Five Tips for Quick and Healthy School Lunches

Whole grain pita crisps

Cara Rosenbloom, Registered Dietitian & mom

You’re out of bread, can’t find a water bottle and the school bus will arrive in four minutes. Is this a familiar scenario in your house? If making your child’s lunch seems stressful, here are five tips to ensure their lunchbox is filled with healthy, quick options.

Think about balance: Use a lunch container with divided compartments, so you remember to add the four food groups:

Vegetables and Fruit: such as carrots, grapes and watermelon
Grain Products: such as whole grain bread, corn bread and bulgur
Milk and alternatives: such as cheese, milk and yogurt
Meat and alternatives: such as tofu, eggs and chicken

Stock convenient items: You can still include whole grains without preparing ingredients from scratch! Use whole grain breads, wraps and crackers to get Canada’s Food Guide’s recommended Grain Products at lunchtime. Choose foods that list 100% whole grain as the first ingredient.

Use the freezer: Stock your freezer with items that can be defrosted for quick lunches:

  • Quick-to-cook vegetables like peas as great additions to grain-based salads.
  • Whole grain breads for quick sandwiches and wraps.
  • Sliced peaches, pineapple or mango for fruit salad or kebabs.
  • Convenience tip: you can prepare and freeze soy butter and jam sandwiches, which can be slipped into lunch bags as-is – they will defrost by lunch!

Organize a snack drawer: For easy snacks, pre-fill containers with trail mix made with soy nuts, raisins and whole grain cereals. You can also have a snack drawer in the fridge, filled with ready-to-go Greek yogurt, cheese strings or hummus cups.

Have a “go-to” lunch: When supplies are low, don’t stress. Have a staple lunch in mind – one that’s made from on-hand ingredients. The go-to lunch for my daughter is whole grain crackers, cheese cubes and soy butter, artfully arranged in paper muffin cups in a square container. With some fruit on the side, lunch is ready.

To learn more about the goodness of grains, visit

Big Year for Ethanol?

This month, Darrel Good of the University of Illinois’ Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics reported record estimates for U.S. ethanol production: more than 14 billion gallons (more than 1.3 billion gallons more than last year). The reason for this huge spike is something we’ve been hearing a lot about lately: the long, hot U.S. summer, and the record corn crop that came with it.

Ethanol is a renewable fuel that is produced through grain fermentation; we produce a lot of ethanol in Ontario with mainly corn and some wheat. Canada also produces a large amount of biodiesel, which is similar but mostly made from used cooking oil and animal fats (some also comes from soy and canola oil).

While some vehicles can run on 100% ethanol, it is most commonly found as an additive in gasoline, making up as much as 10% of gasoline blends in Ontario. A car using ethanol-blended gasoline instead of unblended fuel emits lower amounts of greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and other toxic substances. A 2011 report produced by Grain Farmers of Ontario estimated that substituting 10% ethanol into gasoline in Ontario meant a 62% reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions on a per litre basis.

The Ontario corn crop won’t reach the record size that this summer’s U.S. crop has, but we will likely see some of its effects. While Canada produces a lot of ethanol and biodiesel, we are still one of the world’s largest importers of U.S. ethanol. It’s unlikely that you’ll see a dip in the prices at the pump because of this, but the huge supply of U.S. corn and U.S. corn ethanol will obviously continue to influence the price of corn and corn products for some time to come.

More reading:

Good, D. “Big Year for Ethanol.” farmdoc daily (4):192, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, October 6, 2014.

“What are the Effects of Biofuels and Biproducts on the Environment, Crop and Food Prices and World Hunger?” (GFO).

Thanksgiving for Everything

Thanksgiving had been unofficially observed in Canada for over 100 years by the time it was named a statutory holiday in 1957: an official “Day of General Thanksgiving” for “the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.” Since then, Thanksgiving has been celebrated across Canada on the second Monday in October.

Along with turkey (and tofurkey for those soy aficionados out there) dinners, Thanksgiving comes with a few traditions. One of the biggest Thanksgiving events happens here in Southwestern Ontario: Kitchener-Waterloo’s annual Oktoberfest Parade, which will be broadcast on TV nationwide on Monday morning.

Of course, there’s one more Thanksgiving tradition to always keep in mind—that’s to think about all the people who work hard to reap that bountiful harvest, including the 28,000 Ontario grain farmers growing corn, soybeans, and wheat across the province. With this year’s cool, wet summer and late harvest, most of them will still be working hard to harvest their fields for the rest of the month—and it’s a sure bet they’ll be thinking about you while they do it.

Weeknight Meal Tips from the #loveONTfood Twitter Party

Cheddar cornbread tops

@GoodinGrain joined the #loveONTfood Twitter party last night for Ontario Agriculture Week. In case you missed it, here are a few great recipes and tips from Ontario food producers. Make sure to check out the #loveONTfood hashtag for tons of weeknight meal tips and recipes, and check Good in Every Grain for recipes that feature Ontario corn, soybeans, and wheat.

There were also plenty of over-achievers:

(and a little bit of self promotion):

Thanks to everyone that participated and congratulations to the winners of three #loveONTfood prize packs (including Good in Every Grain t shirts): @Charlalotta, @Prettyk612, and @Zac_maniac!

Healthy Lunches Help Fuel Active, Smart Children

Whole grain pizzadillas and tofu ranch dipping saunce

Cara Rosenbloom, Registered Dietitian & mom

What’s the best way to help your children get good grades and have energy for long afternoons at school? Pack a healthy lunch! Here are some tips.

Excel at school

When children eat a well-balanced lunch, it’s easier for them to concentrate at school and have energy for afternoon activities. A nutrient-sparse lunch will make them more likely to reach for unhealthy recess snacks, when energy is low and sugar cravings kick in. This could lead to weight gain and health problems down the road.

Studies show than in addition to providing energy, healthy lunches filled with whole grains, vegetables, fruit and protein can lead to better grades and higher scores on standardized tests, especially when compared with children eating high-fat, salty lunches.

Carbohydrate-containing foods, such as whole grain wheat, corn and soybeans, are crucial for brain health. The Grain Product food group in Canada’s Food Guide provides carbohydrates to the bloodstream to fuel the mitochondrial furnaces responsible for your child’s brain power.

Lunches that kids love

The healthiest carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans. They promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals and fibre, which are required for normal growth and development. Grab that lunchbox and pack meals made with four food groups:

  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Grain Products
  • Milk and alternatives
  • Meat and alternatives

Most kids love sandwiches, which are a great way to ensure they get a serving of Grain Products, a staple food group in Canada’s Food Guide, and carb-rich brain fuel. Stack protein and vegetables on different shapes and sizes of breads. Use cookie-cutters to cut sandwiches into children’s favourite shapes.

Pack whole grain crackers with cheese, or make modern ants-on-a-log with soy butter and currants on celery to harness brain power. Visit for more ideas.

Winter Wheat Planting in Ontario

Wheat ready for harvest

While we usually think of fall as harvest time, you might not realize that a great deal of planting for the new year is already underway in Ontario. Across North America, Europe, and northern Asia, farmers plant winter wheat that will be harvested in the spring.

Winter wheat is harder than other wheats, and it has a higher gluten protein content (in its food uses, gluten is the protein that gives dough elasticity to rise and keep its shape). Winter wheat is used to produce flour for yeast breads and other chewy grain products; it is also blended with soft spring wheat to produce all purpose flour.

When farmers plant wheat in the fall, it must survive the cold winter. A process inside the plant called vernalization is what allows plants to flower in the spring, after long periods of colder weather. Many other species of plants undergo vernalization, including a variety of fruit tree species and annual and biennial flowering plants.

There are several varieties of winter wheat grown in Ontario, and wheat breeders are interested in learning more about and furthering the crop’s resistance to major diseases by developing new varieties. In a new partnership with Grain Farmers of Ontario and SeCan, the University of Guelph has hired Dr. Ali Navabi to fill a new professorship in wheat breeding in the department of plant agriculture. Researchers like Dr. Navabi hope to develop new varieties of wheat that will directly benefit farmers across Ontario. You can read more about Dr. Navabi and his research in the most recent issue of Ontario Grain Farmer magazine, and online here.

Does My Child Require a Gluten-Free Diet?

Everyday 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Cara Rosenbloom, Registered Dietitian & mom

Most kids adore pasta, bread and birthday cake – all made with wheat. But wheat contains gluten, a type of protein that has made headlines, and is the subject of questions from concerned parents. Is it okay for your kids to eat gluten? Let’s look at the evidence-based science to find out.

Who requires a gluten-free diet?

Celebrity endorsements and best-selling diet books focus on the glamour of going gluten free, but this popular diet is not meant for everyone.

Gluten-free foods are solely meant for people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects about one percent of Canadians. It’s also medically necessary for people with a wheat allergy or gluten intolerance. Otherwise, there is no reason for children to follow a gluten free diet.

Gluten is simply a protein found in wheat, rye and barley — staple foods that children enjoy. These foods add much-needed fibre, B vitamins, magnesium, iron and zinc to the diet – which are essential for normal growth and development.

I hear wheat has changed – is it harmful?

In a recent study, Canadian researchers grew wheat from seeds dating back to 1876. When comparing the genetic profile of the harvested wheat, they learned that there has not been a measurable change in the amount of protein and the composition of wheat since 1876. This negates all ideas to the contrary, which were simply based on speculations, but not on science.

Excluding gluten from a child’s diet for no medical reason has drawbacks

Gluten-free products are often made with less fibre and more sugar, salt, fat and refined starches than their gluten-containing counterparts, plus they cost an average of 162 per cent more. Grain Products are a staple food group in Canada’s Food Guide, and provide fuel for your child’s brain. If you are concerned your child has celiac disease, get them tested BEFORE you exclude gluten from their diet.

Cara Rosenbloom On How To Spice Up School Lunches

We’re nearly a month into the school year, which means parents and kids are starting to get the hang of home work, after school activities and early morning routines. For parents, packing a healthy, balanced lunch becomes one of the most important routines. Registered Dietitian and mom shared her tips for packing nutritious, yet easy school lunches kids will eat.

Need to freshen up your kids’ lunch box? Cara created two balanced meals, perfect to set your kids up for a successful day at school. Test them for yourself!

Check out this Global Morning Show Toronto segment for helpful advice:
Cara Rosenbloom On How To Spice Up School Lunches. •