Healthy, well-balanced lunches are important for both kids and adults to get the energy and concentration they need to get through the afternoon. What's more, they're less likely to reach for an unhealthy snack later in the day. But what exactly is the criteria for a healthy lunch?
- School lunches aren’t all bad – the National School Lunch Program’s policies guarantee that children receive a nutritionally sound lunch. Make sure your school is offering lunches with fruits and vegetables, whole-grain foods, low-fat dairy products, and limited saturated fat and sodium.
- Check out My Plate’s section for children’s nutrition. It’s a great reference for parents that shares a wealth of nutritional information for both preschoolers and kids. It not only shows you appropriate daily caloric intake by age, it provides meal and snack ideas as well.
- Packing lunches for kids can get redundant – so try to get creative if you have the time. Try the Bento Box craze. The possibilities are endless, and the concept is great for incorporating fruits and veggies – the bright colors and different food choices keep kids interested.
- My Plate is also a great reference for adults if you’re searching for the best nutritional guidelines for both men and women. Additionally, it will show you how much physical activity you need to stay healthy.
- Food prep for the week on Sundays. This does take some time to meal plan, and a few hours on a Sunday afternoon to meal prep, but your healthy lunches will be prepared and packed for the rest of the week. This will ensure you won’t have an excuse to make poor food decisions. Search online for ‘food prep for the week' or something similar – the examples are endless.
- If your only option is to eat out – that's okay – there is always a 'healthiest' choice no matter where you go. Don’t base your choice on calories, balance your meal by including selections from different food groups such as lean meats, vegetables, and whole grains. Look for freshly made salads with low fat dressings, and skip the extras such as croutons. Also, eat slowly – it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message from your stomach that you’re no longer hungry.
It may take a little extra effort, but brown bagging is the healthiest lunch alternative. Packing even a moderately healthy lunch from home will almost always beat any lunch from an eating establishment. Plan your menus and meals ahead of time, and try to prepare lunches either on the weekends or the day before. Plus – you'll save money. Pack your lunches and your health – and your wallet – will thank you!
This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.