Whether at the workplace or school canteen, lunch can often be the meal we buy on the run or piece together with various packets of heavily processed, pre-made, instant foods.
Yet buying out all the time can be expensive and along with pre-made foods, these are often higher in added sugar, salt, and the not-so-great types of fat. (Despite the rise of healthier take-out or packaged alternatives.)
Now, for most people having a lunch such as this every now and then is fine. But when such foods are eaten every day, we aren’t leaving a lot of room for nutrient-dense whole foods that help us fight illness, boost energy, and feel good. And the added sugar intake begins to pile up.
Here are some ideas on how to make a lunch box one that is low in added sugars and comprised of delicious, nutrient-dense real, whole foods for adults and kids alike!
When designing a lunch box consider including the following:
- a nutritious main meal
- a snack
- fresh vegetables and fruit (incorporated into the main meal and snack)
Here are a few suggestions for some lunch box inspo!
For the main event, we want food that will fuel us through the remainder of the day. Yet often we tuck into foods that make us sleepy!
What you want for your lunch is a source of good quality protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, which can look like:
- Sustainably sourced tuna or sardines, avocado and a big leafy green salad with a squeeze of lemon juice and drizzle of olive oil
- Lentil ‘meatballs’ with a herbed plain yoghurt dipping sauce
- Egg muffins or frittata with leftover roast veggies, topped with a handful of fresh leafy greens
- Quinoa and vegetable salad
- Soup, that includes a load of different veggies, made at home in advance for lunches the week ahead, carried in a jar (served cold or to be re-heated) or thermos. If you like and can tolerate bread, have with it a slice of high-quality whole-grain, sourdough or dark rye
- A salad in a jar that can be assembled quickly with what you have in the kitchen
If you are consistently low on time, make double quantities of dinner and bring leftovers the next day. Too easy!
Depending on how active you or your kids are, consider packing one or two additional snacks that include some source of protein and healthy fats, such as:
- Raw veggies such as carrot or cucumber sticks with hummus and/or pieces of cheese
- Roasted and spiced chickpeas or pumpkin seeds (a.k.a. pepitas)
- An apple, pear, carrot, or stalk of celery cut up to dip into 1-2 tablespoons of 100% unsweetened peanut or other nut butter or cottage cheese
- Homemade nut/seed and dried fruit snack balls or bars (check out our nutty banana bread balls)
- A homemade, no added sugar whole food cookie, muffin or piece of slice
- Seed, nut and dried fruit trail mix that could include coconut chips, almonds, cashews, walnut, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and a few sultanas, dried apple, and apricot.
- A hard-boiled egg
- Plain yoghurt with fruit and seeds mixed through. Think berries or passionfruit pulp with sunflower, chia or hemp seeds
A serve of whole fruit is always a super simple and tasty snack, such as an apple, a banana, or a handful of berries or cherry tomatoes.
Drink it up
Always pack a water bottle. It is important to stay hydrated throughout a day for many reasons, one being to maintain focus at your place of work or learning.
When we are dehydrated, we feel foggy and tired. Yet instead of recognising this was your body’s cry for old fashioned H2O, we turn to beverages loaded with free sugar such as soft drinks, juices, or flavoured milk for an energy boost. These liquid sugars may initially seem appealing, but consuming them results in a sugar high followed by a sugar crash. This can dramatically affect energy, mood, and cognition. Not ideal.
If you want to jazz up the water, experiment with flavours from whole food, using berries, slices of lemon, lime, apple, ginger, or cucumber, and fresh herbs like basil or mint and letting them infuse into the water. There are heaps of combos to try – let your imagination run wild!
Make lunch real
While it may take some planning initially, in a short while you will get into the swing of buying foods and undertaking a little prep that will build your low-sugar lunch box full of real, whole food. And nutritious, tasty whole foods needn’t be expensive.
For recipe inspiration, check out our website, and The Office Luncheon e-book which is packed full of delicious, real food recipes for kidlets and adults alike and designed to be made in a jiffy and travel-ready.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)