Packing healthy lunches

Want to pack a school lunch that's nourishing for your kids? Want to make sure your child actually eats it, instead of trading or trashing it?

Use these guidelines to come up with winning fare:

  • Avoid heavily processed snacks like cereal bars and chips. Sure, it may be convenient to pluck a package from the pantry, but these products are usually loaded with sugar, salt, and saturated or trans fats – and their nutritional value is sometimes negligible. 
  • Serve up natural goodness. Whole-grain breads and crackers, fresh fruit and vegetables and cheese are all choice ingredients in a healthy lunch. You can even divvy them into snack-sized portions ahead of time to make for a quick morning grab.
  • Offer your child some fun with finger foods. Experiment with a variety of nutritious dips and spreads for her veggies and crackers like yogurt, salsa or humus. Boil an egg that she can peel herself at lunchtime.
  • Keep it petite. Little people enjoy little portions, and children tend to snack through the day, so consider substituting that double-decker hero sandwich for several smaller items.
  • Skip the pop and sweetened juices. They're hard on teeth and they take up tummy space, leaving less room for healthier drinks like milk.
  • Consult your kid. There's no better way to ensure he'll eat his lunch than to get his buy-in. Find out what his favourite snacks are, or offer him a couple of choices in the morning. And at the end of the day, ask him what he liked best from his lunchbag.

Start a walking school bus

Parents who feel time pressured may be unwilling to trade in the quick car ride to school for a slow morning stroll. The solution may be to start a walking school bus.

More than half of Canadian children aren't as active as they need to be for healthy development. Walking to school instead of driving not only is good for the environment, but is a great way to promote physical activity in kids. It even promotes safety by easing traffic around the school.

What is a walking school bus? It's a walking group, supervised by an adult (usually a parent), that collects neighbourhood students at prearranged stops and times. It provides a safe way for kids to get to school on foot. Parents take turns leading the bus, freeing others up to commute to work or run errands.

Want to get one started? Talk to your school administration, parent council, or other parents in your neighbourhood. Set up a meeting to make a plan, and do a walking tour as a group to figure out the best route.

How can you make it safe? When you plot the bus route, note the locations of safe areas to cross the street, like crosswalks and intersections. If possible, keep the route away from main streets where traffic tends to move faster. The "bus driver" should wear a brightly coloured hat, scarf, or vest so she's easily recognized by the children and other parents. And make sure all participants have contact information for each other, so that calls can be made last-minute if a bus driver is laid up or plans must change.

Detecting back-to-school stress

Children don't always take change in stride, and heading back to the books can take some getting used to.

There are many sources of back-to-school stress, including adjustment to new teachers and classmates, an increase in homework, or just the transition to a different daily routine. Sometimes stress has a more serious cause, such as bullying or a school-related phobia.

Being prepared to help your child means being on the lookout for key clues. Signs your child may be stressed or anxious include:

  • clinginess, crying, or irritability
  • sudden bedwetting or daytime wetting
  • sleep disturbances
  • avoiding school or social activities
  • sudden problems in school
  • nervous habits (twirling hair, chewing fingernails)
  • reverting to younger behaviours
  • frequent headaches or stomach aches

If you notice your child is stressed, open up a dialogue. Talk to her about coping techniques or solutions to what's stressing her out. Make sure she is eating a well-balanced diet and getting enough nighttime sleep, and encourage physical activity, which is a great outlet for anxiety. Be sure to build some down time into your child's routine.

Involve the teacher or principal in problem solving if appropriate. And check in with your child's doctor if the stress seems unmanageable or excessive.

Above all, reassure your child that she's supported and loved, with lots of hugs, kisses and encouragement.

Look out for a pair of parasites

Two of the most common childhood parasites in Canadian schools are head lice and pinworms.

When kids are clustered together in classrooms, it's a prime time for parasites to go body-hopping. These infestations can be more than mildly uncomfortable, and can sometimes pose risks for additional problems like skin infections. Do you know how to recognize the signs your child has parasites – at the top or at the bottom?

Head lice are mainly spread by hair-to-hair contact, or by sharing things like hats, combs, brushes, or headphones. Head lice do not jump or fly, but crawl very quickly. They cannot be spread by pets. Having head lice does not mean you are not clean.

Head lice cause itching and a sensation that something is moving in the hair. Sometimes, due to itchiness and subsequent scratching, head lice can cause sores on the scalp, on the nape of the neck, or around the ears.

How to deal with head lice:

  • Check your child's hair weekly, looking for signs of lice or their nits. You can also use a fine-tooth louse comb. Make sure you have good lighting. Nits are oval, whitish eggs located on the hair shaft, usually about the size of a grain of sand. Nits can be confused with dandruff, but while dandruff is easily removed, nits are not. Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed and are hard to see.
  • If your child has lice, remove as many bugs and eggs as you can manually, and talk to your pharmacist about treatment products such as medicated shampoos and follow directions very carefully.
  • Launder all clothing and bedding on high heat to kill lice and nits. Vacuum your furniture and floors. Plush toys or other items that cannot be washed can be sealed up in a plastic bag and stored away for about two weeks to ensure the lice and nits are dead.
  • Whether or not your child is affected, don't allow her to share a brush, comb, hairband, or hat with her friends.

Children catch pinworms by swallowing the parasite's eggs. This can happen if an affected child scratches his bottom, then contaminates a surface or touches another child with his fingers. Poor food preparation can also result in transmission of pinworms.

Pinworms often cause intense nighttime itching around the anus, or in the vaginal area on girls. Children may have difficulty sleeping, be irritable, or have a loss of appetite. Sometimes there are no symptoms. The "tape test" (patting the anal area with a piece of clear sticky tape to pick up eggs, which can be seen under a microscope) is an easy way to collect the evidence.

How to deal with pinworms:

  • A doctor will prescribe a medication to rid your child of pinworms. Family members should also be treated, even if they are showing no symptoms. Usually a second dose is taken two weeks later to prevent reinfection.
  • Wash toys, sheets, underwear, and pajamas to get rid of eggs. Take extra care not to shake sheets or clothing, as this can aid in spreading the eggs.
  • Keep your child's fingernails cut short, and don't let him chew his nails or suck his fingers.
  • Whether or not your child is affected, teach proper and regular handwashing, especially after the bathroom and before meals.