7 Steps to a Perfect Packed Lunch
Summer vacation is winding down, fall is approaching and the kids are back to school.
So if it’s for your kids, or just packing lunch for work, it’s time to examine the art of packing the perfect lunch.
While it is easy to rely on the school cafeteria for the kids and fast food meals for you, this method will quickly result in unwanted pounds.
The only way to ensure that you and your kids are eating a nutritionally balanced, health promoting lunch is to pack it yourself.
According to Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes in their book, Lunch Lessons, “When it comes to nutrition, children are not just miniature adults. Because they’re growing, they have different dietary needs.”
Use the following 7 steps as your guide for packing healthy lunches that cover the spectrum of nutrients that your growing kids needs.
Don’t have kids? Keep reading. You’ll need these steps when packing your own nutrient-dense, fitness lunches.
Step 1: Hydration
Every function of the human body requires water, so it’s a no-brainer that water should be included in your packed lunch. Eight glasses a day is a minimum.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of giving kids juice or soda pop, and once your kids are accustomed to drinking these sugary treats expect a battle when you switch to water. This is one fight that is worth winning.
Remind yourself that the sugary drinks are filled with empty calories, which quickly lead to weight gain. Sugar also robs the body of vital nutrients and minerals.
Step 2: Protein
- 2 – 3 servings daily
- 1 serving equals: 2 – 3oz meat, 1/2 cup cooked beans, 1/3 cup nuts or one egg
Protein is an essential part of lunch, both for you and your kids. Kids need protein to support their growing body, and you need plenty of protein in order to grow and maintain lean muscle tissue.
Here’s a list of healthy protein sources: fish, beans, tofu, nuts, eggs, chicken, turkey, lean pork and lamb.
Limit (or even better, eliminate) the amount of high-saturated-fat protein that your kids eat to no more than 3 servings per week. These include cheese, hot dogs, salami, bacon and sausage.
Step 3: Whole Grains
- Kids 6-9 yrs: 4 – 7 servings daily
- Kids 10-14 yrs: 5 – 8 servings daily
- Teens: 6 – 9 servings daily
- 1 serving equals: 1 slice of bread, 1/2 bagel, 1/2 cup cooked rice, 1/2 cup pasta, 1 cup of whole grains
Whole grains are one of the major building blocks of a healthy meal. The key word here is “whole” meaning not refined.
White bread, bagels, pasta and rice have been stripped of the nutrients and minerals. As a result these items convert quickly into sugar, leaving your child drained after an initial quick burst of energy. Always avoid refined white grain products.
Here’s a list of healthy whole grains: oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, millet, bulgur, whole-wheat or sprouted grain bread, barley, whole grain cereal and whole wheat pasta.
Step 4: Veggies
- 4 – 9 servings daily
- 1 serving equals: 1 cup raw of 1/2 cup cooked vegetables
When it comes to veggies, variety is key. Choose an array of colors like orange, red, purple, green, blue, white and yellow to make sure that your kids are getting all of the necessary vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Don’t save vegetables for dinnertime. Pack each lunch with lots of colorful vegetables.
Try these veggie-packing ideas: Put a small container of humus with cut veggies for dipping. Fill your sandwiches with baby arugula, roasted peppers and slices of tomato. Pack a container of veggie and whole wheat pasta instead of a sandwich. Invest in a small thermos and fill it with vegetable soup.
Step 5: Fruit
- 3 – 5 servings daily
- 1 serving equals: 1/2 cup cut fruit, whole fruit size of tennis ball, half a banana, 1/2 cup 100% fruit juice
Fresh fruit is filled with vitamins, nutrients and minerals. As with your veggies, choose a variety of colors to ensure that your kids are getting a range of nutrients.
Stay away from fruits that are canned and coated in syrup, and also from fruit snacks and chews that contain added sugars. If fresh fruit is not readily available then go for plain dried fruit, with no added sugar.
Unlike veggies, it is possible to eat too much fruit. Though the natural sugars within fruit are much healthier than refined sugar, too much of it will have a negative impact on your blood sugar levels and the extra calories will be stored as fat. Stick with 3 – 5 servings per day.
Step 6: Calcium
- 2 – 6 servings daily
- Serving size based on the amount of calcium in the food. Examples of 1 serving: 1 cup cooked beans, 1/2 cup almonds, 1/2 cup dried figs, 1/2 cup dark leafy green vegetables, 1/2 cup tofu, 1 cup low-fat milk, 1 cup low-fat yogurt
Your kids need calcium in order to build strong, healthy bones. It is important to incorporate calcium into each meal.
Calcium isn’t just found in dairy products. There are many plant sources that contain calcium that is more readily absorbed by the body than the calcium found in dairy.
Try these sources of calcium: nuts, dark leafy greens, salmon, broccoli, tofu, soy milk, sardines, beans, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt.
Step 7: Healthy Fat
- 3 – 4 servings daily
- Serving size based on the amount of healthy fat in the food. Examples of 1 serving: 1 teaspoon of olive, safflower, sesame, flax or canola oil, 1/2 cup nuts, 1 tablespoon peanut, almond or cashew butter, 1 cup cooked beans, peas or lentils.
You may think of all dietary fat as being bad, but fat from plant sources are very important to the growth and development of a child’s body.
Eliminate trans-fatty acids contained in foods that are labeled as hydrogenated.
There you have it, 7 steps to the perfect packed lunch.
Remember that eating right is only half of the equation. Exercise is just as important when it comes to fitness and weight loss.
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Helping you shed the fat, even on your busy schedule,
Coach George, Body Transformation Coach
ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer & Precision Nutrition Certified Nutritionist