There is no need for lunches (packed or otherwise) to be boring. With a little imagination and variety you’ll see your lunch with a fresh pair of eyes! As well as making sure there is plenty of variety, a balance of nutrients is also important. About one third of your daily energy intake should be consumed at the midday meal.
To make sure this meal is balanced, try to include something from each of the following food groups:
• Starchy carbohydrates
• Fruit and vegetables
Add a drink and you’re good to go with a healthy balanced lunch!
The basis of our lunch is generally a form of starchy carbohydrate:
These foods break down into glucose to give us energy. Our age, weight and activity levels will all determine how big a portion we should eat. Talk to your dietitian or diabetes care team if you are unsure how much is right for you. Consider the following healthy options.
Variety of bread
Use a variety of bread types, these are all readily available:
• Pitta bread
• Small roll
• Sliced pan
• Wholemeal soda bread.
These freeze well, so keep a few types to hand. For added nutritional value such as fibre and B-vitamins, choose a who¬legrain type more often.
Crackers or oat cakes are a handy alternative to bread and often come in individual portion packs so fit well in a lunch box, or can be kept at the office.
Cook a little extra potato, pasta, rice or cous cous the evening before and make a quick easy meal from it by adding:
• Some salad or cooked vegetables
• Tinned fish
• Pulses like chickpeas or lentils
• Cold meat.
Pick a protein
Eggs, nuts, lean meat, poultry, fish, beans and pulses are all sources of protein, which is needed for growth and repair in the body.
Try cooked chicken (skin removed) or cold lean meat paired with salad vegeta¬bles: avocado, tomato and grated carrot.
Choose oily fish twice a week: salmon, tinned sardines, mackerel and trout are all great sources of oily fish. They con¬tain omega 3 fatty acids which help keep your heart healthy.
For pulses, add houmous, chick peas or cannellini beans to a tossed salad; or try baked beans or lentil soup for a warming option.
Follow with fruit and vegetables
You should eat five servings a day of fruit and vegetables. Fruits and vegeta¬bles are full of vitamins, minerals and fibre. With diabetes, it is necessary to be mindful of portion size when it comes to fruit. Because fruit contains natural sugars, eating too much at one sitting can lead to raised blood glucose levels. A portion is:
• A small piece of fruit
• A small bowl of salad
• A small bowl of vegetable soup
• Four dessert spoons of cooked vegetables.
Include some fruit or vegetables at each meal, or have as a snack between meals. Here are some more ideas to take in fruits and vegetables at lunchtime.
Lunchtime fruit and veg
Make up a tub of salad: green leaves, cherry tomatoes, grated carrot, and cucumber make a lovely side salad; or could be included in a sandwich
Vegetable crudités – carrot or celery sticks or chunky slices of pepper go well with:
• Houmous – chick-pea based dip
• Guacamole – avocado dip
• Try a low-fat cream cheese
Finish off your meal with:
• A medium sized apple or pear or
• A small handful of berries or
• Two small fruit such as kiwi or mandarins.
Don’t forget the dairy
We should all have three servings of dairy a day. Children aged 9-18 years need five servings every day. To keep your bones and teeth healthy and strong, include one of these dairy options with your lunch plan every day:
• Small pot yoghurt or fromage frais – go for ones labelled ‘natural’, ‘diet’ or ‘0%’
• Glass of low-fat milk
• Small piece of cheese (matchbox sized)
• Two triangles of spreadable cheese.
Treats and bakes
As for the treat foods and baked goods – try not to have lunchtime treats every day. Foods such as biscuits, buns and cakes (yes, even the plain varieties) are generally high in both fat and sugar and take quite a bit of activity to burn them off.
Many schools have healthy eating policies in place and encourage children and their parents not to bring sweets, chocolate and fizzy drinks for break or lunch. If you are including a treat at lunchtime, how about choosing one of these healthier options:
• Small plain bun or queen cake
• Mini fruit muffin
• Small piece of fruit loaf
• One packet baked crisps
• One packet plain popcorn
• One biscuit
• One sugar free jelly pot
• One fun sized bar (of chocolate).
Don’t forget to drink fluids!
To stay well hydrated during the day we need to take in a total of six-eight glasses of water and other fluids a day. Many people find when the weather is warm or when they are more active they will naturally want to drink more. But as we get older our sense of thirst often lessens. So try and get into the habit of drinking regularly during the day, both after and between meals to prevent dehydration. If you are out and about, bring a bottle of water with you and sip it over the day. Here are some more sug¬gestions to help boost your fluid intake:
• Sparkling water
• Plain low-fat milk
• 100ml glass of fruit juice (ideally have this with a meal)
• Low calorie or no added sugar squash and cordial
• ‘Sugar-free’ flavoured waters or diet fizzy drinks
• Tea and herbal teas.
When bringing a packed lunch to work, school or on a day out, don’t forget these food safety tips.
• Keep things cool as possible – use an insulated box or bag with an ice pack, or a frozen carton of fruit juice, or frozen yoghurt tube to help keep the temperature down.
• Pack things that don’t need to be kept cold separately.
• Try to store packed lunches away from direct sunlight and heat, for example, a radiator.
• Throw away anything perishable that is left over at the end of the day.
• Wash reusable water bottles, their lids and plastic containers such as tubs or lunch boxes, well with warm soapy water every day.
• Always remember to wash hands before eating and preparing food, and remind your child to wash theirs before eating too.
Do trial runs at home
If your child is bringing a packed lunch to school or pre-school, have a few trial runs at home. Practise using new lunch¬boxes and flasks before they ever reach the classroom. Tupperware lids and thermos flask tops can be a challenge to open at the best of times.
Similarly, new foods can take a few goes before they are accepted. So at tea time or over the weekends why not try out some new lunchbox meals and snacks. Involve your child in choosing and preparing their lunch – a little fun and excitement over using the lunch¬box and choosing what goes into it may lessen the chance of it coming home again with contents untouched!
For more information on healthy eating, portion sizes, recipe ideas and food safety go to our recipe section.
Pauline Dunne is Senior Dietitian and Regional Development Officer, Diabetes Ireland (Western Area)