School lunches are an important part of the day; the best digestion occurs in the afternoon when the body is wide awake and the energy centers are at a peak. What goes into the lunch box of any child (or adult, for that matter) is important in maintaining optimal energy levels and meeting the nutritional needs of the body. Without a balanced lunch, the body slows down and starts functioning sub-optimally. Too many carbs, and your child (or you!) will be experiencing the seated “head nod” at the desk within a short period of time. So how can you make lunch an A+ experience? Follow the simple tips below to make the best choices and fuel up for brain power and physical energy.
1. Lean proteins: slice up some lean meats and opt out of sandwich bread. Instead, place proteins such as shaved ham, turkey, chicken, salmon or tuna on lettuce wraps with avocado or hummus. Whip up hardboiled eggs the night before class and peel & chop the next day for a small side salad, adding any of the meats or low-moisture mozzarella cheese for added protein. The salad & meat/egg/cheese combinations not only provide amino acids (the building blocks of muscle) but also an array of phytonutrients in the rainbow of colors in the vegetables.
2. Nut butters and fruit: Nut butter, such as sunbutter, is a great way to get a long-acting fat in the diet; the bonus is that hardly anyone is allergic to a sunflower seed! Pair nutbutter up with celery slices, carrot sticks, and apple slices. I’ve even seen it used with pear slices. The fruit (apples, pears, berries, peaches, plums) are the best choices for low-glycemic (low in sugar) fruits. These break down slowly in the body in order to fuel up the cells with naturally occurring energy from the compounds in the fruits. In this way, the body does not experience the sugar “crash” it would otherwise get from a simple sugar like a cookie or candy bar.
3. Hummus: the spreadable legume of choice, hummus is a long-acting carbohydrate that helps the body regulate blood sugar metabolism. Pair it with nut-based, gluten-free crackers or rice crackers; carrots; celery, green pepper slices, and cucumbers. Spread it on the lean meats and roll the meat up for quick finger foods.
4. Fresh vegetables: You can never go wrong with fresh veggies! Slice up peppers of varying colors, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini & much more; lightly drizzle with an herb-infused olive oil or light vinaigrette. One trick is to put the veggies in their own plastic bag, the oil in a separate container, and then coat the vegetables & allow the oils to infuse for several minutes before enjoying.
These simple tips can boost an already healthy lunch and take it to the head of its class, firing up your student for success both in school and in cellular energy. Balance, moderation, and variety are the keys to healthy nutrition. Take your lunch to the next level now for long-term health and energy!
Contributed by Terri Caunt R.N., B.S.N.