helps to relieve constipation because it can relax the muscles of the intestinal wall, and also draws water into the stools to make them softer and easier to pass. This helps relieve stomach aches.
Cinnamon not only tastes delicious, but it also helps to balance blood sugar!
Maple syrup is a natural source of sugar that is much better for your child’s body than refined white sugar. It is full of antioxidants, zinc and manganese. Although it contains some great nutrients, remember that it is still sugar…so don’t go crazy on it
Enjoy making this with your little ones! And guess what, it is also a great snack for adults too 🙂 You don’t need to be going back to school to enjoy chia pudding for breakfast, as a snack at work, or dessert!