Question of the Week

September 26, 2005

September is not even over, and already some are sure to be getting bored with lunch. Trying to find a healthy, quick, easy lunch-on-the-go is no small task. Add to that trying to keep it interesting, and fast food begins to look more appealing as the easy way out. It's no wonder:

"A survey of 2,000 households done by the NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y., found:
* 74% of all bagged lunches for school include a sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly is the most popular.
* 70% include a salty snack such as chips or pretzels.
* 59% include fruit. An apple is most common.
* 59% include a fruit drink.

It's no wonder school lunches fall into a rut; parents are busy and kids are finicky, so they just keep bagging the same old stuff. And yet it's more important than ever that kids eat smart at school, considering an explosion of obesity and the fact that kids can be under a lot of stress. About 20% to 30% of children are either overweight or at risk of becoming so. ... Some children have little time to eat lunch at school, she says, so the meal needs to contain nutrient-rich foods including dairy, whole grains, fruits and vegetables...."
USA Today

An "ideal" meal is going to be different for different people, but some generalizations can apply.

"The ideal school lunch contains sandwiches, rolls or pita bread with a healthy filling, plus fruit. So that lunches don't get boring, vary the bread - wholemeal, multigrain, rye, white, sourdough - or any other bread is suitable. Don't forget to include different types of rolls sometimes, or use pita, tortillas rolled around fillings. You can also use two different types of bread - for example one slice of white, one slice of wholemeal. In winter, a thermos flask of soup is warming. Again, add some bread and a piece of fruit to make it more substantial. Vary fruits, using whatever is in season. Apples, oranges, mandarins, bananas, passionfruit and pears travel well. You can also make fruit more interesting by including a small plastic container of any fruits in season."

The previous suggestions, geared toward those with diabetes, can also be enjoyed by others who are looking for healthy, balanced meal suggestions. Some teens (and adults) will experiment with various diets to find what is right for them. Those who have been vegetarian their entire lives may find creative school lunch making more second nature, but experienced and new vegetarians can still struggle to find something healthy and interesting to have for lunch. Even those who would consider themselves carnivores may find something new (or something they might enjoy with some meat added) from the following list of suggestions aimed at vegans.

"Cold Meals:
... *Baked white or sweet potato 'fries' with cubed veggie burger and ketchup to dip
*Taco salad - nachos with chopped tomatoes, guacamole, shredded vegan cheese and other toppings
*Quesadillas - vegan cheese with refried beans and whatever veggies are handy *Pancake with fruit spread to dip
*French toast cut into bars with maple syrup, jam, or applesauce for dipping
*Cold pasta salad - use leftover vegetables, vary the shapes/colors of pasta and the salad dressings ..."

"Snacks and Sides:
... * Fruit cups
* Dried fruit ...
* Apple slices with peanut butter to dip ...
* Carrots, celery and pita bread triangles with hummus for dipping
* Fresh veggies and hummus
* Celery and carrots with peanut butter to dip
* Broccoli with dip ...
* Baked chips
* Peanut butter spread on whole wheat crackers
* Nuts
* Trail mix
* Granola bars
* Dry cereal ..."

Try something new. Find what works for you. Mix and match to balance a healthy meal. Easier said than done -- especially when not all foods are permissible for some students to bring to school, and others are avoided individually or in peer groups because someone in the school, class, or group of friends has a serious and/ or potentially fatal allergy.

"Education, cooperation, and awareness are keys to keeping children with food allergies safe. ... Food allergy safety must be ever-present in the minds of teachers and other personnel in planning lessons, class activities, field trips, lunchroom procedures, and every aspect of the school day, so that children with food allergies can participate safely with their classmates. ... Children with food allergy must learn to always be vigilant about their food allergy inside and outside of the classroom."

Finding healthy foods that will help your body and mind preform at their best is not always easy. Whatever you decide to pack, it will be better for you if it doesn't make you sick.

""Start with fresh, clean food. Wash your hands, food preparation surfaces and utensils with soap and water before you make the sandwiches or prepare food. *Keep perishable foods cold, under 40° F, or hot, above, 140° F. Temperatures between 40° F and 140° F allow bacteria to grow rapidly, making perishable foods unsafe to eat. Insulated lunch boxes are the best way to keep foods cold until lunch. Pack perishable foods like meat, poultry, egg or dairy products next to a frozen gel pack, a frozen applesauce cup or a frozen juice box. Place perishable food between frozen items. Sandwiches can be frozen before placing in the insulated lunch box. *Freezer gel packs will keep food cold until lunchtime, but generally not for all day storage. To extend the length of time a gel pack will keep food cold, pre-pack everything in an open insulated lunch box minus the gel pack the night before, and refrigerate. In the morning add the frozen gel pack and close tightly. Keep lunches out of direct sunlight and away from radiators or other heat sources. Any perishables left over from lunch should be thrown out."

Questions of the Week:
What are some ideas for healthy, quick, easy lunches that would work for you and your schedule? How would these differ from lunches that might work best for someone else? How might they be similar? What would make it easier for you eat a healthy lunch? What are the benefits of bringing a lunch versus buying one at school or on the go? When might it be better to buy a meal out?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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