Who says back to school says lunches to prepare. And for many parents, this task comes with a certain weariness. Conversely, nutritionist Mélanie Magnan is passionate about lunch boxes: she has even made them the signature of her company, Nutrimini. There are tens of thousands of them following his advice on social media and telling him about their difficulties. A craze so great that it led Pratico Édition to group its tips and recipes in a book titled Lunchbox.
At the end of the line, Mélanie Magnan still can’t get over it. Released at the right time for the start of the school year, his first book was already out of stock; pallets of books are expected across the province. For the past ten years, the mother of two boys has worked to promote healthy relationships between toddlers and food. “Supporting children, having fun: I’m in the right place and I’m helping in the right way,” she says.
Very active on Instagram, where she shares 1001 suggestions, the nutritionist often receives testimonials from her subscribers. Discussions that allowed her to better understand what many parents go through when it comes time to pack lunches for school. And the consequences that these problems could have on children.
“I started to make lunches when my big one came back to school two years ago. I had great ideas, with Pinterest meals that were way too demanding. I realized that I was doing it for fun, but that was not real life. Maybe it put pressure on the other parents and that’s not what I wanted to do at all, ”she says.
Since then, the nutritionist has determined the two main elements that complicate the preparation of lunch boxes: the lack of ideas and the variable geometry food policies of schools.
Moreover, according to the expert, there is an obvious link between inspiration at a standstill and an overzealous application of the Framework Policy for Healthy Eating tabled by the Quebec government in 2009.
While these measures mainly target the food supply in schools – junk food in the cafeteria or in vending machines, for example – they sometimes also apply to the lunch box, depending on the schools. “I receive messages from parents who tell me: ‘I had made muffins and my daughter could not eat hers because [l’établissement scolaire accepte] only fruit or vegetables as a snack ”. Schools even go so far as to ban yogurts because it can cause damage, ”says Mélanie Magnan.
“I’m really not against promoting healthy eating in school, it’s part of education. However, I don’t think banning foods is the right way to do it. We categorize food, we stigmatize children and that is not what we want. At the same time, we also add obstacles to parents in their race for good lunches, she laments.
“Parents are the ones who have the overall vision of their child’s nutrition. A little coconut who does not eat breakfast in the morning and is told that he is only allowed to eat carrots for his morning snack, he will not be able to concentrate. It’s a bit of interference to go and play in there, ”underlines the nutritionist.
For Mélanie Magnan, we must also review the whole context of school meals. Some establishments do not give children enough time to eat; others force them to finish their meal. In some places, students are fed in front of a movie to spare the overworked supervisory staff. All of these elements blur the relationship of young people to food, in addition to upsetting parents who are trying to meet the demands of school and their child, she notes.
Fortunately, training is given to put best practices in place; the nutritionist also welcomes the initiative.
The lack of ideas
And on the inspiration side? In Mélanie Magnan’s opinion, we must prioritize the leftovers from dinner. “This is what is the least complicated: […] make something out of dinner leftovers, like the classic chicken sandwich. And, he says, pre-made meals frozen in muffin tins are all the rage. Paired with a thermos, they form a duo of choice, says the nutritionist.
“For parents short of ideas, I recommend a picnic lunch. Crackers with a boiled egg, pieces of cucumber, fruit, yogurt, for example. It is easy to do. We can sit down with our child and ask him: what are all the fruits and vegetables that you like? Then, we do the same for proteins. It gives us idea banks ”, continues Mme Magnan.
She reiterates that you have to trust children and their instincts and, above all, avoid putting too much pressure on them. “They are learning to eat, they are developing their taste. The most important thing is to continue to offer food, even if the child does not eat it. And put at least one food that your child likes in his lunch box, that will make him safer, ”advises Mélanie Magnan.
Above all, the nutritionist wants to reassure parents. “You are not held to perfection, far from it. You have to relieve the pressure. The job, it is not to make your child eat perfectly, it is to offer him food. “