Top Tips for the Perfect Lunch Box
Whether at work or school, lunch is a much needed break in the middle of a busy day. To ensure you look forward to it, and children eat what they take with them to school, it helps if it is appealing and even a little bit exciting. So ditch the jam sandwiches and take Merchant Gourmet’s advice on how to make your child’s lunchbox top of the class or yours the envy of the office.
Whatever your age, pulses and grains should form part of everyone’s daily diets and Merchant Gourmet’s ready prepared packs are an original and healthy short cut to a delicious lunch. Pulses (beans and lentils) and grains provide a source of plant based protein, fibre, are low in fat and beans and lentils count as one of your ‘5 a day’
Make it appealing– kids like foods that are familiar, easy and fun to eat. Variety will stop you and them getting bored and is an important part of a balanced diet
When planning a healthy packed lunch, it is important to bear in mind the concept of a balanced diet. The Eatwell Guide is a useful example for achieving the right combination of nutrients, by selecting items from each of the main food groups to create your own balanced lunchbox:
Starchy carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates – choose wholegrain or higher fibre versions e.g. brown rice, quinoa
Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins – Eat more beans and pulses. Two portions of sustainably sourced fish per week one of which is oily. Eat less red and processed meat such as salami.
Fruit and vegetables – eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
Dairy and alternatives– choose lower fat and lower sugar options. Make sure alternatives are unsweetened and fortified with calcium.
Oils and spreads – choose unsaturated oils such as olive oil or rapeseed oil and use in small amounts.
Hydration – 6-8 drinks per day of water, lower fat milk, sugar-free drinks including unsweetened tea and coffee (adults).
Top lunchbox items
- Fruit (fresh, dried, tinned in juice all count towards ‘5 a day’)
- Vegetables e.g. carrot/clelery/peppers/cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber in sandwiches
- Salad e.g. mixed leaves,
- Dips e.g.hummus. low fat cream cheese, lentil pate, mashed avocado
- Handful unsalted nuts (NB check your school/workplace policy on nuts)
- Pulse (beans and lentils) in salads as an alternative to
- Wholegrains as a base of a meal e.g. brown rice, quinoa, mixed grains
- Tooth friendly drink such as water or milk
- Yoghurt or fromage frais, unsweetened
Tips for a healthier lunchbox
- Prepare it the night before so you’re not in a rush and can plan and assemble healthier choices
- Plan your shopping list adding items like ready-cooked lentil pouches
- Make sure the presentation of the food is appealing such as bite sized and will ‘survive’ until lunchtime
- Try and include all the food groups in ‘The Eatwell Guide e.g. brown rice, sweetcorn and chicken salad (starchy carbohydrate, protein, vegetables), fruit (fruit and vegetables), yoghurt (dairy)
- Heed food safety and hygiene by keeping contents at the right temperature e.g. by using a cool pack, in the fridge at work
- Quiz you child and the school about where and when they eat and what is available e.g. if no access to cutlery better to put in a yoghurt that does not require a spoon
- Choose lower fat protein such as beans and lentils, lean meats like turkey, fish
- Choose wholemeal or high fibre varieties e.g. brown rice
- Include some fruit and vegetables or salad every day
- Don’t get in a lunch rut! How about a quinoa salad? Kiwi fruit? Plain popcorn? Wholegrain pitta rather than sliced bread? Chopped up veg and low fat cream cheese dip? Small pot of custard and banana
- Mayo is not an essential sandwich ingredient – go easy or leave it out or use an alternative such as lemon juice with tuna
- When choosing yoghurts avoid those with added sugar – look for fruit in the ingredients list
- Listen to you children (and other people’s!) – then you can try and find out how much trading and wastage is happening
- A small piece of cheese eaten at the end of lunch can help keep teeth healthy
- Take time to eat away from your desk and other distractions.
- Have good posture when you eat to aid digestions, chew thoroughly
- If the weather is good, try and walk at lunch time and even eat your lunch outside
By Sian Porter, Merchant Gourmet nutritionist, registered dietitian