Everything I ever wanted to know about dieting I learned from my kid’s lunchbox. Well, maybe not everything. But since Johnny started bringing his lunch four out of five days a week (spaghetti day is a special treat), I’ve discovered the challenge of finding healthy choices that can be easily and quickly consumed in the mere 25 minutes he has for lunch.
Now, I’m lucky. Johnny has a pretty healthy appetite, and I don’t just mean quantity-wise. He actually enjoys raw carrots, (without ranch dressing, thank you very much). He asks for celery sticks with peanut butter. He drinks no soda—not because I’ve forbidden it, he just doesn’t like the stuff. He makes up “recipes” in his spare time, some of which are inedible, some inspired (Island Oatmeal with Dried Tropical Fruits and Toasted Coconut, for one). But because he has so little time, and needs a good variety of foods not just for nutritional purposes, but because he approaches just about every meal like he’s a judge on Iron Chef, packing his lunch isn’t exactly a no-brainer.
My Sunday trips to the grocery store have become scavenger hunts for healthy foods that will keep cool with a mini ice pack until the second-graders’ 12:45 p.m. lunch period. And in the process of choosing and packing Johnny’s brown-bag, I discovered something: I’d have a much healthier, slimmer lunch if I just took a cue from his. He needs variety; I need variety. He needs foods he can eat with little fuss and muss; ditto. He DOESN’T need lots of sugar or salt or man-size portions. Me neither.
So, as I ready his lunches for the week, chopping and bagging carrots and celery, prepackaging snacks, and stocking the fridge with fruits and sandwich fixin’s, I make a little extra for me! Some of my favorite discoveries:
- Low-sugar stuff. You’ll have to sacrifice flavors like Key Lime Pie and Cinnamon Roll for Strawberry and Strawberry-Banana, but low-sugar yogurts contain 25% less sugar than the grown-up stuff (and no artificial sweeteners). Who cares if Dora and Diego are on the label?
- Kid-size portions. Those low-sugar yogurts come in six-ounce cups–the perfect size for a snack or a side to a half-sandwich. Other (seemingly) just-for-kids foods like string cheese and pudding cups add variety to your midday meal in just the right size.
- Pre-bagged fruit. I buy pre-bagged apples and oranges because each piece of fruit tends to be about half the size of the ones you bag yourself. Who needs an apple as big as a softball?
- Snack bags. I first bought those mini-zip-top bags for Johnny’s favorite Goldfish, grape clusters, and dry cereal. Now I pack a few extras for myself and slip them into my own lunch.
- DIY trail mix. A combo of dried fruit, almonds or peanuts, and dried cereal (like Bran Chex or Oatmeal Squares) or mini pretzels makes for a great afternoon snack, whether you’re 8 or 48.
Now, instead of slapping together some lean turkey slices between two slices of whole wheat bread and calling it a lunch, I have half a sandwich and a couple of snacky sides, just like my pint-size son. And we’re both healthier and happier for it.