Earlier-than-usual wake-ups, rushed mornings, AM traffic… Moms and Dads, it is that time of year again: It’s back to school. But before you rush out of the door with a measly peanut butter sandwich and a bruised banana trailing behind a flurry of bouncing ponytails and half-done school ties, we have got just what you and your child need in preparation for healthy and tasty meat-free lunchbox meals. If your child is already plant-based or is transitioning, there are many ways to make plants nutritious, as well as fun and exciting for even the pickiest of eaters.
Once viewed as nutritionally inadequate and even harmful, a plant-based diet is becoming more accepted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), doctors and dietitians around the world as healthful, affordable and sustainable. Indeed, a plant-based diet is suitable for individuals across all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence and for athletes, according to the largest group of nutritionists in the U.S, the American Dietetic Association. A well-planned and balanced plant-based diet can provide many health benefits in the prevention and treatment of a multitude of diseases including diabetes, some cancers and heart disease.
So what’s the secret to preparing balanced meat-free meals all year round? If the lunch box comes back with half-eaten greens and sandwiches, and you find yourself settling once again back into the old lunch-making routine, there is no need to fret. We have a few tips for you and a number of meat-free meals that are easy to make, for all ages.
Sure, we love our PB&J sammies but there are many other options out there that are just as simple. With a little bit of imagination, it is easy to pack a lunch that your children will gladly devour.
We begin with the power of C². Fill your kid’s lunchbox with a variety of colour and crunch. Strips of red, yellow and green bell peppers make great rainbow food while bite-sized pieces of Fry’s Vegetarian Pops or Fry’s Polony Slicing Sausage with grilled veggies on a kebab stick gives texture and adds interest. View your child’s lunchbox as a mixed media art piece filled with all kinds of colours, textures and shapes. Likewise, allow your children to have fun creating their own food art. In separate containers filled with fresh and dried fruits, nuts and cereal, encourage them to design “pictures” on their non-dairy yoghurts!
Dips and sauces are your draw cards when offering raw vegetables. When packing carrots, cucumber and celery sticks, add a small container filled with hummus, nut butter, or B-Well Tangy Mayo. Adding some whole-wheat pita bread, crackers, or rice cakes can jazz up the standard bread fare.
We know kids can regard fruit as boring, but there are definitely some tricks you can pull to ensure fruit seems more appealing. My mother always said, “It’s not a fruit salad unless there are ten or more fruits in the bowl!” While am I certainly not saying you need to start buying every fruit on the shelf, having a variety certainly spices things up. Small chunks of fruit, such as strawberries, grapes, pineapple or melon, served on a skewer, are almost always eaten. Bananas and apple slices are also more likely to be eaten when accompanied with some peanut butter.
If it’s too much effort to eat, it probably won’t be eaten. A little bit of prep work goes a long way in making almost all food more kid-friendly. Peel oranges, deseed peaches or cut kiwis in half so that the flesh can be easily scooped out with a funky spoon.
Who said that too many cooks spoil the broth? By actively involving your kids in choosing and preparing their school lunches, they are given a sense of responsibility in what they eat, an understanding from where their foods comes, and how food impacts their health, the planet and other beings. And as they grow up, give them more of a say in what goes into their lunchbox.
Additionally, peer pressure can also be the make-or-break in your child’s decision to toss or trade-in his or her lunch. Ask them what meals their best friends bring to school and find the plant-based alternative. Consider making a twister-style wrap, veg-filled hot dog sandwich, or a chicken-style mayo sammie.
An appropriately planned plant-based diet is nutritionally adequate, healthy and satisfying. Children raised on, or who are transitioning towards a plant-based diet are at an advantage: they are at a much lower risk for a variety of health issues that will affect many of their meat-eating school friends as they grow up. An increased consumption of fruit and vegetables and a diet naturally lower in saturated fats ensures plant-based children reduce their risk of weight-related illnesses and are able to maintain a healthy body weight.
So what types of food should we focus on? Firstly, it is important to remember that children require more calories during times of growth or when physically exerting themselves. Due to the fact that plant-based diets are high in fibre, they may feel full before they have actually consumed enough calories. Be sure to include foods that are both nutritionally dense and rich in calories such as trail mixes, dried fruit or rice cakes with nut butter.
A well-balanced plant-based diet, that is filled with brain-busting foods, help with concentration during school and with the retention of homework. But our brains are picky eaters, requiring glucose throughout the day, so be sure to include whole grains, beans and legumes, fruit and vegetables so that neurons are supplied with the energy they need. Additionally, because our brains are made up of 60% fat, chia and flax seeds, nuts, beans, avocado and coconut – rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids – should be consumed daily so that your child feels happy, focused and calm.
Protein on a plant based diet should not be a concern. If your child is getting enough variety throughout the day, he or she will obtain the eight essential amino acids that facilitate bone and muscle growth, ensuring top performance on the track and field, in the pool, or on stage. Beans, grains, cereals, nuts, seeds, meat alternatives and soy products, such as as Fry’s Meat Free Mince are just some of the foods that are rich sources of protein.
Iron requirements for children and teenagers are high, and by eating a varied diet, a young vegan can easily meet his or her iron needs. Foods rich in iron include broccoli, spinach, blackstrap molasses, beans and dried fruit. To ensure that the body effectively absorbs iron, include foods that are high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, bell peppers and tomatoes.
Bone density is determined during the teen years and young adulthood, so getting in good sources of calcium everyday is very important for building healthy bones. And one doesn’t need to get it from cows. Products, such as Fry’s Chicken-Style Strips, leafy greens, including collard greens, fortified soy or rice milk, fortified orange juice and almonds are just some of the plant-based calcium sources.
EAT LESS MEAT FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
Adopting a plant based diet is not only healthy for your child, it also has a positive impact on the planet at large, meaning future generations get to live in a safe and happy environment.
The increasing global demand for meat, dairy and eggs means more animals, and with more animals, more crops are needed to feed them. This in turn leads to land degradation, deforestation, land and water scarcity, species extinction, pollution and global warming. Livestock production is not only unsustainable, it is unjustifiable. A plant based diet offers many meat alternatives that mimic taste and texture, like the Cheeze Griller Burger Sandwich, Chick’n Strip Pizza or Schnitzel Burger, whilst requiring less land, water and energy to produce. Lessening our ecological footprint starts first and foremost with what we eat. It begins with us.
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