Thursday, August 7, 2014

Teacher Tips: Healthy Lunches

Since I'm celebrating my first week back to school for this year, I thought it would fun to do an entire week of teacher posts that could also relate to lots of other people with "grown up jobs".  After spending the last eight years in the education field, one problem I know that is an issue for many teachers is finding the time and energy to eat healthy.  I'm pretty sure this is a challenge for any adult though.  I've found that just a few easy changes really helped me to get on the right track so that at least one meal a day is healthy.  Here's what worked for me.

1. Pack lunches in an assembly style.  When I first started trying to eat healthier, I was packing one lunch a day.  By Tuesday night, I was totally out of energy and didn't care to spend half an hour making a healthy lunch when I could just throw some prepackaged junk in my bag and be on my way.  Instead, I started prepping all of my lunches on Sunday in an assembly line style.  It took me about an hour one day a week but I was done and all I had to do in the morning was grab one of my lunches and go.  I know not everyone has space in their fridge for a week's worth of meals but even cutting all the veggies in advance will speed up the process the night before or morning of.

2. Choose foods that will last for a week or longer.  Even with the best intentions, I get too lazy and tired to stop by the grocery store after work several times a week to get more produce.  I love bananas but I find that they seem to be too ripe within three or four days so I will only buy a few at a time.  However, things like grapes, carrots, and peppers will last all week until they are eaten.  This means I can cut all the peppers on Sunday and pack them into wraps, salads, and use them when cooking dinner without any hassle.  The easier they are to add to your meals, the more likely you are to eat them.

3. Drink ice water.  Drinking water in general was a struggle for me for years.  Who wants to drink plain water when you can have tea, coffee, or soda?  What I found was that when I had really cold water with ice added, I would drink it.  And the more water I drank, the less I wanted other drinks.  To be honest, I pretty much only drink water, coffee and almond milk these days and I don't even miss other beverages.  But for me the trick was that the water had to be really cold.  I have several tumblers (shown in the photo at the top of the post) which I can add ice to or sometimes I'll just take a plain water bottle, freeze half of the bottle and then I'll have an ice pack for my lunch and a cold drink too.  Whatever it takes to get you drinking more water instead of visiting the vending machine for a soda or stopping at the fast food joint on the way to work to pick up a sweet tea.

4. Variety makes packing lunches easier.  I have a variety of lunch boxes in different sizes and shapes.  This makes it easy to pack different sized containers.  I have some silicone ones like this and this.  I also have the Rubbermaid lunch blox kits (sandwich) (salad).  And that's just the beginning.  We have an entire kitchen cabinet devoted to lunch containers and hubby and I each have our favorites, depending on what we are taking for lunch that day.  I can grab the lunch box that works best with the containers I packed in, toss in an ice pack and I'm good to go.  And one last thing on variety: it's nice to have it in your lunches too.  While sometimes it's just easier for me to pack the same salad and wrap for the entire week, I at least try to change it up with different dressings or a different snack item.

5. Plan to snack.  That's right, bring a snack too but try to make it a fresh fruit or a fresh vegetable or both.  When I eat breakfast at 5:30, I know I'n going to be hungry again by 9 or 10, long before my scheduled lunch time.  When your stomach is growling three hours before lunch, it's tempting to buy a soda and a bag of chips or something else from the vending machine.  It's easy to make this a habit and it's not only far more expensive but it's also way more calories.  Let's do some math. (Calorie amounts were found using CalorieKing)

16 oz bottle of cola: about 240 calories
small bag of plain potato chips: about 160 calories
total calories: about 400 calories

16 oz ice water: 0 calories
8 oz grapes: about 104 calories
8 oz raw carrots: about 50
total calories: 154 calories

So if you ate grapes and carrots with water, you could actually eat more food while taking in about one third of the calories.  I know calories aren't the only thing to look at but it's something I think about when I'm in the produce section of the grocery store.

Those are just a few things that helped me to get on the right track to eating healthier at work.  And if I go out of my way to bring all these healthy lunches, I know I'm going to eat what I bring.  To be honest, fresh fruits and veggies are a lot more appetizing than what is being served in our school cafeteria.  Do you have any tips or tricks on how to eat healthier?  I'd love to get some new ideas!

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