With the start of a new school year, many parents are trying to help their kids get back into a routine, which includes packing a nutritious lunch. Involving your kids in planning and packing their own lunches for school can help improve their food skills, encourages them to try new foods, and may help decrease the chances that their lunch comes home uneaten.

According to the new Canada’s Food Guide, healthy eating is about more than just the foods you eat—it is also about where, when, why and how you eat. Preparing meals together, such as school lunches, can help set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.

On the weekend, plan school lunches with your kids for the week ahead. Get their input on the foods that they like—including vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods, and protein foods—and involve them in grocery shopping. Keeping healthy options on hand, that your kids helped choose, will increase the chances of them making healthy choices. At the store, ask younger kids about their favourite fruits or veggies, or have older kids help you read labels to make choices that are lower in sodium, sugars and saturated fat.

Encourage your kids to start cooking. Support them, regardless of their age, by teaching them simple food-related tasks. Preparing packed lunches and making family meals together gives you an opportunity to encourage healthy choices and teach them important food skills, while also spending quality time together.

Visit Canada’s Food Guide recipes to get inspiration for healthy lunch-ready food ideas like tuna salad wraps, crunchy chickpeas, flatbread pizza, and fruit and yogurt parfaits.

When you teach your children basic food skills, remember to go over important kitchen safety rules. Show them how to properly use kitchen tools such as a grater, peeler or whisk. Use these age-specific ideas to help your little chef succeed in the kitchen.

Cooking with your kids can also be a great time to talk to them about food safety and preventing food-borne illnesses. Review important safety steps and encourage good habits, such as washing hands.

Don’t forget to consider your schedule. Think about whether you can easily prepare items in the morning. If not, wash, chop or pack them the night before to make mornings easier. Choose what works best for you.

Picky eating can be a challenge for parents in establishing healthy eating habits in young children. Some children hesitate to try new foods. The good news is that children are more likely to accept a new food the more often they are exposed to it. If rejected the first time, try offering unfamiliar foods again at future meals or snacks. Other ways you can help overcome picky eating include following a routine, planning your meals and snacks, involving your kids in meal preparation, and enjoying a variety of healthy foods yourself. Kids are more likely to make healthy eating choices when the adults around them do too.

Kids sometimes complain about having too much or too little food in their lunch. Sometimes they don’t eat their food at all. If this happens, try asking them about when and how they eat their lunch. It could be that they fill up on their snacks before eating their main meal, that the packaging may be difficult to open, or that they find the food either too warm or too cold by the time they eat it. Finding out the reason why they are not eating their lunch can help you pack healthy lunches they will enjoy and can help to decrease food waste.

Finally, remember to pack a reusable water bottle so that they can make water their drink of choice and refill it throughout the day.

Children ages 2 to 3 years can:
• count ingredients
• add ingredients to a bowl
• wash vegetables and fruit

Children ages 3 to 4 years can:
• help gather ingredients
• mix ingredients in a bowl
• pour from measuring cups
• help make a sandwich or a pizza
• mash sweet potatoes or bananas

Children ages 4 to 6 years can:
• set the table
• stir ingredients together
• use a children’s knife to slice:
tofu
soft fruits
cooked vegetables

Children ages 6 to 8 years can:
• crack and beat an egg
• toss foods together in a bowl
• make their own easy breakfast
• use basic kitchen equipment such as a blender or a can opener

Children ages 8 to 11 years can:
• use a knife to cut:
tofu
bread
cooked meat
easy-to-grip vegetables and fruit
• make and pack their own school lunch
• use the microwave and stove, with your help
• prepare a fresh veggie or fruit platter

Pre-teens and teens can:
• follow more complex recipes
• assemble and mix most ingredients
• be in charge of making meals on specific days

For helpful tips on ways to encourage your kids to make healthy food choices at school, visit the Food Guide website or subscribe to get healthy eating tips and recipes direct to your inbox.