It seems that no matter what corner you turn to there is always quick ‘grab-and-go’ options that are packed with sodium your heart does not need and fat and calories your hips can gladly take a pass on.
When you look at most restaurants out there, whether it be sit down or fast service, the average meal sits at around 1000 calories if not more. Even the health claimed salad can be calorically rich as a taco salad from a chain restaurant comes in at 1120 calories not including added dressing.
The choices for our children do not seem much better. Now to save parents time, little lunch kits have been designed that kids can assemble at school. ‘Lunchmates’, for example, has food items very high in salt and fat. The ‘Turkey + Ham with Swiss + Cheddar’ has a whopping 1940mg of sodium (1) well above the maximum recommended amount of 1200mg for children (2). It too contains a tidily one gram of fiber that is unlikely to make any dent in your child’s daily needs.
My goal is to help bring clarity to your lunch box, for both you and your children. Here is a basic rule of thumb on items it should contain as discussed in my book:
- 2 servings of Vegetables
- 1 serving of Fruit
- 1 serving of something rich in Protein (nuts/seeds, animal meat, TVP, soy, fish, beans, legumes etc)
- 1 serving of a dairy (such as cheese, cow/soy/almond milk, yoghurt etc)
- 1-2 servings of whole grains (such as brown rice, quinoa, cous cous, whole grain pasta or bread, tortilla or pita)
- Snack item for the afternoon
One thing to remember is that children (especially teenagers) really do have a higher metabolism than adults so more calories should be consumed at lunch. Many health care professionals state that lunch should consist of one third your daily vitamins, minerals and calories. For adults this would equal around 400-500 calories and for teenagers closer to 600.
Here are some tips you can use to make simple food swaps in any lunch bag:
- Replace ‘fruit bars’ with real fruit
- Replace any fruit beverage (unless made by yourself with the entire fruit and or vegetable) with water
- Small Ziploc sandwich bags are perfect for packing raw veggies like baby carrots, cucumber slices or celery and pepper sticks
- Replace the chip, cookie, chocolate bar snack with whole grain or rice crackers, lower fat cheese and grapes – even a handful of nuts and dried fruit fare better
- Buy a water bottle - fun ones for kids work very well
Sometimes, the school cafeteria can present roadblocks to your goals with your kids healthy eating. One strategy you could take is to pack a lunch 3 out of the 5 days and then provide money for 2 days of the week. This will set some limits on how much fast food they can purchase. As we still may cringe at the thought of our kids eating fat drenched fries or pizza, if you serve wholesome choices at both breakfast and dinner, the lunch time you can sit back and breath more on. For youth, try to look at 80% of their daily calories to come from healthy items and the other 20% you have to play with.
Other ideas are to:
- Ask your kids to pack their lunch and help out (participation almost always gives better results)
- Make their lunches fun to eat (I live by the motto of dipping, sipping and spreading as any fingers dirty mean it has to be fun)
- Skewers for vegetables are great
- Anything ‘hands-on’ is usually a hit
- Yoghurt, hummus, tzatziki or tahini make great dips
Treats are a big thing in children’s lunches that much excitement grows over, especially when they get traded. You can still keep the treats healthy by making them yourself. Home made muffins, loafs, cookies and dried fruit are great.
An example of a Lunch Menu:
- Whole Wheat Salmon Sandwich with sliced cucumber and alfalfa sprouts cut into puzzle pieces (the kids can put together)
- Baby carrots and grape tomatoes on a short skewer served with a side of hummus
- Low fat, stirred yogurt
- Air popped popcorn with sprinkled Parmesan cheese
These are only some lunchbox ideas as the options are endless. More healthy lunches and tips can be found in my book. Happy packing!
‘Oscar Mayer Lunchables-Deluxe-Turkey&Ham w/Swiss&Cheddar 5.1 oz Tray, www.my-calorie-counter.com
SALT, ‘Babies and Children’, www.salt.gov.uk/babies_and_children.html
*This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. For any health related concerns, please consult your doctor. Community Natural Foods and all of its associates shall not be held accountable for how this information is perceived or utilized.
Karla Heintz is a freelance writer for Community Natural Foods, as well as a BSc Nutrition, is a health TV and radio personality across Canada, consultant and speaker based in Calgary. She is the national author of ‘Picky! Not Me Mom! A parents’ guide to children’s nutrition. www.karlaheintz.com