Lunch – we ignore it, skip it, or grab it on the go. We buy it, share it, or bring it from home. We pack it in brown bags, squeeze it into Tupperware, or store it in a desk. We carry it in backpacks, purses or briefcases. But do we really take this important meal seriously?
Lunch often gets lost in the hustle and bustle of getting ready for work or getting the kids ready for school. Yet it is the meal that gives us the energy we need to power through the afternoon. A healthy lunch is essential if you’re going to be at your best all day and avoid that “afternoon swoon.”
But what should go into a truly healthy lunch? Nutritionists say that a healthy lunch should include foods from at least 3 food groups, including lean protein and complex carbohydrates. That doesn’t mean it has to be limited to the traditional sandwich, fruit and drink. There are lots of healthy alternatives including hummus, whole grain crackers, yogurt, sliced veggies, or even last night’s dinner leftovers.
Two things to avoid at lunch are fat and sugar. Meals high in fat have been shown to slow down metabolism and make critical thinking more difficult. Meals high in sugar can initially increase energy but then lead to a “energy dip” a few hours later when that energy is used up. Interestingly, most fast food restaurant meals and many sit down restaurant meals are loaded with excess fat and added sugar! Not a good choice!
So, what can you do to eat healthier lunches yourself and also make sure that other family members eat healthy too? Here are 5 tips for getting your entire family craving healthy lunches:
Know your personal eating style. Some people get great comfort eating the same foods day in and day out. This is especially true for lunches, which are often eaten outside the comforts of home. Other people like variety. The key is to respect each person’s individual eating style. When you know your own personal eating style and the style of each family member, you can create lunches that each person enjoys and there’s less likelihood that lunch will end up in the playground dumpster or the office trash bin.
Encourage family participation. It may seem counterintuitive, but you can actually make lunches faster when the whole family gets involved. This is probably not true the first few times you do it, but once each family member gets into the routine, you can whip out healthy lunches faster than you could ever do it alone. A little planning helps. You might even spend some time as part of your normal evening meal clean up making tomorrow’s lunches. This is a great way to get everyone involved, and kids love to pack their own lunchboxes. When each family member gets to choose what to pack, they choose what they want to eat.
Keep healthy options on hand. If all you have in the house is packaged lunch meat and single serving potato chip packages, then that’s what will get packed for lunch. Better options include whole grain breads, light tuna fish, raw veggies cut into slices, fresh fruits, and nuts. You might even try whole grain sandwich wraps, granola, yogurt and hummus as alternatives to the same old sandwich.
Make it “snack-able.” Even with the best of intentions, we often run out of time for lunch. We sometimes have to attend meetings or get important work done during lunchtime. Many schools now have lunch periods as short as 20 minutes. By making lunches in bite-sized pieces, you can eat them “on the run” when you need to. This can be something as simple as cutting a sandwich into quarters instead of in half, or pealing and slicing the fruit. Grapes, berries and cherry tomatoes are also great alternatives. It also means avoiding messy foods like greasy chips.
When eating out, ask for nutrition information. Most restaurants now have nutrition information available if you ask. Some even include it on their menus. Reading the nutrition information only takes a minute or two and it can be a real eye-opener. You may be surprised just how much fat, sugar and calories there are in some popular restaurant meals. Sometimes eating a healthier lunch is as easy as selecting one menu option over another that would taste just as good. I did this the other day and “saved” 300 calories in 30 seconds! How’s that for a diet plan! If you know what you’re eating, you can make an informed choice.
Lunch is an important meal. The right lunch can help you function at your peak throughout the afternoon. The wrong lunch (or no lunch at all) can leave you feeling tired and eating everything in sight. Take lunch seriously and eat healthy!
Remember, healthy choices you make each day can transform your family for generations! What choices will you make today?
Do You Wish Your Kid’s Ate Better? Check out our FREE eBook at www.HealthFamilyFuture.com. Many of the strategies in this book can be used by both children and adults.
You may also want to read: Healthy Eating: PLU Codes Demystified, What’s on Your Bucket List?, Exercise: You Don’t Need Equipment or a Gym