Both kids and adults are drawn to convenient cafeteria options at school and work. And it’s understandable, as our days are filled with obligations and activities. Staying away from the lunchroom buffet is one step in the right direction. There are healthy options to be found there, but there are also a lot of unhealthy temptations. Avoid the lunch line and the internal battle by packing food to bring along.
Aside from a lack of time, it can be challenging to pack a healthy lunch because there’s more going on than hunger and cravings; there are habitual patterns to consider as well. Swapping out one food or meal for something healthier is typically more successful when behavioral factors are considered.
Three Tips for Lunch Sack Success
Healthy habits start at home, so build a strong foundation. Knowing that your other family members are all on the same page strengthens the collective effort. Social support is a major factor when it comes to implementing healthy behaviors. It’s why group fitness classes are so popular. Pack lunches with the whole family for the whole family.
Pick a few different healthy foods to replace the less nutritious ones (examples are below). Everybody likes to feel in control. Keep it simple with two choices. Set guidelines and boundaries, and then let everyone make the choice that’s most appealing to them.
Brainstorm meal ideas together on a Friday or Saturday for the week to come. Ask kids for their input. Find out what they like and why. It’ll keep them more connected to the mission and teach them about healthful eating. Make a game out of it by including various colors with fruits and vegetables. Include food from each group—grains, dairy, fruits, vegetables and protein. Then, go shopping together. Make it a routine, a ritual, a habit. Make it a priority.
Gradual change is more sustainable
To increase the chances of healthy habits sticking around, don’t revamp lunchtime all at once. Replace one lunch bag item at a time, week by week, and re-evaluate periodically. Slow, consistent change is more successful than abrupt menu alterations. Set a focus for each week and switch up the “healthy” part of the lunch. One week it can be the main item, another the snack and the week after, the beverage.
Before you switch out one food for another, consider the cravings. Talk about why certain foods are so enjoyable. Creamy, crunchy, salty, sweet and savory are common sensations that draw people to various foods. Finding an alternative that fits into the same sensation category can help satisfy the desire for that food. And then try these seven swaps!
1. Try almonds, carrots or celery instead of chips or pretzels. There is still a crunch, but the nutrients are higher in the healthy stuff.
2. Reach for flavored water instead of soda. Add a splash of fruit juice, lime, lemon, fresh fruit or mint.
3. Choose hummus or avocado instead of mayo on a sandwich. Get the creamy and moist texture with higher quality foods.
4. Munch on a sweet potato with cinnamon instead of cake. Get the sugar fix without the empty calories.
5. Enjoy some plain yogurt swirled with vanilla and honey instead of artificially flavored yogurt or ice cream.
6. Snack on grapes, apples, peaches, dried mango or other fruit instead of candy to satisfy the sweet tooth.
7. Indulge in a piece of dark chocolate or a nuts-only bar instead of a candy bar.
Health reasons aside, these food swaps can give you more energy and increase your focus. When you begin incorporating these swaps into your routine, celebrate together! Find a common treat for the family to enjoy each week or month. New lunch bags, a healthy cooking class or a fun physical activity will promote family fitness beyond lunchtime.