School’s back, but what’s in your lunch bag?

It’s that time of year again. Even though the kids are heading back to the classroom, parents can also make school year resolutions. Some will be pretty benign, such as vowing to make kids wear shoes with laces rather than Velcro. Others can be more complex, like our children’s academic performance or choice of friends. And while not as obvious, another difficult topic for parents is meals – what to send to school.

This school year, commit to making healthy choices at mealtimes. Not only will you be a role model for proper eating habits for your children, but you’ll also improve your own health while doing so. You can start by following these two simple rules:

15_00612_EN03Performance ability dramatically drops when we skip a meal. I’ve often said that skipping breakfast not only makes your brain “slow”, but also causes weight gain. When you starve yourself two hormones kick in:  your stress response hormone, cortisol, and your sugar storing hormone, insulin.15_00612_EN02As you wake up in the morning, cortisol is secreted to get your blood pressure up and heart rate going. So, if you walk out of your house without breakfast, two things happen:

  • Your body secretes more cortisol as a stress response to being starved
  • Your blood sugar levels decrease, slowing down your brain function

The cortisol surge causes a rise in the secretion of insulin hormone, making you crave carbohydrates – fast food fuel. A high intake of carbohydrates can lead to obesity because insulin stores excess sugars as fat. Convinced yet?

15_00612_EN04Many agree that lunch should be your biggest meal. The simple reason is that it will fuel your body and mind to function until late into the evening. Make sure you balance the amount of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Here are some general guidelines to follow:15_00612_EN06Limit your carbohydrate intake to no more than 35 – 40 per cent at each meal; this type of food fuel will cause you to get sleepy an hour or two after ingestion.15_00612_EN07Increase the intake of proteins to 40 per cent because they give you energy without the drowsiness.15_00612_EN08Fats should be limited to 20 per cent, especially if you are not active during the day.

  • Sandwich: make it with dense bread such as rye or multi-grain (not white bread) and a lean protein such as turkey slices, ham or egg. Don’t forget to add some lettuce and tomatoes to your sandwich to help you reach your daily intake of vegetables. When it comes to condiments, choose to spread avocado or hummus on your bread instead of less healthy alternatives like mayonnaise or ranch dressing.
  • Salad: make it with a generous amount of mixed greens and a rainbow of coloured vegetables (peppers, tomatoes, red cabbage, cucumbers) – plus one serving of a lean protein. You can add a classic protein such as fish, chicken, or turkey; or, you can jazz things up a bit by adding other protein-laden options like chickpeas, almonds or quinoa.
  • Drink: Water is your best option because it has no sugar. Avoid juices and definitely don’t drink pop!

What’s good for you is good for your kids. Start their year (and yours!) with a healthy breakfast and lunch. One of my favourite apps for school year lunch ideas is LaLa Lunchbox – it’s educational, interactive and personalized to your pantry.