9 Tips for Packing a School Lunch

I’m starting to shed tears thinking about school starting back up again. I’m sending my first born off to kindergarten this year. I cry anytime I think about it, and believe it or not, I’m shedding some tears while writing this post. 

We did everything to prepare for the first day of school: final registration, school physical and immunization, dental visit, eye exam, purchased backpack, school supplies, gym shoes, new school clothes…but then my son comes to me and asks me about his lunchbox. Light bulb! I am going to have to start packing a lunch.  Now don’t get me wrong, he can learn to eat a few school lunches, but I’m still going to be packing quite a few lunches to make sure he is nutritionally sound at lunch.  I have put my dietitian mommy hat on and put together 9 tips to help pack a nutritious school lunch.

I have put my dietitian mommy hat on and put together 9 tips to help pack a nutritious school lunch.

 1) Get your kids involved by asking them about their favorite foods they would like to see in their lunch. I know you may get some off the wall ideas and candy cannot be an entrée, but a treat every once in a while won’t hurt.

2) Have your kids  help you pack their lunch the night before. The more you get them involved, the more likely they will eat the food! Bonus, you have one less item on your morning to-do list.

3) Think of quick, healthy foods like fruit smoothies, whole grain crackers and string cheese. If Here’s a little trick to make smoothies last, make enough smoothies for a couple days –then just drop in ice cubes in the thermos the next morning.

4) Remember the #plategoals (Half the plate is non-starchy vegetables, ¼ is whole grains/fruits/starchy vegetables and ¼ is lean protein). Use this as an opportunity to teach your children about the food groups and fruits and vegetables.  There is no parent fail if you don’t get a veggie in their lunch, however, encourage them to snack on some after school and to include them at dinner.

plategoals

5) Try to include at least 2 colors of plant-based foods at lunch. For example: orange carrots and frozen pineapple tidbits, plum tomatoes and green grapes, black bean dip and frozen mango chunks. Not only does this boost the nutritional quality, but it also makes the meal more colorful and fun!

6) Invest in a fun new lunch box, an ice pack, and some food containers your kids help pick out. I’ve learned that younger kids often times have to see the food through the container to be interested in opening it, so clear lunch food containers may increase the odds of it being opened and eaten. Big on the market are Bento boxes.

7) If you have an extra minute, which I know we don’t usually, try and label a container or two with little post it notes, like “magnificent mango” or “tasty hummus” –it may help the lunchbox come home empty.

8) Offer variety, but remember to keep portion sizes small. Try 5 pieces of sliced apples sprinkled with cinnamon, a small turkey and cheese wrap and a small square of black bean brownie with an 8oz carton of milk. With small different options, you are increasing the chances your child will get a balanced meal at lunch.

9) Add fun shapes to the sandwich by using sandwich cutters or even a cookie cutter. Shaping foods make meals more appealing, and doesn’t take much time.

There is no fool proof way to make sure your kids will eat their lunch while at school, but you can at least know you are doing your part for their health. Happy Back to School!!

Megan Klemm

 

 
 

5 Foods to Stop Eating After the Age of 10

While driving to work the other morning, I heard the radio DJ announce that there was a certain restaurant that doesn’t serve ketchup to individuals over the age of 10. Of course it was a steak restaurant and we all know the unspoken rule that you should never have to order ketchup when having a good steak. As comical as this was, it got me thinking… “Shouldn’t there be a list of other foods we should stop eating after the age of 10?” Here is where my thoughts took me.

Child at Breakfast

  • Lucky Charms and other “kid-friendly” cereals: This sugar-sweetened, low-fiber cereal may taste great, but it may require three bowls to fill you up. Plus, consuming this amount of simple carbs in one sitting will not only spike your insulin levels in the morning, it will often lead your body to crave more carbs later on in the day.
  • Spaghetti Os: This canned spaghetti meal became famous in the 1960s and it hasn’t lost any popularity points since. While the low-fat nature of the pasta may seem appealing, don’t be fooled by the fact that you are really just eating a can of processed carbs. Besides, who really wants to eat pasta that was canned 5 years ago?
  • Chicken Nuggets: This is a powerhouse in the diets of most American children, yet still quite appealing to most adults. One of the biggest downfalls when it comes to chicken nuggets is the fat content. Good, healthy sources of fat can be a part of anyone’s diet, but this is referring to the fats found in nuts, seeds, avocados, oils…not the ones from these little chicken bites. The other negative side of chicken nuggets is the fact they are very processed when compared to a natural piece of chicken.
  • Mac n Cheese and Hotdogs: I can recall one summer where I had this meal almost every day for lunch. When you put two processed foods like this together, you get high carbs, high fat (not the good kind), and high sodium. While this meal is simple to make, it is quite low in nutrients and often displaces opportunities to consume fruits and veggies.
  • Lunchables: The always-classic Lunchable is of course the meat, cheese and cracker combo. However, this has also been expanded to include nachos, tacos, and make-your-own pizza kits. The ones targeting older-aged children generally include a sub sandwich, chips and Capri Sun. Again, the main problem is that all of these food items are highly processed. Sugar-sweetened beverages and high-sodium sides are replacing nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables.

While many of these foods may bring back some fond memories of your childhood eating habits, the bottom line is that they are very poor sources of nutrients, regardless if you are an adult or child. Just because we don’t consume most of these items as adults doesn’t necessarily make them appropriate for our kids, especially since childhood obesity rates are at an all-time high.

Water A few simple tips for helping your children form better eating habits and becoming healthy adults:

  • Pack water bottles instead of Capri Suns or juice boxes for beverages in lunch boxes.
  • Include at least one fruit and one vegetable in all lunches. Try to keep your starches to just one item per meal (bread, crackers, potatoes, pretzels, cereal, granola bar, pasta).
  • Choose snacks that include a protein component: cheese, cottage cheese, nuts, peanut butter, Greek yogurt. Even better, pair the protein with a fruit or veggie serving: cottage cheese + pineapple, peanut butter + celery, cheese stick + grapes.
  • Limit consumption of meals that come from a box and practice making more meals from fresh, wholesome ingredients.
  • If you do purchase packaged food items, try to choose those with 5 ingredients or less. At least be able to pronounce and understand all ingredients listed.
  • Don’t purchase food from the same place you get your gas.

 

Assorted fruit

Starch Free Back To School Lunch Options

“Back to school…back to school…” Anyone else remember this song from Billy Madison? It’s finally that time of year again. School supply shopping is at its peak, new backpacks and wardrobes are picked out and the everyday decision of what to pack for your child’s lunch returns. kid_school_03B41076Too often, our children’s lunches are overflowing with starches and processed carbohydrates (bread, pretzels, chips, crackers, cereal bars and sweets). Excessive consumption of processed carbs can cause insulin and glucose spikes in the blood stream as well as provide a continuous craving for carbohydrates. This school year, try experimenting with some lower processed meal options. Below are a few ideas to help your child consume a well-balanced, bread-less meal.

  1. ½-1 cup cottage cheese + red and yellow bell pepper and cucumber slices + unsweetened applesauce and grapes.
  2. ½ cup hummus + carrot, celery and sugar snap peas + 2 deviled eggs + fresh berries
  3. ½ cup chicken salad + 1 oz nut thins + apple slices + 2 tbsp peanut butter
  4. 6 oz Greek yogurt + blueberries and fresh peach slices + walnuts + cheese stick + broccoli and cauliflower florets with ranch dressing dip
  5. Turkey, cheese, chopped tomato + (mayo made with olive oil or mustard) roll-ups + spinach salad + 2 cuties
  6. 2 egg muffins  + banana + 2 tbsp almond butteregg muffins
  7.  1/2 – 3/4 cup taco seasoned ground turkey + fresh spinach + sautéed peppers and onions + pinch of shredded cheese + mango slices (pack a small bowl so turkey taco ingredients can be combined together)
  8. 1 chicken or turkey sausage + sweet potato salad  + 1 kiwi
  9. 1 gluten-free protein bar (Quest Bar or Larabar for example)+ mini fruit kabobs (pineapple, blueberry and strawberry slices) + mini caprese kabob (tomato + basil + hard mozzarella)
  10. Lettuce boats (big leaf lettuce topped with diced chicken, diced avocado, tomato and shredded cheese) + apple sandwich (slice apples with almond butter spread in between and sprinkled with a few chocolate chips)

Choosing the Right Time to Eat

Pasta PrimaveraAnother interesting area of research investigates whether the time of day calories are consumed influences weight loss changes at all. This happens to be a focus area for researcher, Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz from Tel Aviv University in Israel. In their recent study, overweight and obese women were provided a 1400 calorie diet and were followed for 12 weeks. The women in the study were split into two groups. The first group was the “big breakfast” group, consuming 700 calories a breakfast, 500 at lunch and 200 calories with dinner. The second group was the “big dinner” group, consuming just the opposite pattern: 200 at breakfast, 500 at lunch and 700 calories with dinner. Both groups lost weight (remember the golden rule is calories in vs. calories out); however, what was astonishing about this study is that the “big breakfast” group lost on average 10 more pounds and 1.5 more inches from their waistline than the “big dinner” group did. Researchers also noted that the “big breakfast” group experienced significant reductions in insulin levels, glucose and triglyceride fats.

Does this mean this gives us free-reign to go and order 2 donuts and a large chocolate-caramel coffee drink for breakfast every morning? Absolutely not. The quality of calories still plays a major role here. Plus, keep in mind that it may not be very sustainable to consume only 200 calories with dinner for an extended period of time. Two hundred calorie dinners would most likely look like a lean portion of protein such as chicken, egg whites or tilapia, and some steamed vegetables.

This study does illustrate some interesting health points as well as stimulate more questions regarding nutritional intake. It only makes sense that we should be consuming more of our calories during our active parts of the day, right? Unfortunately, it is well documented that breakfast is the most commonly missed meal of the day.

If you think about it, the majority of Americans are accustomed to enjoying a large dinner meal at night. And then what happens? We typically lounge by watching TV or reading, maybe perform a few chores, but ultimately we all go to bed to rest for the day. So why should we be consuming the majority of our calories for the day with our last meal? More research is still needed in this area, but it does give us a lot to think about when considering, “what are the best practices to achieve a healthy weight loss?”

calories chartIf you are interested in switching up your caloric intake patterns throughout the day, here are a few examples of squeezing in some extra calories with the breakfast meal. Remember to focus on quality, wholesome foods instead of adding processed sugars and starches for extra calories. Breakfast food never has to be “breakfast food” either. Feel free to experiment with non-traditional breakfast menu items too!

Eggs, oatmeal, smoothies and Greek yogurt are open canvases! Experiment with any combination of added nutrients from whole foods to paint a new breakfast picture each day of the week!

Figge’s Favorite Groceries

grocery shoppingWith the success of  Figge’s Favorite Things blog post, I thought I would follow up with a list of some of my favorite foods that frequently occupy my shopping list. Years ago, my diet heavily consisted of processed luncheon meats, frozen dinners and snack bars. Today, fresh fruits, vegetables and meats are typically what fill up my grocery cart. This was no overnight process, but slowly, I began to step outside my comfort zone and taught myself how to prepare and cook with fresh ingredients. To stay healthy, I rely on clean, minimally processed foods. Combined with a healthy dose of physical activity each week, clean eating helps keep my cholesterol down, energy up and promotes a good night’s sleep.

  1. Eggs. Eggs have been hounded over the years for their fat and cholesterol content. However, with today’s research on eggs, we are learning that 1) the cholesterol found in eggs is not what is causing high cholesterol in individuals and 2) the benefits of the yolks include a Vitamin B12 source, eye-healthy lutein , zeaxanthin antioxidants, and choline, which is essential for cardiovascular and brain function.
  2. fresh-spinachSpinach. This green giant gets sautéed in with my eggs each morning and makes several appearances in other meals throughout the week.
  3. Peanut or almond butter. If I could eat almond butter every day, I would; but because the cost of it is often more than peanut butter, I tend to go back and forth between these heart-healthy fat and protein snack additions.
  4. Cauliflower. My kitchen often looks like a cauliflower war zone. For those of you that regularly cut up cauliflower, you know what I’m talking about! My preferred way of cooking it is steaming in a sauce pan and then mashing it in my food processor. Add a pinch of salt, garlic powder, onion powder, butter and garnish with chives and you have a great vegetable side dish (not to mention for the cost of $3 or less!)
  5. Spaghetti Squash. We have been having a lot of fun with spaghetti squash this winter. It is a great substitute for pasta in recipes. To me, it is not very tasty when served plain, but if you add mixed vegetables, seasonings, sauces or a homemade mayo to the mix, you’re set-to-go for a delicious meal.
  6. Chicken. This is the most popular protein consumed in our household. For that reason, I am constantly finding new ways to season and prepare it. We also consume beef, pork and fish but chicken definitely takes the podium for most consumed.
  7. Apples. This fruit is a good source of antioxidants and soluble fiber. I usually have at least one and sometimes two apples a day with my peanut or almond butter for heart-healthy, filling snacks.
  8. Whey protein powder. Since both my husband and I do Crossfit, we need a quick source of protein for our post-workout snacks. One scoop of protein powder poured in 8 oz. of almond milk allows my body to quickly refuel after a workout, promote lean tissue growth and speed up recovery time.
  9. Ground flaxseed. This antioxidant powerhouse can be easily mixed into recipes or sauces or can even be sprinkled on top of foods to add fiber, omega-3 and healthy lignans to any dish.
  10. Sweet potato. These Vitamin A giants interestingly are most often consumed with my breakfast meal. I’ll sauté a medium-large sweet potato in 1 Tbsp of coconut oil on Sunday nights and then portion out servings to grab and go for the week. NCI5_POTATO

Building Better Salads – Part 1

Rabbit food. This is the word my husband has coined for my side and entrée salads that I prepare for many of our lunch and dinner meals. It must be part of the guy-code manual that every male must make fun of eating salads. strawspinachsaladDespite his constant teasing, I will add that he continues to gobble up these salads every time I prepare them. (I’ll take that as a wife-win!). The key to making a great salad is to add just the right amount of ingredients to create a variety of nutrients and textures.

Salads often go hand-in-hand with health foods. However, sometimes salads can be some of the unhealthiest items on the menu. Beware of these common salad ingredient villains.

  • Breaded proteins. Protein is an important ingredient for a salad, especially if it is going to be considered as an entrée salad. Breaded and fried chicken/shrimp will increase the amount of saturated and trans fat in your salad. The good news is that most restaurants will let you substitute a grilled protein for a breaded one. Other excellent protein choices include grilled/baked flank steak, salmon, tuna, shrimp, turkey, ham, hard-boiled eggs or even beans.
  • Croutons and chow mein noodles. These items provide a nice crunch factor in our salads, but they come in next to last place for their nutritional value. Try adding sunflower seeds or heart-healthy walnuts instead to provide a healthier, crunchy substitute.
  •  Bacon and cheese. Here are two ingredients that can make a salad’s saturated fat and sodium content go through the roof. If you can’t forego both items, try to at least opt for one or the other and be mindful of portion size. A serving size of cheese is 1 oz or ¼ cup which is about the size of 2 dominos or 4 dice.

Wimpy salads (as I call them) that only include iceberg lettuce, cheese and dressing are not only nutritionally inadequate, but just plain boring to eat! Start with a dark leafy green mixture and add any combination of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and proteins for a more decadent salad. If you’re looking for ideas, here are few salads I commonly throw together:

Strawberry-Spinach Salad:man-salad

  • Spring Mix greens
  • Sliced strawberries
  • Feta cheese
  • Walnuts
  • Red onion
  • Grilled chicken (optional)
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing

Modified Greek Salad:

  • Spring Mix greens
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Grilled onions
  • Avocado slices
  • Roasted red bell peppers
  • Feta cheese
  • Grilled chicken or flank steak (optional)
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing

California Salad:

  • Spring Mix greens
  • Sweet corn kernels
  • Avocado slices
  • Fresh tomatoes
  • Red onion
  • Grilled chicken
  • Slivered almonds
  • Ranch dressing
  • Cilantro to garnish

Read on for Building Better Salads Part 2.