I can’t stress enough how much more nutritious your lunch can be if you make it yourself, versus buying a school or work lunch. First of all, you have no control over the ingredients that go into school/work lunches.
I have now personally toured the kitchen and lunch rooms of 4 different schools in my area, and created the school menu for 2 private schools based on “government” guidelines. I assure you, because the schools are on a very limited budget, and are buying in large quantity, the nutrient content of the foods is suffering big time! In these school kitchens I have seen little to no “whole grains”, but only refined “white” options. I have seen very little “fresh” or “frozen” fruits and vegetables, but instead canned in high sugar or high sodium options, and plenty of high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring in everything from the ketchup, tomato sauce, cheese sauce, jelly, and desserts just to name a few.
So, if you think school lunches are just as healthy as something you could get from home, think again. If you just switched to the healthier versions of some of these foods, you would be getting significantly more vitamins, minerals, fiber and nutrients than the school/work lunchroom version.
Here are some tips to consider when packing a lunch:
- Always make sure there is a good source of protein in the lunch. Some examples are nitrate free lunch meat (hormel naturals), cottage cheese, greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs, nut butters (no sugar added), leftovers like: whole grain baked chicken nuggets, sliced grilled chicken, grilled turkey or lean beef mini burgers.
- Always try to add a vegetable. We always think of adding fruit to lunch. Fruit is very healthy because it’s got vitamins and fiber, but fruit also has sugar. Lunch is one more opportunity to sneak veggies in our day. Try to sneak in veggies like carrot sticks, raw sliced peppers, cucumbers, or celery with a dip like hummus, or a ranch made from yogurt (bolthouse farms).
- Pack something with “protein“ for your treat to keep your energy up in the afternoon, and to help with focus and attention. Rather than packing granola bars filled with sugar, try meal replacement bars like clif and luna mini’s. These are the smaller versions of the full meal replacement bars. They are loaded with whole grains, protein and vitamins and come in amazing flavors like: peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, brownie, chocolate dipped coconut….and about 30 others if these don’t do it for you. The same company that makes these bars also make a kids version called Z-bars, and you can buy them cheap at every Target and Walmart in the country in the “diet” section.
- Drink water instead of juice, or pack a juice diluted with water to lessen the sugar content.
- Choose whole grains. “Whole grain” bread (Nature’s Pride) vs. white bread, whole grain crackers (Kashi) , even whole grain chips will be higher in fiber, which helps keep you full and helps keep blood sugar more stable.
These above tips will help make your lunch far more nutritious. The next step, is to remove artificial ingredients, which affect mood, focus and energy. Which are all very important if you need to “work” all afternoon, whether at school or an office.
Here are some foods to replace with the healthier, more natural versions:
Natural Fruit Roll Ups vs. the one’s that have artificial coloring and high fructose corn syrup. Not more expensive, and don’t taste any different. Same goes for fruit snacks! Mott’s makes all natural fruit snacks that do not contain artificial coloring or sweeteners. Where do you buy them??? RIGHT NEXT TO THE ONE’S WITH THE ARTIFICIAL INGREDIENTS.
All natural peanut butter. If you’re buying Skippy or Jif, guess what, they make all natural versions that are exactly the same price, and do not taste any different. Did you even know that your peanut butter had hydrogenated oils and artificial sugars?
Just fruit jelly versus the version containing high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring. How easy is it to go to the jelly isle, and pick the Smuckers jelly that just has fruit and is sweetened with juice vs. the smuckers that has all this junk in it.
Hormel natural nitrate free lunch meat is right next to the other lunch meats in the grocery store, and tastes exactly the same. Guess what, it’s not more expensive either. So just by switching brands, your getting a lunch meat that is much lower in sodium and free of artificial ingredients.
So, I do understand initially this may require reading some labels. But once you get familiar with which brands contain the artificial stuff, and which brands don’t, it will take no extra time at all. You will feel much better about packing you or your families lunches when you actually know what’s in them. You can not tell me that the school or work lunches are healthy and nutritious when you have no idea what artificial ingredients you are actually getting.
Let me give you a quick example of what most school lunches look like:
- Pizza, salad and ice cream.
- Nacho bar with corn and rice crispie treats
- Corn dog, fritos and chocolate chip cookie.
- Pretzel with cheese, veggie sticks and fruit roll up.
- Taco, corn and cinnamon roll.
I could not make this up. This is right off a school lunch menu. In 5 days time, I see absolutely no whole grains, fresh fruits or vegetables maybe twice and a high sugar dessert every single day! But then we are expected to sit at our desks and be productive or concentrate for the rest of the day. Kind of a contradiction, wouldn’t you say. Our educational institutes are where our children go to learn, and what are we teaching them about health? Our government actually approves and recommends children eat these foods for nourishment. The kicker is the government guidelines where set years ago, using the old food pyramid, which has been obsolete for almost 10 years now. So who’s in charge, YOU ARE.
I would love to hear you comments about what you’re packing in your kids lunch, or how you feel about these issues. Feel free to post your comments!
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