Most of us are aware of the hidden perils of restaurant foods, in particular, fast foods, which are loaded with calories, sodium, and unhealthy fats. However, since we often don’t have the luxury of time at lunch, we tend to run to whatever is closest and the most convenient. When we indulge in too many take-out pizzas or burgers and chips, we eventually feel it around our waistline.
So rather than spending money on greasy fast foods or expensive salads, why not consider packing your lunch instead? You might think that it is boring or a lot of work to pack your lunch, but with some planning and creativity you would be surprised how easy and economical it can be.
Likewise, packing a healthier lunch for kids can be equally challenging, as we know that they can be picky eaters. However, it is simply not right to feed a child a packed lunch made up of junk either. The key here is to strike a balance, making sure that your kids get all the essential nutrients to help them grow and be healthy, but allow a little treat so that they do not get hung up about food and see it as being a bad thing.
In the following, we will look at the 3 things you should remember when packing lunch, how to teach kids about healthy eating, some healthy packed lunch ideas, and tips to packing lunch without stress.
3 Things To Remember When Packing Lunch —
Pack enough protein
- When packing a healthy lunch, many people, particularly women, have a tendency to focus on choosing low fat, low calorie foods that are low in protein.
- Protein provides a sense of satiety and stabilizes blood sugar levels; as a result, you feel satisfied longer.
- Protein is critical for a growing child.
- When the lunch is devoid of protein, you are more likely to splurge on some junk food later in the day or over compensate at dinner.
Bring healthy snacks
- Having a couple of healthy snacks during the day helps to keep your metabolism primed and reduces the temptation of unhealthy splurging.
- Pack a snack for mid-morning and one for mid-afternoon.
- Watch out for energy bars and pre-packaged snacks that are loaded with sugar. Low fat or fat-free snacks often contain more sugar than the regular version.
Don’t drink your calories
o A can of soda or a 12-oz bottle of juice adds at least 150 calories to your meal. Ounce for ounce, fruit juice has as much sugar as regular soda. You do that 5 times a week, you might end up gaining 11 pounds in a year.
o Diet drinks contain artificial sweeteners that are just about the worst of all dietary choices. They are beyond processed, completely unnatural, and have a long history of causing health problems.
o Chocolate milk and soymilk generally contain more added sugar than their unflavored counterparts – 6 teaspoons (24 grams) per 12-oz. Excessive sugar intake in children has been linked to tooth decay, behavioral problems, obesity, and diabetes. Contrary to common misconception, soymilk is not a healthy drink either. The phytoestrogens in soy disturb hormonal balance in the human body, in particular, babies and growing children. For this reason, it is best to avoid soy and choose unflavored milk instead, preferably organic without hormones and antibiotics.
o Water is an excellent beverage. But for variety, adults can bring a thermos of hot or iced unsweetened green tea which is calorie-free and antioxidant-rich. For children, dilute fruit juice with at least equal amount of water.
Teaching Kids About Healthy Eating —
The best way to get your children to eat healthy is through education. At school, your kids are going to see that their friends have lunches that look and taste different. You might become the mean parent who does not give them the same junk. Therefore, start early and keep educating them again and again. Helping your kids learn how to eat healthy is just as important as any other parental duties, and equally challenging and rewarding.
Take the kids grocery shopping or if they are older, let them help to cook. Talk to them about what food does for the body, how it helps them grow, keeps them healthy, gives them energy for sports, and keeps their brains sharp. These topics easily transition into why it is important to eat healthy foods and not the junk that they see during the TV commercials.
Encourage them to eat a rainbow of colors every day. When shopping, ask them to help pick out an assortment of colorful fruits and veggies. When you get home, pre-wash the fruits and keep the cut-up veggies accessible for snacks. They are more likely to eat them when they are involved in the shopping process.
Get them eat the real foods. For example, visit a local farm and help them see that fresh strawberries come from a plant and do not turn into bright red fruit chews without the help of a chemistry set. Challenge them to eat foods that are closest to their natural state. Reward them for eating “real” foods. Likewise, explain how whole wheat berries are ground into flour to make breads, crackers, and pasta. But with refined grains, the bran and the germ – the most important parts for helping the body stay strong and healthy – are stripped away.
Give them a say in choosing their food. Sometimes the kids balk at veggies and think the color green is reserved for frogs. When it comes to veggies, give them a choice of which veggie, but not the option for no veggies. For example, would you like to have broccoli or peas with dinner, or do you prefer the carrots cooked or raw?
Be patient with new food. Studies show that a child needs to have 10 repeated exposures before he or she takes the first bite. Be persistent as parents tend to get discouraged and give up after a few trials.
Healthy Packed Lunch Ideas —
o Instead of the normal bread sandwich, experiment with tortilla, pita pockets, English muffins, or bagels. Choose the whole grain version as they are much higher in nutrients and fiber than the ones made with refined grains.
o To cut down on unhealthy hydrogenated fats, skip the usual store-bought mayo and use mustard instead. Or you can shop for an organic mayo without the partially hydrogenated fats.
o Use leftover roast beef, pork, or chicken from dinner. If you buy luncheon meats, avoid those with nitrites and nitrates as these preservatives have a possible link to colon cancer.
o Limit canned tuna to once a month due to the high mercury content. Mercury is toxic to the nervous system. Try canned wild Alaskan salmon instead.
o Slice up a quarter of an avocado for its healthy fats.
o In place of the regular peanut butter and jelly sandwich, try almond butter and drizzle with some honey. Or, use an all fruit spread without added sugar or high fructose corn syrup. When you buy peanut butter, check that it does not contain partially hydrogenated oil. Organic peanut butter is preferred as regular peanuts have significant pesticide load.
o If you have leftover rice or pasta, add some diced roast beef, chicken, or turkey. To spice up a normal bland couscous, mix in some dried cranberries, chopped fresh herbs, celery, onion, and pine nuts.
o You can also bring your leftover homemade soup or casserole in a container or thermos.
Fruits and Veggies
o For a well-balanced lunch, remember to bring some veggies and/or a piece of fruit.
o Use leftover cooked vegetables from dinner.
o Pack raw carrots sticks, sugar snap peas, celery sticks, sliced cucumber, red bell pepper strips, or cherry tomatoes. You can even buy them pre-cut in convenient packaging at grocery stores. Put some hummus (made from chickpeas), bean dip, guacamole, or salsa in a small container and use it as a dip.
o If made right, salads are delicious. Assemble your favorite ingredients such as lettuce, spinach, cherry tomatoes, olives, crumbled feta cheese, black beans, sliced avocado, and walnuts in a plastic container. Make a simple dressing of olive oil and vinegar, and store it separately in a small sealed container. Add the dressing when you are ready to eat.
o Plain yogurt with berries and honey. Most flavored yogurts are presweetened; a 6-oz container often has at least 3 teaspoons (12 grams) of added sugar.
o Cottage cheese with fruit
o Trail mix with unsalted nuts and dried fruits
o Hummus with cut-up vegetables or whole grain crackers
o Peanut or almond butter with fruit
o Cheese with whole grain crackers
o Air-popped popcorn – plain or with cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, garlic salt or other spices. This can be made with the kids on the weekend and stored in airtight containers for use during the week.
o Baked veggie chips and fruit chips
o Homemade cookies with whole grain flour and less sugar
o Homemade granola with less sugar
o Whole grain cereal with less than 4 grams of sugar
Stress-Free Lunch Packing Tips —
o If your morning is always a big rush, prepare your lunch the night before.
o You could cook extra dinner and have the leftovers for lunch. Pack it in a container the night before and reheat it at work. If you don’t have the facilities, invest in a thermos and simply heat up the food in the morning. Rinse the thermos with hot water before adding hot food so that it will keep warm longer.
o Assemble your salad and make the dressing at night. Keep them in separate containers.
o Prepare meals such as soup or casseroles on the weekend and freeze them in individual containers. Thaw them overnight and reheat at work.
o You can even make your sandwich the night before, wrap it well, and leave it in the fridge. Just make sure you don’t put in sliced tomatoes that will make the bread soggy.
o Get your children involved in packing lunch; they are more likely to eat it when they prepare it themselves.
With a little planning, packing your lunch is not an insurmountable task. Think outside the box and be creative. Make it look attractive and put it in a nice lunch box for the kids. Keep educating your children about healthy eating and help them learn to navigate the minefields of our modern day food habits.
Remember to incorporate enough protein and some colorful veggies into your healthy packed lunches. When you pack your lunch, you know exactly what goes into it. If you do it right, you will find that you and your kids have better energy throughout the day and your kids will establish some good habits that benefit them for the rest of their lives.