What Makes a Snack or Lunch Healthy?

While it can be easy to reach for a bag of chips or to get fast food, it can also be easy for parents and caregivers to put together a healthy lunch or snack for your child. The first step is understanding what truly makes a meal or a snack healthy. According to Health Canada, children aged 2-8 need a varied diet that contains1:

  • Vegetables and Fruits: ½ plate of vegetables and fruits

  • Grain Products: ¼ plate of whole grains

  • Protein: ½ plate of plant-based and/or non-plant based protein

  • Make water or milk your drink of choice

This guideline can help to guide caregivers when they’re preparing snacks and meals for preschool-aged children to make sure they’re meeting their needs for vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.1 Children should eat at least one dark green vegetable every day, and one orange vegetable a few times a week, examples include broccoli, spinach, carrots, and sweet potatoes.1 Proteins should be lean, and serve plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, and tofu often.1 Whole grain products should be low in fat, sugar, and salt, and parents should pay close attention to nutrition labels.1

This may sound like a lot to remember but following Canada’s Food Guide can help growing children thrive and make sure that they’re receiving all the vitamins and nutrients that they need.

Healthy, Appealing Lunches

Preschool aged children are constantly exercising their independence. they may be labelled or picky eaters because of distinct preference for certain types foods small appetites. encourage your child to try new by offering one food at a time being good role model and involving help prepare meals.2 these ideas healthy lunches preschoolers can them broaden palates:

  • Healthy Sandwiches. Sandwiches can be so versatile. There is no end to the potential combinations of ingredients and they’re a great way to ensure your preschooler is eating lots of different foods. For a different and nutritious combination, spread mashed, roasted sweet potato on whole grain bread with sliced turkey. Grilled cheese is always a classic, but you can add tomato, spinach, and avocado in there too for added nutrition.

  • Quesadillas. Let your preschooler help you make these delicious chicken and bean quesadillas. This recipe is easy to make and can be customized to your child’s preferences. More cheese? No problem! Feel free to add other sources of protein and different veggies. Let your preschooler choose their own filling and help fold the tortilla.

  • Pasta. Noodles are endlessly customizable, and whole grain pasta can make things a little healthier. Serve shells and cheese and mix in broccoli florets or add shredded carrots to your basic red sauce. Add lean proteins like turkey meatballs and beans to make this a more complete option3.

Healthy, Delicious Snacks

Healthy snacks for preschoolers can help to keep them energized, support their overall health, and play an important role as part of their daily eating habits.4 Make sure you’re providing your child with a variety of healthy options and limiting processed foods. Planning ahead and having snacks prepared in advance can save you time when you’re trying to combat a cranky attitude and hunger3.

  • Fruity Faces. Let your little one create faces on a plate with different pieces of fruit.2 This is a great way to introduce new fruits and make the process fun! Try to offer lots of colorful, textured fruits to better engage your preschooler. It’s also a great opportunity to talk about feelings by making faces with different expressions.

  • Smart Drinks. While plain water and low-fat milk make great drink choices at snack time, parents might also choose to opt for a nutritional drink with DHA, to help support brain development. Blending fruits, yogurt, and low-fat milk can be a delicious, nutritious option too!

  • Make Ahead Muffins. Make these nutritious muffins ahead of time and store them in your freezer, so you’ll have them ready to go when your preschooler’s hunger strikes. Let your kids help you mix all the ingredients together and portion the batter into the tins. Muffins are tremendously versatile, can include fruits and veggies and can be gluten free, too!

  • Creamy and Crunchy. Pair crunchy vegetables with delicious hummus and ensure that your preschooler is getting enough vegetables and protein in their diet! You can also pair hummus with whole wheat crackers.3

  • Snack Plates. Offer your preschooler a variety of healthy foods all on the same plate! Put appropriate portions of cheese, crackers, fruits, veggies, and proteins on the same dish. Don’t be afraid to get creative; add hard-boiled eggs, yogurt-dipped pretzels, and halved tomatoes.

Remember that portion sizes for preschoolers are much smaller than those for teens and adults5,6. It can be easy to think that your child isn’t eating enough, but your little one is learning to listen to their body and advocate for themselves. Serving appropriate amounts of food will help your child to learn whether they’re actually full.

As parents and caregivers, you’re responsible for providing your preschooler with nutritious snacks and meals. The more involved your child is in preparing meals and feeding themself, the more likely they’ll be to try new things.

1. https://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/alt_formats/hpfb-dgpsa/pdf/food-guide-aliment/print_eatwell_bienmang-eng.pdf

2. https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Child-Toddler-Nutrition/Help!-My-kids-won-t-eat-enough-vegetables-and-fruits.aspx

3. https://www.yummytoddlerfood.com/master-list-of-toddler-lunch-ideas

4. https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/tips-for-healthy-eating/healthy-snacks

5. https://albertahealthservices.ca/assets/info/nutrition/if-nfs-food-guide-serving-sizes-1-to-4-years.pdf

6. https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/applying-guidelines/advice-nutrition-different-life-stages