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While breakfast is decisively the most important meal of the day, lunch could be considered the make-or-break meal for staying on track with health and wellness goals, while keeping within your food budget.
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Because children have smaller stomachs, they particularly need to refill with high-nutritional octane fuels regularly. And whether at work, school or home with the little ones, we all benefit from improved focus and the sustained mental and physical energy that well-balanced lunches and snacks provide. With obesity rates at an all-time high, it’s worth mentioning that our midday food choices impact the waistline. For best results, orchestrate lunches and mid-day snacks to have about 40% carbohydrates (whole wheat, fruits and vegetables) with 30% protein (lean meat and legumes) and 30% healthy fats like those found in fish, nuts and seeds.
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With high-fat, low-nutrient school lunches and restaurant offerings nearing the $10 mark daily, nutritious packed lunches are enjoying a healthy revival.
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•Instead of buying individual-sized yogourt, save approximately 20% with the purchase a family-sized (750 gram) tub. Spoon ½ cup servings into small, reusable containers. Customize with fresh seasonal fruit, almonds or granola.
•Yogourt is a healthier, cheaper alternative to mayonnaise. Rich in active bacterial cultures that improve digestion and lower in fat, plain yogourt contains only natural ingredients and is free of chemical preservatives. Try it in salmon, tuna, egg or potato salad – and anywhere else you would use mayonnaise.
•A large egg provides 75 calories, and 13 essential nutrients, including 6.3 grams of protein along with choline, riboflavin, copper and iron for under 30¢ each. Peel them at home and seal in a small container so there’s no fuss at lunchtime. Often added to soups and salads, chickpeas are a great finger-food for kids of all ages. A quarter cup of chickpeas provides fibre, iron and approximately 1/8 of daily recommended protein, and costs about 17¢.
•Buy in-season, fresh fruits and vegetables. They’re healthier for you and stretch your food dollar. (Imported costs more and is bad on the eco footprint) And nothing endures the long winter in Canada like the apple. While Macintosh, Red Delicious and Spartan apples are favourites, Cortland, Empire, Granny Smith and Idared help to add variety to lunches. Try them alone, sliced in a salad or as a sauce; one medium apple provides 20% of our daily fibre and 8% of our Vitamin C, and rings in at about 50¢.
•Popcorn isn’t just for the movies! At pennies a serving, this low calorie treat provides fibre, Vitamin B and other nutrients and travels well in a sealable container. Choose air-popped to reduce cost and calorie intake even more. Flavour with parmesan cheese, or experiment with your favourite dried herbs and seasonings. Paprika, anyone?
•Bagels, muffins and cookies have nearly tripled in size in the last few decades, causing us to spill out of our clothes. One trick to down-size portions is to bake it yourself. Set aside a Saturday morning a month to bake your own oatmeal raisin cookies, carrot muffins or banana bread and freeze for future use. You control the fat, sugar and portion – and the kids love to bake!
•Buy in-season berries, peaches and cherries in bulk. Lay fruit flat on a cookie sheet (slice peaches first) and place in freezer. When they’re frozen, pour into re-sealable freezer bags to use for smoothies and desserts all winter.
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•Wrap it Mexican style. Spread refried beans on a whole wheat flatbread. Top with homemade salsa, cheddar or Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded carrots and lettuce. Roll.
•Make this easy tuna salad from your pasta supper left-overs. Toss flaked, canned tuna with cooked whole-wheat or rice pasta and peas. Add chopped peppers, carrots, celery and green onions. Combine with lower fat plain yogourt instead of mayo. For a twist, use canned salmon.
•Cold rice is nice. Add your favourite vegetables (peppers, olives, carrots, black beans, cilantro, celery, onions) to cooked, cooled rice for a satisfying lunch salad. Combine with a homemade dressing made by blending 2 parts oil to one part vinegar or lemon juice. Add fresh or dry herbs to taste.
•Stay with a Mexican theme, and try tortilla chips with a serving of salsa and a 1.5 ounce cube of cheese, about the size of an adult thumb.
•Skip expensive, high sodium, pre-packaged ‘picnic’ lunches;make your own with sliced meat (yesterday’s leftover chicken or beef), a serving of cheese and some rice crackers. Add cut vegetables like carrot, cucumber and peppers, and enjoy a great tasting hummus dip.
•Soup your kids will love! Toss the left over chicken carcass from last night’s supper into a large pot, cover with water and add quartered onion, a clove or two of garlic, and bring to boil. Simmer for an hour. Remove carcass, and all the tiny bones. To the broth, add chopped potato, onion, celery, peas, corn, broccoli, beans – whatever ‘s on hand. Remove chicken from bones; add back into soup, along with a handful of rice or pasta. Perfect in a thermos for a hearty fall lunch.
•Try pita pockets stuffers. Combine half a cup of chopped vegetables, like carrots, celery, cucumbers, and pepper with some shredded cheese. Stir in some mild salsa or plain yogourt. To prevent sogginess, pack filling in a re-sealable container and stuff into pita pocket at lunch.
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•Save money and the environment as you provide healthy lunches!
•Stainless steel water bottle: Practically free, water is the best source of hydration for healthy, growing bodies. Best of all, your child can refill the bottle throughout the day.
•A thermos lends variety and warmth to the midday meal – and helps make use of leftover chilli, soup, stew and spaghetti. New stainless steel varieties eliminate the risk of broken glass associated with older versions.
•Reusable sandwich wraps like the Wrap-N-Mat® also double as a place mat, providing a clean eating surface at lunchtime.
•An ice pack tossed added to lunch bags in the morning helps keep food fresh and safe to eat.
•Use eco-friendly, insulated lunch bags to keep lunches fresh while reducing the use of paper bags.
By Lisa Petty
Originally published in Canadian Health & Lifestyle