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The beginning of the school year means parents packing up school lunches for their children. This reminds me of my childhood when my mother packed my lunchbox with tasty treats and a satisfying lunch to get me through the day. Old habits are hard to break. The “going back to school” time got me thinking about the importance of packing your lunch box, even beyond your school yard years.
Before becoming a registered dietitian, I started to realize the importance of knowing what and how to eat. As a young man, I moved to the United States from Lima, Peru, and I was clueless about how to cook and what to prepare. Living with American roommates, I was introduced to grabbing a handful of cereal for breakfast while running out the door. For lunch and dinner, I scarfed down cold sandwiches or take-out. Sadly, not only was I gaining weight, I was lacking energy and spending too much money on eating out. From that point, I decided to learn how to cook and take control of what I was eating. After a while, my weight went back to normal and I had energy once again. One habit that I reintroduced, which led to my weight reduction and increased energy, was packing my lunch box. Since then, this habit has stuck with me for the past 25 years.
So can packing a lunch box really be beneficial beyond the “back to school time?” I, for one, am a huge supporter of packing and bringing lunchboxes to work. I often advise my clients to do the same. If not every day, a few days will be enough for you to start seeing some changes.
Here are three reasons why packing a lunch box can help:
Take Charge: Packing your lunchbox can help you plan ahead and think about what to purchase at the grocery store, as well as what to cook or prepare for the upcoming week. If you decide to do something as simple as a sandwich, you may plan on purchasing healthier alternatives to meats and cheeses, as well as mixed vegetables for a nice side salad. By doing this, you control the quality of your food. This sets control of not only food choices, but also food portions. Eating the proper portions of different food groups can have a positive impact on your waist.
Boost your health: This brings a whole new meaning to the term “power lunch.” When people go out for lunch, they typically order from restaurants that don’t always paint a clear picture on what they put into their food. Some foods have high amounts of fat and sodium, or lacking in a certain food group. Research shows that eating away from home tends to lower diet quality, due to containing more total fat, saturated fat, sodium, less fiber and reduced fruit and vegetable intake.
By packing your lunch box, you can make sure you have a balanced diet which includes lean meats, powerful carbohydrates like quinoa, sweet potatoes, and beans, as well as different fruits and vegetables. As we know, adding different colored fruits and vegetables can provide antioxidants and phytonutrients that deliver an array of health benefits. Knowing exactly what you are packing, more than likely you will have better control over your weight, cholesterol, as well as glucose levels.
Save money: Let’s face it, the cost of eating out can add up quickly. In San Francisco at a sit down restaurant, you can easily spend $15 to $25 per meal, per person, not including a beverage. Even at the food courts in the mall, a quick meal runs $10 to $18. After five days of eating out, you quickly notice a difference not only in your wallet, but also your gut. Bringing food from home can help you save money, which you can ultimately use to buy that special pair of shoes you have been eyeing.
Here are a few simple tips to help you get started:
Look for a comfortable lunchbox: You might want the superhero lunch box, but more than likely, you may not buy it. Look for a box that is large enough to fit your food, but also looks sleek. Be comfortable.
Start off slow: Think of an achievable number of days you can do this during the week. For some, it may be 1 day out of the week. For others, it may be 2-3. Whatever you decide, make it consistent from week to week, and then increase the number of days.
The right containers: Look for the best containers you can find and have a variety of sizes for the right meal. Try mason jars for smoothies and soups, square containers for sandwiches, and compartmentalized containers to separate your chicken, beans and salsa. Also, don’t forget your snack sized containers to keep everything in the right portion.
What should you pack?: The options are endless! Pick a lunch item. I usually pick leftovers from the night before or something that I cooked early in the week. Also, plan on taking two snacks. One for the morning such as hard boiled eggs and fruit, and another for the afternoon such as dates and almonds or rice crackers.
Weekend prep work: Pick a day in the weekend to do your shopping and cooking. As little as 1-2 hours of cooking, allows you to prepare for the busy work week. The other days of the week are simple assembly days. Pictured above is a sample day of my lunch box. These items include a mixture of different items that I either prepared or bought straight from the store. I have the roasted chicken, salsa, and hard boiled eggs that I cooked the weekend before in preparation for the week. I also cut and made the fruit salad during the same time. The dates, almonds, and rice crackers are store bought, but they are portion controlled.
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program and author of three books, Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes and his newest book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss.