School is now in session and families are back in the routine of packing school and work lunches. While school and work cafeterias are in many cases improving their selection of nutritious foods, you can’t beat a traditional home packed lunch to boost energy and brain power in the afternoon, not to mention, the money you’ll save.
Aside from the cost savings, one of the greatest benefits to packing a lunch whether it’s for school or work, is that you control of the contents. You control the level of sugar, fat, salt, preservatives, food colorings and flavourings you and your family members ingest which is wise considering the fact these same ingredients have been linked with behaviour and learning issues in children. Take sugar for instance, not only does it affect concentration but it also diminishes ones appetite for nutrient-rich foods (hence, the reason we shouldn’t eat our dessert first).
Then there are preservatives like calcium propionate which has been linked with irritability and restlessness, mono- and diglycerides (common fats in processed foods) which raise cholesterol levels, and food flavourings and colorings (in particular Red 40) which has been linked to behaviours similar to ADHD. Read the ingredient label on most packaged foods and it will send shivers down your spine just thinking about all the negative and unhealthy stuff we are or could be putting into our bodies.
Packing a healthy lunch doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming, you simply need to pack a balanced lunch of macronutrients; in other words, a quality protein, a complex carbohydrate and a quality fat.
To support growth and build muscle we need protein. A quality protein will also enhance brain function and boost our immune system. Pack lean meats (turkey or chicken) or fish (tuna or salmon). Vegans and vegetarians alternatively can get their protein needs met by packing cheese, eggs, beans or nuts.
Our body’s main source of fuel comes from carbohydrates which affords us energy and stabilizes our blood sugar. The best carbohydrates are the ‘complex’ ones found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. While there are carbohydrates in white breads, pastries and pasta; they are the weaker sister and lack the nutritional value and staying power of the ‘complex’ variety.
Highly concentrated sources of energy come from fats which are essential to normal growth and development. Fats are naturally found in meats, cheeses, milk and other products and aid in the absorption of vitamins and minerals. Quality fats can also be found in foods like avocadoes and olives.
Overwhelmed? There’s no need to be. Simply break down the elements of a healthy packed lunch – a quality protein, a complex carb, and a good fat; or salsa and black bean wrapped up in a whole grain tortilla. What about a salad with whole grain pasta, diced chicken and veggies tossed with an olive oil based dressing? Kids are bound to love sandwiches on a stick e.g. cheese, meat, and whole grain bread cubes (cut off the sharp end of the wooden skewer before packing it in your kids lunch), fruit and cheese or veggie and cheese kabobs, or even grapes and cheese cubes served up with toothpicks and a side of wholegrain crackers.
The key is to plan ahead so healthy packed lunches don’t become a chore or a bore.
Plan what you eat and buy what you plan. Get input from family members about what they like in their lunches and make a list. Shop from this list weekly and switch things up from time to time so lunches don’t becoming dull and boring.
Stockpile supplies. Shop and stockpile pantry basics when on sale so you have a variety of school lunch favourites on hand.
Keep lunch containers and utensils handy. In addition to lunch containers (with leak proof lids) in a variety of shapes and sizes, keep a healthy supply of utensils on hand. I keep a mug of odd stainless steel utensils (purchased for 10 cents each from a local thrift shop) in our snack cupboard.
Prepare and pack lunches the night before. I know weeknights are busy enough but does it really make sense to throw together lunches while trying to get everyone up and out in the mornings? Refrigerate perishables and pack non-perishables the night before and then simply toss any cold items (along with an ice pack) into the various lunch bags or boxes in the morning.
Evaluate what works and what doesn’t. Not all ideas work for all families. Make note of what works and any hurdles you face. Refine and revise your weekday lunch routines until you get into a flow.
I know it’s hard to come up with creative work and school lunch ideas day in and day out but I’m sure you’ll soon discover the rewards of nutritious, power-packed lunches before long. In the meantime, I’m here to help with school lunch ideas your kids will actually eat along with healthy lunch box suggestions that are nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, vegan and vegetarian. Please swing by www.school-lunch-ideas.net and sign up for a FREE subscription to ‘School Lunch Ideas’ and/or visit www.facebook.com/schoollunchideas