Who’s in favor of brown bagging it? As a nutritionist, I am. There are upsides to bringing food from home, whether you’re planning a school lunch for a child living with diabetes or a work meal for an adult. It’s easier to assure that a lunch packed at home is more healthful, because you control both the food and portion size. As a result, carb and calorie counts may be consistent day in, day out. You can pack foods that are well liked, which can make a difference, especially with children.
“You’ve got to know your kid. A finicky eater could spell trouble in the cafeteria line because one day their favorites are on the menu, the next, they’ll reject what’s served,” says Leighann Calentine, mom of a third-grader living with type 1 diabetes and author of Kids First, Diabetes Second and the D-Mom Blog. Parents of picky eaters might do best packing lunch five days a week, whereas children who relish a wide variety of foods and the ritual of the cafeteria lunch line may choose to buy some days and bring lunch on others.
No matter how many days you may pack lunches, try these these practical tips:
Engage and educate. “If a child chooses a food or, better yet, helps to prepare it, they’re more likely to eat it,” says Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, President of Nutrition for the Future and a longtime champion of nutrition for children. Engage your child in the decisions about what to pack in their lunch box and offer up healthy options they like. Educate them about more healthful eating by using a packing checklist: a vegetable, fruit, whole grain, and lean meat or other protein. “Remind kids to buy fat-free milk at school,” says Connie Evers, MS, RD, a pediatric dietitian and author of How to Teach Nutrition to Kids.
Keep it simple and similar. In my experience, children, especially fussy eaters, are often content with similar foods day after day, or they may go from one favorite food to another. This may help to keep choices and discussions about what’s for lunch simple. As long as you know the lunch is healthful, go with your child’s choice. Don’t mess with success! Their tastes may change over time, and you may spot a new food to integrate into their rotation, or they may want certain foods in warm weather and others in cooler weather. Variety is not necessarily the spice of life for kids – or for adults, either. While some may like variety, others may like to keep things simple.
A sandwich is not always a must. Not everyone loves sandwiches, so don’t feel that you need to push them. Consider creating a mix of items that add up to a more healthful lunch without bread, by packing a selection of homemade peanut butter crackers, cubes of lean meat or cheese, string cheese, ready to eat soup, yogurt, cottage cheese, popcorn, pretzels, or high-fiber cold cereal. Don’t forget veggies such as cherry tomatoes or carrots, and fruits such as grapes, berries, or sliced apples.
Plan and purchase. Minimize trips to the supermarket by plotting out lunches before you shop for the week. Buy enough of the foods you will need to last a week or so. Stock up in bulk on the non-perishable items to save time and dollars.
Set up a lunch assembly line. “We’ve set up a lunch station in our kitchen. It’s got the items we need each day – the lunch boxes (which are washed each day and returned to the station), napkins, utensils, containers, fruit cups, and snacks portioned out in correct servings,” says Calentine. “I engage the kids with age-appropriate jobs and we get much of it done the night before.”
Keep communication channels open. Work with your school health personnel to communicate the critical details about your child’s lunch. Better yet, ask that all leftovers remain in the lunch box and are sent home for your inspection.
At the end of the day, what’s most important, especially for those living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, is that people eat a more healthful lunch, with foods they’ll eat and enjoy, whether it’s in the bag or on the tray.
Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE*, is the author of several best-selling books published by the American Diabetes Association, including Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy and Guide to Healthy Restaurant Eating. She’s a frequent contributor to Diabetic Living magazine. Warshaw is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
Sanofi US supports MyCareConnect, LLC, through a service agreement.
© 2012 The DX: The Diabetes Experience