Back-to-School Lunches: Tips & Tricks

As a follow-up to my school breakfast post, I want to share my strategies for healthy school lunches. As I said, we are not morning people. There is not much time to get everything ready and everyone out of the house. My philosophy: Prepping and planning are key. If it is not there, we can’t eat it, so make sure it is there. 

I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping.

Prepping

My goal is to go to the grocery store every week or even two times a week, but honestly, that is not always possible. To get the most bang out of my time and wallet, I make a list on my phone. If I make the list on a piece of paper, it never fails that that piece of paper is sitting on my counter when it is time to shop. I make my list from staples needed and from my meal planning.

Planning

I strive to plan all three meals each day.  Ugh, you may be saying—yeah, its work, I’m not going to deny that. If I don’t plan, then we don’t eat or we don’t eat well. I also plan for two kid’s breakfast, a child lunch and family dinner. For myself, I make a shake daily for breakfast and leftovers for lunch—so it’s not as horrendous as you may think.

To plan the lunches, first we go through the monthly school menu and pick out what days my son wants to eat school lunch. Yes, I let him eat school lunch—even on hot dog day.  Most days he takes his lunch, I know what healthy foods he is eating at home, so to me it balances out.  I ask him what foods he would like in his lunch; I’ll listen, but typically veto many options. When kids think they have input they are more apt to eat it 🙂

I like to keep the #plategoals ( ½ of the plate is non-starchy vegetables, ¼ is whole grains/fruits/starchy vegetables and ¼ is lean protein) in mind when packing lunches. Offer variety and keep portion sizes small. Remember 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. I try to include at least two colors of plant-based foods at lunch. Not only does this boost the nutritional quality, but it also makes the meal more colorful and fun! Examples: orange carrots and frozen pineapple tidbits, plum tomatoes and green grapes, black bean dip and frozen mango chunks.

On those rare days when I have an extra minute, I try to label a container or two with little post it notes, like “magnificent mango” or “tasty hummus”—it may help the lunchbox come home empty.

Packing 

I plan, make my list, grocery shop, have it at home, prep it and send it. What do I send it in? I like containers, like these, that have the three compartments. They make it easy to have multiple items in the lunch box without colliding and smashing.  I am not a fan of the character lunch boxes; nothing against the characters, but they are just not big enough for the containers. We got a lunchbox this year that fits the containers, lays flat, and the handle on top to hold the containers flat.  If the handle is on the side, making the container on its side, it always leaks.

If your child’s school doesn’t have a refrigerator for cold lunches, then you need to make sure there is also room for an ice pack to help keep the lunch cool. If the lunch doesn’t stay cool then bacteria grows and the not so good happens—you get the idea.

Unpacking

When the lunchbox comes home, wipe it down and wash the container to use again.  Those lunchboxes can come home nasty at times and fill with lots of bacteria. Don’t forget about the box and wiping down the ice pack.

Here are some quick, simple healthy foods my kids will eat.

  • Sandwiches with
    • Bread, tortilla, flat bread, English muffin, bagel, day old Jimmy John bread and pita pockets.
    • To help mix it up I try to add fun shapes to the sandwich by using sandwich cutters or cookie cutter and sandwich kabobs.
  • Leftovers
  • Entrees
    • Bagels with cream cheese, quesadilla, nachos, ravioli and pasta.
  • Fruit
    • Applesauce, fresh fruit (apple slices, grapes, orange slices, cutie or pear), or canned fruit, canned in light syrup.
  • Vegetables
    • Salad with salad dressing in a small cup to drizzle on, raw veggies with ranch dressing or hummus to dip in, or cold roasted vegetables.
  • Grains
    • Whole-wheat crackers, pretzels, goldfish crackers, or baked chips.
  • Treats
    • One cookie, rice Krispy treat, Oreo, or tootsie roll.

I want to emphasize that I don’t make these packed lunches fancy! I am about simple, quick and easy—all made possible by planning and prepping. There is no foolproof 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!

Your Diet and your Job: A perfect marriage or recipe for disaster?

When it comes to relationships (with people, food and even health habits), we are greatly influenced by those closest to us. In fact, many experts believe that our habits are shaped by the five people we spend the most time with. This illustrates how powerful of an impact social influence and our environment has on our daily decisions. We cannot blame all our poor decisions on others or our work setting, but I completely understand how the influence of others and demands of our jobs can make it difficult to stay on track with healthy eating. Here are some common traps and possible solutions to help get you through your 40-hour workweek, healthy and guilt-free.

Here are some common traps and possible solutions to help get you through your 40-hour workweek, healthy and guilt-free.

Problem: It’s Andy’s Birthday and that means cake, cookies and other Pinterest-inspired sugar villains.

Solution:Learn to confidently say “no thanks”.
Normally I say it’s perfectly fine to indulge on special occasions; however, special occasions such as birthdays, retirements, Fridays happen every week. In fact, we create special occasions such as “national eat chocolate for breakfast day” to justify eating sugar-rich foods. Try to separate work celebrations and personal celebrations and save those yummy treats for your own milestones. Here’s another trick I like to practice. Stand up tall and turn your head all the way to the left, now look all the way to the right and repeat this motion four more times. As silly as it sounds, remember it is perfectly fine to politely turn down sweets brought into the office.

Problem: Lunch meetings.

Solution: Become a savvier diner.
It is very common to go out to eat for social or business purposes during the week. You could always stay behind and eat your lunch by yourself, but where’s the fun in that? Learning to spot out the healthier items on a menu or give less-healthy menu items a makeover is a much savvier way to enjoy your lunch break. You can never go wrong with lean proteins and veggies. It’s also a good idea to make sure you do not have multiple starches on your plate. This may mean removing the buns from a chicken sandwich or swapping out fries for an extra serving of seasonal vegetables.

Problem: That 3:00 slump.

Solution: Prepare for the inevitable.
It happens every single day, so why do we repeatedly torture ourselves with blood sugar crashes followed by poor vending machine decisions? Packing a protein-rich afternoon snack will keep your tummy happy, your focus off the clock and get you through to dinner time without a starving metabolism. The downfall of pretzels, crackers, baked chips and granola bars is that they contain very little nutritional value and zero amounts of protein. In fact, it’s difficult to find a protein-rich snack from a vending machine or office snack bar. Always keep nuts or protein bars at work or pack some extra cheese, meat, cottage cheese, low sugar Greek yogurt, eggs or a protein shake in your lunch bag. One ounce of peanuts, 2 ounces of turkey and 1 ounce of cheese together provides almost 30 grams of protein!

 

 

Put Your Best Fork Forward

National Nutrition Month is an educational campaign celebrated each year in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This year’s theme “Put Your Best Fork Forward”, serves as a reminder that small changes toward a healthier lifestyle can be made with each bite!

Mealtimes are the foundation of your health and nutrition and it’s important to incorporate a variety of foods. Try including…

Mealtimes are the foundation of your health and nutrition and it’s important to incorporate a variety of foods. Try including…

  • a vegetable at every meal, focusing on dark green vegetables like leafy greens or broccoli and orange vegetables like carrots.
  • a lean protein source with each meal, such as chicken and turkey.
  • fish, like salmon or tuna twice weekly to increase healthy fat sources.
  • plant-based protein sources such as beans and lentils throughout your week.
  • a variety of grains at each meal, such as oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa.

Don’t forget adequate hydration from water is essential to living a healthy lifestyle! Aim for at least 40 ounces of plain water daily!

 

For more information on National Nutrition Month, check out http://www.eatright.org/resources/national-nutrition-month

Key Messages of this year’s theme:

  • Create an eating style that includes a variety of healthful foods.
  • Cook more at home and experiment with healthier ingredients.
  • How much we eat is as important as what we eat.
  • Find activities that you enjoy and be physically active most days.
  • Manage or lower your weight by meeting with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. RDNs can provide personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle and health-related needs.

How to Make a Healthy Seasonal Transition

Spring is around the corner, but for now the days still seem short and it’s important to take note of how this affects your health and state of mind. Here are some tips I recommend to my patients to combat the dreariness of the winter season.

Here are some tips I recommend to my patients to combat the dreariness of the winter season.

  1. Transition physical activity from season to season, don’t abandon it!

  • Use inside equipment or a DVD; I like to recommend Leslie Sansone walking DVDs.
  • Find a friend or social component to physical activity.
  • Move more throughout your day – 10% (6 minutes/hour).
  • Invest in clothes to make it comfortable.
  1. Develop a repertoire of healthy, ‘hearty’ foods for the season.

  • Soups, stews, stir fries and roasted vegetables (check out my blog from earlier on roasted vegetables)
  • Choose heavier food, literally water based, not calorie dense food.
  • Choose/mix heartier, starchy vegetables (Yes, I said starchy vegetables) with lower calorie ones to satisfy your need for carbs.
  • If this is not your habit, practice it weekly.
  1. Get adequate rest and sleep.

  • Try to go to bed about the same time every evening.
  1. Stay hydrated.

  • Carry a water bottle with you to sip on throughout the day.
  • You don’t need to get all your water from drinks; you can also get it from water-rich foods.
  • Opt for steamed dishes, soups and herbal teas to keep you warm, because often cooler temps will decrease your natural tendency to drink.
  1. Find the Light.

  • Develop an awareness of how you may be affected by shorter, darker days.
  • Keeping your home or work place well lit with natural, window light and artificial light can help some people feel more energy.
  • Some invest in light therapy.
  1. Begin a conscious management of your food environment.

  • Try eating 6 times per day: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack
  • Plate the food at the stove or in the kitchen
  • Use the #plategoals (1/4 protein, ¼ carbohydrate, ½ non-starchy vegetables) to plate your food
  • Eat a minimum of 5 servings of vegetables/fruits per day
  • Say not your ‘trigger foods’ (you know what they are!!)
  • Stop clipping coupons – they are mostly for highly refined snack products or high fat restaurant meals

Don’t let these short days defeat your goals and decrease energy levels; try to remind yourself daily what you are trying to accomplish. Remember, spring is just around the corner!  

Roasting Vegetables 101

Oh, the smell of winter is in the air. The colder temperatures, snow, ice, winter coats, skiing, sledding and root vegetables. Can you tell this is an enjoyable time for me?

No, actually it isn’t. I don’t like cold, I don’t like skiing, and I’m not a big fan of snow. Yeah, yeah I know, I live in Illinois, but I’m still not use to it! However, I do love root vegetables because you can roast these vegetables and they are fabulous to eat. They are like a guilty pleasure, almost too good to be good for you! Plus, it is super, super easy to do.

Click here to print off Roasting Vegetables 101

Optional: Stir/turn the vegetables 1 to 2 times during the baking process.

When roasting vegetables, go easy on the oil, which is high in calories and fat. You may also consider substituting oil for balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, tamari, lemon, lime juice, etc.

When done roasting, serve them as a side dish, pile them on a sandwich, inside a panini, or puree them to make soup. Happy Eating!!

Do You Really Need to Wash Your Vegetables?

Do you really need to wash your vegetables

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has recently released the “Dirty Dozen” list of vegetables and fruits for 2016. The EWG analyzes test results of thousands of samples of vegetables and fruits taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine the amount of pesticide residue.

The list looks a little different this year as strawberries have moved into first place, meaning the majority of samples were found to have pesticide residue.  The EWG found that 98% of the non-organic strawberry samples had pesticide residue. Findings like this can be controversial, and other government agencies refute that the pesticides identified are harmful. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responded by saying that the pesticide levels found are not harmful for consumption and they perform dietary assessments to establish tolerance and safety of pesticides. It is important to note that even organic products may have some pesticide residue.

We know a higher consumption of vegetables and fruits promote better health. Organic is usually more expensive, which leads many to purchase non-organic fresh, canned, and frozen vegetables and fruits. Regardless of buying organic or non-organic, both should be washed thoroughly. Incorporating vegetables and fruits on a daily basis promotes better health and a longer life, so we just need to be as knowledgeable as possible about where they are coming from, how to wash them, and how to prepare them safely.

2016 “Dirty Dozen”

  1. Strawberries
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Peaches
  5. Celery
  6. Grapes
  7. Cherries
  8. Spinach
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Sweet bell peppers
  11. Cherry tomatoes
  12. Cucumbers

Dirty Dozen

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