Healthy Lunch Tips

HealthySteps caught up with Jennifer Robinson, PhD, to gain some insight into lunchtime eating habits and how we all might improve our mid-day nutrition.

Packing lunch can be a hassle. Why should I bother?

Here are a few reasons:

1. You have more control over what goes into it.
2. You save money.
3. You may eat less for dinner as you aim to save enough leftovers to pack for lunch the next day.

What common lunch mistakes do people make?

Many people think they have to eat a salad in order to be healthy. Unfortunately, many of those “healthy salads” come loaded with salad dressing, cheese, and bacon bits — often making them as unhealthy as bacon-double-cheeseburgers. Conversely, some folks believe they should just eat the vegetables, but it is the protein (lean meats, fish or dairy in moderation) that actually help us to feel fuller longer. If we just eat vegetables, no doubt we will be hungry in just a few hours.

Are there easy ways to make lunches more nutritious?

1. If you have kids pack their lunches at the same time as your own. You wouldn’t think about giving your kids a lunch that wasn’t nutritious, would you?

2. Make sure you include at least one fruit and/or vegetable and then foods from at least two of the other food groups (whole grains, low-fat dairy, or lean protein).

3. Prepare food in batches that you plan to eat for the week. For example, cut up veggie sticks on Sunday so you have enough to last you the whole week. Portion out handfuls of walnuts into baggies or small plastic containers. (Who wants to do that every single day?!)

What can I do about lunch boredom?

Ask yourself, “Could I add any more color to my meal?” If you eat out, are there other items on the menu that you haven’t tried before? Consider trying a new eating venue on campus. Plan a potluck with your co-workers or just arrange a day to swap lunches.

Finally, do you have any suggestions for finicky children?

Research shows that children need to be exposed to a food a number of times before they acquire a taste for that food, so be gentle but persistent. Some options include a “no thank you” portion. Determine an amount of food that would be acceptable for the child to try, and if he/she doesn’t like it, the child can politely say “no thank you.”

Consider giving children some ownership in the meal-making process. Set up some amount of “directed control” by providing the child with options and then letting him/her decide. As children get older, they also become great helpers in the kitchen and the garden.

Interview conducted by Julie Croteau and edited by Lane McKenna Ryan.