As families are finally getting back into the groove of back-to-school rituals a few weeks into classes, what children should and shouldn’t be eating come lunchtime really can make a difference in their overall health.

A new U.S. study by the Harvard School of Public Health has suggested that eating two slices of bacon, a hotdog or a serving of deli meat daily can significantly boost the chances of one day getting Type 2 diabetes. For those with a predisposition to diabetes, this news can be especially troubling.

Not to panic says Waswanipi dietician Bonnie Leung as eating these kinds of highly processed meats on a daily basis can cause weight gain that can in turn lead to Type 2 diabetes, she does not see the link as being as direct.

Instead, she said, when it comes to preparing lunchtime meals for children, simply opt to eating healthier.

“In the north, a lot of people find themselves without time as they have a one-hour break for lunch and they have four or five kids to take care of and feed during that time. So often what ends up happening is that they will get poutine or serve Kraft Dinner which are things that can be served really fast,” said Leung.

Instead, when it comes to midday meals for families on the go, Leung suggests that parents make their child a sandwich on whole wheat bread using lean meats, low-fat cheese or canned fish, like tuna or salmon, and to include a vegetable like lettuce. Another quick option is canned soup that a parent can add frozen vegetables to if they find themselves pressed for time and unable to chop up vegetables while in a rush.

In that processed meats, such as hotdogs, bacon and high-fat deli meats, aren’t really good for anyone, the best option is to take the time if you can to prepare meats in advance to have for lunch the next day.

“There are also traditional meats as Crees hunt and so they often have moose, goose and caribou and these are very good as they are really healthy. The parent can prepare other meats like chicken without the skin or pork chops but the fat cut off and not fried since the idea is to prepare it without the fat,” said Leung.

While pork and beef are popular protein options in the Cree communities, Leung said she often has to remind families that the fat needs to be trimmed off of these meats.

As for packing a child’s lunchbox for school, Leung said the “plate method” should still apply, which means that half of a child’s plate should be comprised of vegetables while the other two quarters are represented by lean meats and alternatives (eggs, cheese, beans) and then whole grains.

Leung also warned that children should only be given water or milk to accompany their lunch, avoiding pop, fruit punches or cocktails and iced teas. All of the latter can simply pad a child’s lunch with extra sugar and calories that can pack on the pounds.

Another thing to watch out for are the pre-packaged commercial lunches or “lunchables” that are becoming increasingly popular amongst parents for their convenience. The problem with these products is that they are frequently comprised of very processed foods that are high in sodium and may have been on the shelf for a long time.

“The best thing really is for parents to be the role models and spend some time with their children to tell them what to eat and what is healthy. Parents need to show their children that they eat their vegetables and that they are into eating healthy because children learn from their parents,” said Leung.