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Helen Yeung
Helen Yeung

Ask a dietitian

Your child's nutrition questions, answered Add to ...

Another school year, another year of packing lunches. Out of ideas?

Registered dietitian Helen Yeung took your questions on how to keep school lunches tasty and interesting, plus broader questions on child nutrition: how do you deal with a picky eater, how do you make sure your child is getting what they need, how do you keep dinner time healthy and delicious.

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Ms. Yeung is a registered dietitian with Vancouver Coastal Health. She specializes in supporting families and caregivers of young children. She speaks frequently on the topic of "raising healthy and happy eaters," covering the "what, how, and how much" of feeding children. She has worked in public health and private practice covering the areas of: healthy meal planning and shopping; how to feed picky eaters; and promoting healthy attitudes and behaviours around food and eating. She has two school-aged children and a husband who help pack their own lunches every day.

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My youngest who will be four in December, is starting JK in a few weeks. She is still very little. How can I pack nutritious lunches for her that not only will she eat without the usual parental prodding but also be able to manage without much trouble? Even inserting straws into full juice boxes can be challenging for her at times. Thank you for your suggestions, - Nina

Helen Yeung writes: Junior Kindergarten will provide set times for learning, active playing, eating, and other activities. The routine that the school sets will help your four-year-old adjust to the activity at hand--in this case, eating.

Each day, if you pack say three food items from different food groups, your daughter will eat as much as she needs at that time, to last until the next eating time. The school staff are aware of the developmental stages of four-year-olds and will probably help your child if she needs help with her food items (e.g., opening a container, inserting straws into a juice box). After your daughter has gone to JK for a few days, you can evaluate the snacks/lunches she has eaten and adjust as needed. Vary the menu, and offer choices from "Eating Well With Canada's Food Guide" (found at www.healthcanada.gc.ca/foodguide ). A handy sheet that gives lunch ideas is Lunches to Go .

If you have concerns about your daughter's eating, the staff should be able to discuss this with you. Some parents have told me that their children eat better once they are in a child care or school setting because of the structured, social setting around eating times and the expectations set by the staff.

[Instead of juice, I would recommend packing a water bottle and some real fruit. Canada's Food Guide recommends satisfying thirst with water, and the fruit will have more fibre and nutrients. If you want to pack juice, you could pack a smaller amount in a re-usable container.]

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My daughter gets an upset stomach and rash when she drinks or eats dairy. She will eat soy yogurt and drink rice milk. I worry that the rice milk has caused weight gain. She is off the growth charts (28 months old and weighs 51 lbs). Her siblings don't have a problem with dairy and are both average weights for their ages. Could rice milk contribute to weight gain? Are there any other alternatives? What is the difference between cow's milk and goat's milk? Any advice would be much appreciated. - Pam

Helen Yeung writes: Dear Pam,

I would suggest bringing your two-year-old to a physician 1) to diagnose whether your daughter has an allergy or lactose intolerance or something else causing the symptoms you mention; and 2) to assess growth. It is beneficial to find out whether foods need to be avoided (if true allergies exist) or whether her condition is lactose intolerance (which causes stomach upset and bloating but not a rash) that can be managed with small amounts of milk products.

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