You know that old saying, “You are what you eat,” I used to think that meant that if I ate fish, I would turn into a fish. This was partly appealing to me because, even back before little girls had shirts that say "I'm Really A Mermaid" or the awesome mermaid tail blankets, I really wanted to be one. I also didn't think anyone who said that I was what I ate had any idea what they were talking about. After all, I grew up in the 1980s and I am definitely not SPAM.
While I was teaching my students a couple of weeks ago, I happened to end up in a conversation with one of my boys about why he always has a stomach ache and is tired. He mentioned to me that he was trying to eat healthier and he knows that I am a health coach so I was thrilled with he started asking me questions about what was healthy that he should be eating and telling me what he actually eats.
I'll admit that I often take for granted that people know what is good for their bodies. What's crazy is that I base this idea on an outdated food pyramid, advertising, and the assumption that people just know whatever it is that I'm thinking. (What?) After all, if it says "Natural", "Contains whole grains," or "No High Fructose Corn Syrup" it must be healthy and if I know that's not true, then surely everyone else does too. Not to mention that you can easily buy organic pop tarts and cookies in the healthy section at Kroger. If I stop and consider the average person and how much time they have spend researching diets and food, it quickly becomes clear that people can not read my mind, are confused about what to buy, and choose foods that are well placed on the shelf and well advertised on the television.
When trying to help my student with his energy level and always feeling like he's about two seconds from throwing up, it's extra complicated. Food is double trouble for my students because many of them come from families that really struggle financially so I am always very gentle when approaching nutrition with them. I want them to be able to feel successful and capable, even on a tight budget. I want them to feel empowered to make healthy choices and make big changes wherever they can in their lives. By the end of the conversation, I was excited to hear how into eating better he seemed to be, but at the same time deflated at the thought of knowing that sometimes, you eat what you can afford.
It burns my butt that a bag of apples costs so much more than a box of macaroni and cheese, or that milk is three times as expensive as a 2 liter of soda. Talk about having the deck stacked against you! Nearly ten years ago now, Jamie Oliver started a Food Revolution that aimed to change the way kids eat through cooking, nutrition education, and experiencing new foods and instantly fell in love with the whole concept of nutrition way back then. It changed so much of my perspective on what my kids and my students eat and how foods really do effect their physical and mental health. No disrespect to the school lunch ladies here because they serve what the government funds and what is deemed healthy but give me a break.... Have you seen what counts as 'healthy'? If I had noodles, mashed potatoes, corn and a roll for lunch, I'd need a nap too! And no, applesauce doesn't make up for it and a corn dog is not a healthy protein option. Sorry USDA.
So, what do you do? How do you keep your energy up and your weight down when there is so much misinformation out there. How do you do it on a tight budget? The easy answer is to pack lunches but that leads to the next problem, what do you pack that's simple AND healthy? I've heard from my friends that their kids are picky or that they don't have time so let's get this all solved right now, shall we? Let's take back lunch and move forward from there. It's not as difficult as you think.
1. Read. The. Labels. This is assuming that you are using packaged foods. (Actually, step one is to not even need to read a label because there is one or maybe two ingredients avoiding processed foods all together but this isn't always possible and I'll address this in a bit.)
The first three ingredients are the most important and what make up most of what you are eating. If you have more than five ingredients on the package, put it back on the grocery store shelf. Look for peanut butter that contains peanuts and salt. Find lunch meat that doesn't contain nitrates or nitrites, or buy a turkey and cut off some chunks. (If you're really adventurous, you can boil the rest after you have carved it and make your own broth!). A simple rule of thumb is, if you can't pronounce the ingredients, don't eat it! The easiest way to find these foods is to shop the outside of the grocery and DEFINITELY check out your local farmer's market. Not only is the produce there cheaper but it is often organic and certainly local so, DOUBLE BONUS!
If you picture your grocery store, the produce, diary, bread and meat are, nine times out of ten, along the outer perimeter of the building. If you do venture down the aisles, keep your eyes open for nuts, spices, whole grain pastas, simple cereals that aren't in rainbow colors, canned foods that are in cans that don't contain BPA and organic options when possible. Sure the boxed stuff and the canned fruit is cheap, but the sugar, chemicals, and lack of nutrients will leave you craving more, and thus spending more money, than starting with the healthy, whole foods that your body needs. (You can learn all about that in a one hour Ditch the Diet Breakout session with me.)
A word about organic and GMO foods - this feels like a dangerous topic. I live in Indiana where many of my friends are hard-working farmers. They truly supply all of us with the food we are blessed to have and I appreciate every second of the work they do. Now, all that being said and with all due respect, I also highly encourage you all to buy organic on certain products. I know, I know, big name businesses (read:Monsanto) will swear to their graves (and maybe ours) that Glyphosate is totally safe. They lobby Congress and pay big bucks to influence what information is shared. I don't believe them and I have to wonder why the rest of the world doesn't use it if its harmless. You are, of course, free to make your own choices but if you're wanting a good starting point on what foods have the most pesticide/herbicide exposure, you can grab my Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 Sheet with a special bonus on Seafood. (For more seafood information and sushi info, click here.)
2. Buy a thermos. Once you get into the habit of cooking recipes and not opening a box, you're not only going to be eating healthier and using real ingredients but you're probably going to have delicious and healthy leftovers. No more rationing how much a serving size of frozen lasagna is - you make what you make without having to buy another box. If you cook a little extra, you have already made, great lunches. You can pick up a soup thermos for $15 on Amazon and fill it with hot or cold foods to add variety to lunches. I've packed everything for my kids and myself from egg casserole, to soup, to sushi, or really fun kebobs made from mozzarella, grape tomatoes, cucumbers and basil. Another big bonus beside keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold is that you're cutting out a TON of trash and keeping plastic out of the landfills and oceans. Combined with a bento box you'll have plenty of places to keep your strawberries from touching your hard boiled egg. Healthier foods and control over what you put into your body (or your kid's bodies) leads to making it though the day with fewer calories wasted on foods that offer little in the nutrition department, less waste and FAR less money that grabbing whatever you can find at a fast food restaurant! All it takes is a little time management. 5-10 minutes should be more than enough to pack your lunch after you clean up dinner at night. You can do it!
3. Variety and Adventure.
I already mentioned how super simple it is to make dinner and pack the leftovers but what if you are all out of last night's dinner? First, kudos to you for making something that obviously went over well if there isn't any left! Second, no need to freak out. The best news about making lunches that will keep you full, happy and energetic is that you don't have to worry about what you can whip up. Simple, whole foods are easy to mix and match into salads, dips, trail mixes, and kebobs. Think melon balls and berries on skewers with dip made from honey and greek yogurt. What about dark chocolate and almonds? Cheese and crackers with pepperonis and maybe a little pizza sauce for tiny pizzas? The options are endless and if you get stuck, there are so many awesome ideas all over Pinterest to get you going or over the hump.
When selecting what to put into your lunch, be sure to stick with high protein (chicken breast, turkey, eggs), high fiber (veggies, apples and oranges, beans), high fat (nuts, nut butters, avocado) food choices that will keep your belly fully and your brain happy. Avoid too many sugary and starchy foods to fend off that afternoon lull. Starchy foods like bread, potatoes and heavy pasta dishes will sap your energy and leave you needing a pick me up or a siesta as soon as an hour after you eat. Also, be sure to drink a big glass of water to keep dehydration from creeping up on you as well.
I would love to hear what you're packing for yourself and for your kids over on my Facebook page. Join us and show off your awesome food photography skills, recipe ideas, or celebrate your successes with us! If you're brand new to 10,000 Swords, WELCOME! I hope your first stop in inspires you to take one small step today and change up your pantry and lunches.
For 3 Easy Ways to Double Your Energy beyond what you eat for lunch, you can sign up for my FREE ebook. By opting in, you'll also get a weekly newsletter full of tips and treats to keep you stepping toward your goals.
Thank you so much for showing up for yourself and getting curious about what steps you can take everyday to be your best self. I'm thrilled that you came to 10,000 Swords and look forward to you coming back again and again.
P.S. Make sure to add 10000 Swords to your contact list so you don't miss a thing! SPAM is not healthy.