Healthy Back To School Lunches
For many of us September marks the beginning of a new year. School or no school, it’s about a fresh start and the opportunity to establish beneficial routines and get yourself in gear! Whether it’s a lack of energy, a desire to lose weight or a tight budget that motivates you, preparing your own lunch is a fantastic habit to get into. For kid friendly lunch and snack ideas click here.
Building a “better” lunch means preparing nutrient-dense meals that will…
- Boost (and stabilize) mood and energy
- Build a strong immune system
- Be easily digested (no bloating, gas or heartburn here!)
- Help balance blood sugar
- Support good sleep
- Save you money
- Give you the comfort of knowing what you’re putting in your body!
Here are a few essentials for creating a healthy and satisfying lunch:
Choose whole, fresh foods whenever possible
The less processed and packaged items in your lunch the better. Overly processed foods (white flour products, microwavable meals and sweets) rob your body of energy. Low in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, and often containing excess sugar, salt, trans fats and additives, these foods wreak havoc on your blood sugar and digestive system leaving you ready for an afternoon nap!
Choose complex carbohydrates
Vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains are considered complex carbohydrates. Their fiber content provides slow releasing energy unlike quickly digested refined carbohydrates such as breads and pastas. Instead of putting you in an afternoon coma, these foods will keep you full and focused throughout the workday. Choosing gluten free grains is your best bet for blood sugar balance and weight management. Try quinoa, brown rice or millet.
Don’t forget to pack the protein!
Protein is often the missing element in lunch. Protein is hugely important – for digestion, energy metabolism, fat burning, muscle formation, immune function (to name a few). Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to have a singular (animal) protein source. Vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and grains can also be combined to create complete protein. Great plant sources of protein include quinoa, soy and hemp seeds.
Befriend Helpful Fats
The right kinds of fats can support brain function, hormone balance, blood sugar balance, and cardiovascular health. Ideally you want a variety of fats, including mono and polyunsaturated as well as saturated. Healthy sources include fish, nuts and seeds, avocado, coconut, eggs, chicken, turkey and bison.
Practice Food Combining for Optimal Digestion
They way you combine fats, carbohydrates and proteins will affect your digestion. Efficient digestion means less bloating and feeling sluggish after eating. It is best to combine animal protein with vegetables, and grains with vegetables and legumes. Fats like avocado and dairy can be combined with anything. Fruits should be consumed separately as they are higher in sugar that can ferment if left sitting on top of heavier foods in the stomach.
Greek Inspired Quinoa salad with feta or avocado*
Lentil and vegetable stew with brown rice
Mixed green salad with leftover chicken
Tuna salad in a green wrap (collard green, swiss chard, lettuce)
Miso soup with vegetables
Taco salad (try using ground turkey or bison for a lighter option)
*Greek Inspired Quinoa Salad
1 c quinoa, rinsed
2 c water or vegetable broth
2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 c lemon juice
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 c Kalamata olives
1/4 c diced red onions
1 pt grape tomatoes
1 c diced cucumber
7 oz Goat milk feta or 1/2 an avocado, diced
In a pot bring quinoa and water/broth to a boil. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Turn the off heat, keeping pot covered and on the burner to allow residual heat to cook quinoa for another 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine oil, lemon juice, and oregano. Add quinoa and toss. Add olives, onion, tomatoes, cucumber and feta/avocado and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Tip: soak quinoa over night for quicker cooking time and enhanced digestibility.
By Kate McMurray Certified Holistic Nutritionist