Want to win a gift certificate for a 30-minute massage at the FMH Wellness Center? Okay, I know, silly question. To enter, snap a picture of a lunch you’ve packed (for yourself, your kids, spouse, whoever) and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org by 12 noon September 10th. I’ll post some of the photos here on the blog so we can all share in the fun. One winner will be selected at random from all photo entries.
Whether you’re seven or 47, lunch is an important opportunity to refuel between our morning and afternoon activities. Are you packing lunches that set your kids (or yourself) up for nutritional success?
Now that the kids are back in school, I thought it’d be a good time to ask FMH Nutritionist Heather Boyd for some tips to keep lunches healthy and satisfying.
1. In terms of nutrition, what makes a good packed lunch?
Heather: Important components include complex carbohydrates (which contain fiber), adequate protein, fluid for hydration, vitamins, calcium and a variety of other minerals.
2. Do kids and adults have different nutritional requirements?
Heather: Yes, children (depending on their size and age) often require a different calorie level (and possibly a higher fat content) to promote growth and fuel activity. Nutritional needs for adults are also based on activity level, but a mature body (except special cases like pregnancy, body building, or physical stress) is not in a state of building tissue, therefore requirements may be geared towards disease prevention/management. Please note that there are also cases where nutritional needs for children are based on disease prevention/management.
3. What are some good examples of items to pack for kid and adult lunches? What makes them good selections?
Heather: Items to pack include:
- 100% whole wheat versions of bread, pitas, english muffins, low-fat crackers, bagels, buns or pasta for the complex carbs. High-fiber, wheat-free options can also be substituted.
- Water-packed tuna, low-fat cottage cheese, lean deli meats (such as low-fat ham, turkey, chicken, or roast beef), peanut butter or other nut butters, low-fat cheese (especially portioned string cheese and light “Laughing Cow” cheese wedges), hard boiled eggs, bean dip, or fat-free greek yogurt for protein.
- Water, low-fat or skim milk, 100% fruit juices, or unsweetened caffeine-free beverages for fluid.
- Low-fat or fat-free yogurt, pudding cups, milk, or cheese for calcium.
- A variety of fresh fruit such as whole apples, apple slices, bananas, berries, grapes, melons (in wedges, balls, or cubes), cherries, oranges, pears, pineapple.
- Individual servings of applesauce, unsweetened canned fruit or dried fruit can also provide essential vitamins.
- A variety of fresh vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, grape tomatoes, carrots, celery, snap peas, cucumber slices, and salads for other vitamins and minerals.
- Most of the selections above are less processed, nutrient dense, and in many cases portion controlled.
- If kitchen facilities are available then limited use of low-calorie freezer meals or low-sodium soups along with fresh foods (like fruits and vegetables) may be a realistic alternative improvement to unhealthy fast food.
4. Are there items we should stay away from completely?
Heather: Some items to discourage include high fat, processed lunch meats, like salami, bologna, or high-fat, high-sugar, high-sodium vending foods. Also try to focus on variety over the course of a day or a week to get all of your essential nutrients.
5. What about snacks/dessert?
Heather: There is always a place for the occasional treat or sinful dessert and a good way to do this is to allow yourself 100-300 calories a few times a week for empty calories (frequency and calories depend on your unique needs). This may be a few hershey kisses, a small alcoholic beverage, 1/2 cup of ice cream, one large cookie or 3 small ones, a handful of chips, etc. The key is to check calories and other nutrition information ahead of time and to eat it in a reasonable portion. Remember that there are lots of nutrient dense snacks, which can both benefit your overall daily intake and manage your appetite.
6. What do we need to know about keeping lunches cold for food safety?
Heather: Protein and dairy foods are a possible source of foodborne illness if they are not kept cool. An insulated bag with a cold pack is your best option to keep food cold for a few hours, especially for meat sandwiches, cheese, yogurt and even fresh produce. Keeping it cool will make lunch both safe and appealing.
Have more questions about nutrition? Post them here on the Share the Health blog and I’ll pass them along to Heather!
Don’t forget to send your packed lunch photo to email@example.com for a chance to win a gift certificate for a 30-minute massage at the FMH Wellness Center!
Here’s a great example of the kind of photo we’d love to see, courtesy of Lora Shea, a co-worker of our Twitter-friend @focusedonhealth. She’s been trying to get her first grade twins to eat healthy lunches and she’s doing a great job making it FUN!
Update: 9/9/10 – April Finnen submitted her packed lunch photo – brown rice, and (canned) black beans with some local veggies (jalapenos, squash, onions, tomatoes). I say Y-U-M!