Unpacking How to Pack a Lunch

School lunch box with books and pencils in front of black board, copy space

School lunch box with books and pencils in front of black board, copy space

My mother-in-law recently died at the age of 94. She lived an extraordinary life, free from disease and completely lucid until she died in her sleep. She was always of the mindset “all things in moderation.” This applied to her diet and her lifestyle. This was a woman who lived during a time when her doctor recommended a little whiskey and a cigarette to decrease the stress of pregnancy.

I have been in the healthcare field long enough to see the whole gamut of nutrition alerts: Fats are bad, oh no! Carbs are bad, oh no! Sugar is the culprit, back to fats and round and round.

What I’d like to propose is that when you feed your family and pack lunches for your children, keep this in mind: No single food will result in poor health, if eaten in moderation. Having said that, I would like to give you a very quick and very simplified lesson in nutrition.

Our bodies were designed to require water and nutrition to stay alive and function well. It is an amazing capacitor, which will take most of the things we put in it and try to make the best of it. Sometimes, however, it just cannot keep up with the trash we put in it, resulting in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, cancer and many others.

So to keep those amazing machines called our bodies working as efficiently as possible, try to feed it well.

There are three main sources of energy: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. All are required for the best health. Carbohydrates are the most significant source of energy, and for children, they should make up 50-60 percent of what they use as energy. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. The best place to find simple carbohydrates is in milk and fruits. These two have other benefits such as high protein and fiber content. Therefore, their digestion is slower and the rise in blood sugar more moderate.

But simple carbohydrates are also found in candy and all processed food, and as these foods have little to no nutritional benefit, they go directly into the blood and quickly increase your blood sugar content and insulin (not good).

Complex carbohydrates are starches. The best ones are the ones less processed since they retain vitamins and fiber, such as whole grains and brown rice. Our bodies cannot digest fiber; therefore, they go into our elimination system, keeping our gut clean.

Next is protein. These foods provide the building blocks for all our tissues and organs. Low-fat proteins are best, that is lean meats as opposed to fatty cuts. Other good sources of protein are those not animal, but plant-derived such as peanut butter and beans. To calculate how many grams of protein your child needs, take their weight and divide by two. About 10-15 percent of their nutrition should come from protein.

Last component is the much-maligned fats. We hear it all: good fats, bad fats, terrible fats and worse-than-terrible fats. What’s a mom to do? Know two things. Number one: Children under the age of 2 need more fat for brain and nerve development. After the age of 2, 30 percent of daily nutrition should be in the form of fats. Number two: Avoid all trans fats and hydrogenated oils. Think of them as poison.

So when you go to the grocery, buy those things that require your interaction in fixing (opening the package does not count). Make a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread; don’t get the premade peanut butter bars. Buy lean chicken to broil or grill; don’t get chicken nuggets. Make hummus (very easy and much cheaper) and serve with carrots, cucumbers, peppers, etc. Make dark chocolate pudding and don’t buy the premade. When you need convenience, don’t beat yourself up; just read the label and find the lowest sugar products instead of the lowest fats, and again, avoid all trans fats and hydrogenated oils.

We can’t be perfect moms every time, and as I stated in the beginning, all things in moderation. Just arm yourself with a little knowledge and march on. Have fun with your kids, engage them in fixing meals and teach them what you know so that maybe all this will be easier for them. VT

By Dr. Elsa Haddad, Contributing Writer