The Sweet Potato Toronto - school lunches from around the world - a sampling of what's eaten for lunch in Japan

School Lunches Around the World

School Lunches Around the World

The Sweet Potato Toronto - school lunches from around the world - a sample menu from France

Image via Karen LeBillon

Isn’t it interesting that there’s no such thing as ‘kid food’ in much of the world? And how different countries treat the “public school lunch” is fascinating. The effects of a quality national school lunch program have broad positive implications for overall health and happiness for years to come. Canada could totally learn something from these three countries. 

France

The Sweet Potato Toronto - sample monthly school lunch menu in France

Image via Karen Le Billon. Learn more about school lunches in France at her site

Renowned for their fine cuisine, France’s lunch game is strong. Starting in their preschool program all the way through elementary that ends at age 12, it’s a four course meal that begins with a salad (beet, or grated carrot), followed by a protein served with a side of grains or veggies, a cheese course and finally dessert. Of course there’s fresh baguette served with every meal too. And this is all by design: the French curriculum, where lunch is concerned, includes “developing the palate” as well as developing social skills – table manners, conversational skills – necessary to a successful life.  

 

Japan

The Sweet Potato Toronto - school lunches from around the world - a sampling of what's eaten for lunch in Japan

Image via Domo Daruma

In Japan, early childhood education emphasizes healthy eating and all that goes along with preparing and consuming meals. Students take turns serving up the hot meals to their teachers and peers each week, and in many jurisdictions, there are no janitorial staff to do the day-to-day tidying. Students are responsible for keeping the classroom, and school at large, in order.

 

Lunches are also not rushed and loud. It’s a sacred time where students are encouraged to take their time savouring their meal. Lunches are served in classrooms – most elementary schools don’t have cafeterias. So it’s a cozier setting already.

Brazil

The Sweet Potato Toronto - school lunches from around the world, a sample of a lunch in Brazil

Image via Huffington Post

Brazil’s Zero Hunger Program, administered through their public schools feeds over 42 million students every year. Not only has it been instrumental in decreasing malnutrition rates, and working healthy eating into the curriculum, it’s also groundbreaking in the way it supports local farmers. Thirty per cent (30%) of ingredients for school lunches must come from local family farms. Brazil is a growing country, with an emerging economy, but it, above others, has done much better in its bid to eradicate extreme poverty. Their national school lunch program is both reason and example of how. Brazil’s school feeding program is considered one of the best in the world.

 

With all these international models, it’s a shame we don’t do better at school lunches in our own backyard. Food is political, food is fun, food is how we socialize and celebrate, access to whole foods is necessary for good health. Food literacy is something we should be including in our curriculum. Here’s hoping we move in that direction.

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The Next Most Important Meal of the Day

What rivals breakfast as the most important meal of the day? Ask any parent of school-aged kids and they’ll all answer “after school snack”. Yup, post-school pick up is prime hangry time. Those kids have been holding it together all day, working really hard, and that school bell can release a lot of tension. One way to help manage after-school energy dips is with a favourite nutrient-dense snack. Try these quick and fun ideas!

After School Snacks: The Tried and True

It doesn’t need to be IG-worthy or a pin from Pinterest. Some crackers, cubed cheese and fruit will be devoured in moments. Or if your kids want to go the sweet route, their fave yogurt, a dollop of jam, topped with granola and berries will feel like dessert before dinner.

Avocado Boats

Image via Super Healthy Kids. Full recipe here.

If you want to win silly points for almost no effort, smash some avocado, dress it however your kids will eat it, put it back in the rind, surround with waves of tortillas. Avocado Boat. Done.

 

After School Snacks: On the Go

Fruit and Veggie Loaves

The sweet Potato Toronto - Sweet Potato Kitchen's daily fresh-baked banana bread

Banana bread, zucchinni muffins, pumpkin chocolate loaf – this is the season to hide fruit and veg in delish baked goods. Packed with fibre and protein, baked goods are a great way to pack a nutritional punch on the go.  Don’t feel like baking? The Sweet Potato kitchen has freshly baked banana bread every day. And oh is it good. Like really, really, really good.

Energy Balls

The Sweet Potato Toronto, after school snack ideas - energy balls

Image via Amy Gorin Nutrition. Recipe for Almond Pistachio Cocoa Bites here.

Protein balls are all the rage right now and with good reason. These gooey little spheres pack a real nutritional punch and are super quick to whip up. With no-bake recipes that include ingredients like nut butters, oats, seeds, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, and dates they are pretty tasty to boot. Kids love ’em and they’re a super choice if you want to level blood sugars and fill tummies enough to get you through to dinner hour.

After School Snack: Frosty Treats

Remember last September here in Toronto when the summer weather finally arrived…in September? September and October are such transitional months here and it can be nice to have snacks on hand that mind the weather. 

Frozen grapes dipped in yogurt

The Sweet Potato Toronto after school snack ideas - frozen grapes dipped in yogurt

Image via Super Healthy Kids. Visit site for full instructions

Here’s a cool idea (literally), freeze grapes, then dip them in yogurt, then freeze them again to set. Easy-peasy, and an instant kid classic for sure.

Chocolate Covered Frozen Banana Bites

The Sweet Potato Toronto , after school snack ideas - thekitchn.com recipe for banana bites

Image via the kitchn. Full recipe here.

Not exactly a healthy balanced snack. But points for both wow and yum factor. Plus I’m pretty sure science agrees, chocolate’s got loads of health-promoting properties. 

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School Lunches Around the World

 

5 tips for starting the school year off right

Kiddo starting school for the first time this year? Make this the best school year ever with these simple tips.

 

  1. The Lunch Gear

Many TDSB schools are eco-school certified and committed to zero waste lunches. That means if you’re sending lunches and snacks to school in disposable packaging, you can expect garbage, recyclables and compost to boomerang back home.

New lunch gear makes it easier than ever to pack exciting foods your kids will actually eat while cutting down on packaging waste. Our family is partial to the bento style lunch boxes where we can divide foods up. It’s nice to keep the wet away from the crispy, while also ensuring green foods never touch red, obvi.

James, our in-house butcher and Red Seal Chef, packs his kids’ gorgeous charcuterie platters with these lunch kits. While my beigetarians enjoy yogurt with fruit for dipping and hummus with crackers and veggies for dipping in theirs. Boring, but nutricious! 

  1. Practice Makes Perfect

If you’ve got youngins just starting kindie or grade one, now’s the perfect time to get those water bottles, bento boxes, lunch bags and containers. Lunch hour’s bedlam. Truly, it’s unbridled chaos. Make sure your kids are pros at twisting open that thermos, inserting that straw, and opening and resealing that container. They may not have help when they need it (and ensuring they know how to pack up the leftovers, means less of a leaky mess for you when it comes home).

  1. Allergy Safe

The Sweet Potato Toronto - look for this logo when looking for certified peanut free foods for schoolsAll TDSB schools are nut-free zones. So as quintessential as PB and J are, they should be reserved for after school and weekends. In fact, if a classmate’s allergy is severe enough, families may be instructed to wash hands and brush teeth if they absolutely must consume nuts in the morning so as to best limit possible exposure in class. Some classrooms will have to ban other ingredients too for the safety of their students. Look for a notice at the beginning of the year from your budding scholar’s teacher. Everyone deserves to feel safe at school. 

  1. Handwashing

The Sweet Potato Toronto - handwashing social story for kindergarteners

The start of the school year, very much means the start of cold and flu season. If this is your youngin’s first year at school, be prepared for the kindergarten plague. Our eldest kiddo’s first year, we were sick ALL. YEAR. LONG. To limit the spread of germs now’s a really good time to brush up on good handwashing skills (15 seconds, lots of suds, get between fingers and don’t forget the nail beds.). My kindie aged kids and I sing the ABCs as we wash up. And tucking a travel-sized hand sanitizer into backpacks is a good idea too.

  1. Setting an intention before bed

Not every student is excited for September. Even those A-achieving social butterflies, get butterflies at the thought of school a new school year. Simple mindfulness activities before bed can help tame jitters and make the next morning a teensy bit easier. And it’s never too early to empower kids with the understanding that they can control their inner monologue.

6. The Eye Test!

The Sweet Potato Toronto - get your kids eyes tested before back to school. It's OHIP covered

Aaaaand, a bonus tip? Get kiddo’s eyes checked before the school year! Annual eye exams for kids are OHIP covered, and if your kindie-aged kiddo needs specs, there’s a free program for that too!

You’ve got this kiddo! You too, parentals!

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School Lunches Around the World

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10 Natural First Aid Essentials for Camping

Ahhhh, the great Canadian outdoors… We sure are lucky here in Ontario to have access to some gorgeous wilderness, provincial parks, and campgrounds. If you’re planning a camping trip, here are 10 items we think are essentials for first aid and personal care. Whether you’ve got an intense backpacking canoe trip planned or a laid-back family campout, you’ll sure want to have these on hand.

1. Sunscreen

Spray or cream, everyone needs a full spectrum, sweat and water resistant sunscreen all day, every day. If portability’s a thing, we love Badger Balm’s SPF 35 Sport Face Stick Sunscreen. It’s mess-free, gentle enough for kids’ skin, and fragrance-free, meaning it won’t attract bugs! Another plus? It’s small enough that everybody can carry a stick in their backpack (and it’s air-travel friendly in case you’re planning a far-flung camping adventure).

 

2. Bug Repellent

The Sweet Potato Toronto - natural bug repellent with citronellaWe all know that DEET is the chemical repellent found most effective at repelling bugs. Concentration matters here: for DEET a concentration of 15-30% seems to be best (lower than 15% doesn’t seem to do the trick and higher can be pretty darn toxic to humans).

But there are reasons you may want to stay away from chemical pesticide-based repellents including the fact they are not baby-safe and those more sensitive to chemicals don’t tolerate them well.  Some people find spraying DEET-based repellents to clothing and the exterior of tents are a good option, while they leave natural repellents like those that are Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus or Citronella based for their skin. Lots of our customers swear by Druide Citronella Insect Repellent Spray which you’ll find in our Body Care section.

 

3. Anti-Itch cream

Even if you’re diligent about keeping bugs away, you’re likely to get the odd bite. For this, we yell DAPIS! (We really do, we love this stuff!) Have you tried Dapis gel? It’s an amazing homeopathic remedy that helps soothe the itching and pain of bug bites and hives and it’s totally safe for kids. New to the Apothecary, we are pretty enthusiastic about this product and it’s a must-have for your camping first aid kit.

 

4. Calendula Cream

With natural anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, calendula cream is a staple for bathroom cabinets, diaper bags and first aid kits. Great for rashes and scrapes and slow-healing cuts, it’s soothing and safe for all ages and most skin types.

 

5. Electrolytes

Ener-C's electrolyte drink mix is an important part of your first aid kit. In fact it's great to have on you at all times.

Like Gatorade without the grossness or Vitamin Water without the hype, stick these individual portion packets everywhere. Great for before, during and after exercise to support muscle function and rehydration, Ener-C Sport Electrolyte Drink Mix dissolves in water to create a sweet berry-flavoured drink that replenishes your body’s electrolytes. Super important to keep these on hand during a hiking excursion, because you never know when the heat and exhaution will pack that double whammy punch. These are available in our Apothecary!

6. Hand Sanitizer

Prairie Naturals Germ Force is an all natural hand sanitizer that's alcohol free. Antibacterial and soothing, it contains aloe

If you’re put off by the ick factor of camping, that’s fair!  Thank goodness for Prairie Naturals Germ Force hand sanitizer, our pick for clean hands on the go. It’s antibacterial, paraben free and the addition of aloe makes is soft on skin, unlike alcohol-based sanitizers.   

 

7 & 8 Biodegradable Shampoo and Soap

The Sweet Potato Toronto - all natural vegetable glycerin soap is a good option to take camping. Just don't use it in the lake. Nothing is actually lake safeHere’s something kinda controversial: those biodegradable shampoos and soaps that advertise themselves as lake-safe? We’re calling BS!  If you adhere to environmentally conscious best-practices, in fact, no product is “lake-safe”

What we recommend are unscented, biodegradable soaps, shampoos, and body washes, but in the absence of a shower on a campground, you need to bring water for bathing to the shore and do your cleaning at least 200m from any body of water. While biodegradable products are awesome and most definitely more earth-friendly than their counterparts, some take up to 6 months to break down and that’s under ideal conditions.

Soap Works pure vegetable glycerin bar is one option we carry and recommend while camping.

This time of year, Druide Citronella Shampoo/Shower Gel flies off our shelves. It’s a multipurpose wash and great for the whole family. Plus the citronella scent won’t attract bugs.

 

9. Protein Bars and Protein Powders

The Sweet Potato Toronto - Lara bars are a great gluten free and vegan protein bar great for healthy eating on the go like when campingHow do you pack in protein and nutrients when both refrigeration and weight are an issue? Protein bars and individual protein powder sachets are one way! These may not be your tastiest option, as far as delicious meals go, but they are the perfect accompaniment on a hike for during an intense day of portaging.

 

10 Multivitamin

The Sweet Potato Toronto - SISU multivitamin is an important way to fill nutritional gaps when campingIf you’re planning an intensely physical two-week backpacking canoe trip or the like, obviously your food choices are going to be pretty limited. Food needs to be non-perishable, easy to cook and eat and weigh as little as possible. It’s fair to say you’ll be eating differently than at home. And that’s why we recommend a great multi to fill any dietary holes you might have while adventuring.

 

May the great outdoors welcome you, return you feeling at rejuvenated!

Cottage Cheese

One of the best parts of summer is cottage weekends – the lake, the company, and – of course – the food! (And if you’re city-bound, try these Cottage In The City spots to get the cottage experience without the travel time!). While we’re not saying that you should buy ALL the cheese for your cottage weekend, we put our heads together and came up with a few essentials that we would bring if we had cottages or weekends to spare or even (gasp) both!

Continue reading “Cottage Cheese”

FERMENTATION, PROBIOTICS, and YOU!

What is Fermentation?

Fermentation is a metabolic process wherein, in the absence of oxygen, sugar is consumed to produce chemical energy. This occurs in yeast and bacteria, and also in oxygen-starved muscle cells (as in the case of lactic acid fermentation). The organic acids made during fermentation give fermented foods their characteristic tang and provide a number of benefits to our digestive system and immune health – including the creation of probiotics.   Continue reading “FERMENTATION, PROBIOTICS, and YOU!”

Buzz Off!

Bugs can be really annoying – that’s probably why they’re called bugs! While we all know the most effective way to avoid bugs (Stay inside! Use DEET!)… those are also either toxic, or just a pretty un-fun way to pass the summer. Luckily, there are a number of all-natural insect repellents and insect repellent products that we sell at The Sweet Potato, that will help you enjoy the summer un-bugged. Continue reading “Buzz Off!”

Alternative Menstrual Products

Please note – in this post we are using, to the best of our ability, medical terminology to refer to the anatomy of folks assigned female at birth.

We think it’s a good thing to be informed about the products that we use on and in our bodies. In Canada, there are lots of government regulations and oversight of medical devices such as band-aids, powered toothbrushes, and the silicon medium used in plastic surgery. But do you know what isn’t subject to that regulation? Menstrual products! Vaginal tissue is endodermal (meaning, basically, it’s inside-the-body tissue), and functions properly in part by being a porous membrane – all of which means that it’s super sensitive both physically and chemically. So the substances that menstrual products are made from and with can really affect your body and well-being.

Continue reading “Alternative Menstrual Products”