Get Ready For Back-To-School Lunches With Your Local Registered Dietitian

Back-to-school lunches
Photo by Hillshire Farm on Unsplash
Lisa De Beer, Muskoka Registered Dietitian
Lisa De Beer, Muskoka Registered Dietitian at Your Independent Grocer. Photo courtesy of Lisa De Beer

Guest column on back-to-school lunches provided by Lisa De Beer, Muskoka Registered Dietitian at Your Independent Grocer

Back-to-school is almost here, and so is that often-dreaded question – what do I pack in my child’s lunch? Year after year, many parents struggle with packing nutritious meals and snacks to help their children focus and have fun throughout their school day. It can be a challenge making sure our children get the right balance of nutrients, and it can be even more challenging for a family with kids who have food allergies or intolerances or many food preferences. As your In-Store Muskoka registered dietitian, I want to share some tips for success when packing school lunches for the year ahead.

Get your kids involved in generating lunch and snack ideas – If children are involved in generating ideas for what to pack in their lunch, they might be more inclined to eat it! Make a short list of ideas for potential foods from the three food categories needed to make a balanced meal to discuss with your child (i.e., Fruits and Vegetables, Whole Grains and Protein). Let them think of other foods they would like to include in their lunches and add them to your list of ideas. Once you have a list of potential food options, brainstorm together some lunch and snack ideas for the week. It’s important to periodically revisit this list so your child can provide regular feedback regarding their preferred lunch options and to work on increasing variety of choices.

Get your kids involved in helping prepare and pack their own school lunches – In addition to being a part of generating ideas for what becomes part of their lunch, having children involved in preparing and packing their own lunch may also increase the likelihood of them eating it! Furthermore, this can provide them with a sense of accomplishment, help them develop progressive independence and save you time in the long run.

Enjoy family baking time – Homemade muffins, cookies and granola bars can be great additions to a school lunch. Let your kids be a part of choosing which recipes to try and be your baker in-training! The great thing about most baked goods is that they can be prepared in bulk and frozen for future use. You can pop them out of the freezer in the morning and they should be ready to enjoy for a snack later in the day.

Consider prepping ahead – On busy mornings, it can be very helpful to have fruits and vegetables pre-chopped in grab-and-go format to save you time. You can even pack them in lunch containers the evening before so they are ready to go in a lunch bag in the morning.

Consider grab and go snacks – Foods like cheese sticks, unsweetened applesauce cups, frozen yogurt tubes and individually packaged hummus portions can make packing lunches easier.

Healthy lunches can be fun – Who’s saying healthy eating must be boring? It’s important to make sure our children are getting the necessary nutrients, so don’t be afraid to get creative. Cookie cutters are a fun way to cut fruits and sandwiches into fun shapes like stars and moons.

Nutrition can look different for each family! If you’re struggling with nourishing your family, I am here to support your family’s unique nutrition journey. As your local Registered Dietitian at Your Independent Grocer locations in Muskoka, I provide a range of services, including individual consultations, a shop with the dietitian service, meal planning assistance, cooking classes and more. To learn more about how I can help you or your family meet your nutrition goals, book a free 15-min discovery call at

At this time of year, it is also important to remember those in the community that are not so fortunate. Research shows approximately one million Canadian children live with food insecurity every day. For children whose families might struggle to put food on the table, back-to-school is a welcome time when they will have easy access to school meal programs thanks to President’s Choice Children’s Charity. These programs are essential to helping children learn, play, and grow, and to ensure no child in your community goes hungry, please consider donating in-store at Your Independent Grocer during the Million Hungry Minds campaign, between September 8 and 28.

Smoky Mac and Cheese Bites with Spicy Tomato Sauce


  • 1 box white cheddar deluxe macaroni & cheese dinner
  • 1/2 cup shredded smoked Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 to 3 dashes hot sauce (optional)
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 tsp dried Italian herb seasoning
  • 3/4 cup arrabbiata pasta sauce or ketchup


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Mist wells of 12-count muffin tin with cooking spray or brush with oil. Set aside.
  2. Bring six cups (1.5 L) water to a boil in large saucepan. Add macaroni and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about seven minutes. Drain and return to saucepan. Add cheese packet, shredded cheese, 3 tbsp breadcrumbs, the milk, mustard, garlic powder, paprika and (if using) hot sauce (do not add butter). Stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth.
  3. Divide among wells of prepared muffin tin. Gently press on tops to flatten.
  4. Stir together melted butter, Italian seasoning and remaining 5 tbsp (75 mL) breadcrumbs in small bowl. Sprinkle over macaroni mixture. Bake until golden, 20 to 22 minutes. Remove from oven. Let stand in muffin tin 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, heat pasta sauce in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until warmed through, 2-1/2 to 3 minutes (if using ketchup, omit this step). Transfer sauce or ketchup to serving bowl.
  6. Using spoon, remove macaroni bites from muffin tin. Serve with sauce or ketchup.

Try this: Use regular paprika and Cheddar cheese instead of the smoked options if you prefer.


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