For many athletes or parents of athletes, planning for lunch at school is a dreaded part of the back to school routine. While many complain of poor choices offered in the cafeteria, an equally common complaint is lack of time to pack a sack lunch. Yet, "brown bagging it" doesn't have to take up a huge amount of time or energy. Here are some tips, tricks, and sample lunches to fuel the athlete in you or in your family....
When planning for sack lunches, remember the key components that should be included in each lunch. Make your list before you head to the store.
-Carbohydrates: Preferably whole grain/whole wheat
-Protein: Preferably low-fat
-Fruit: Fresh is easiest, but canned is okay too
-Vegetables: Think fresh "ready-to-eat" veggies such as baby carrots or cherry tomatoes
Do your shopping on the weekend, and buy for the entire week. Using the guidelines discussed, here is a list you might use:
Whole wheat bread, tortillas, or pitas
Brown rice or quinoa
Whole grain tortilla chips
Whole grain crackers such as Triscuits, Wheat Thins, or Kashi TLCs
Low sugar jelly/jam or honey
Dried fruit (no sugar added if possible)
Low sodium lunch meats
Canned/packets of tuna
Part-skim mozzarella cheese sticks
Low-fat regular or Greek yogurt: Single serve containers or bulk
Low-fat cottage cheese
2% milk block cheese
Peanut or other nut butter
Any fresh fruit (look for sales) - fruit like peaches, bananas, oranges and apples might be easier than pineapple, mango or melon that requires cleaning and cutting
Any canned fruit in its own juice (not heavy syrup)
Any fresh veggies (look for sales) - baby carrots and cherry tomatoes come ready to eat vs. broccoli, cauliflower or cucumber, which requires cleaning and cutting
Pack/provide splurge foods only 1x/week (but not on game days). These are not effective for fueling or recovery, but certainly can be part of a reasonable intake. Such foods include items like chips, cookies/brownies, fruit roll-ups/fruit snacks, or soda.
Prep as much as possible on the weekend to save time during the week. Make sandwiches (minus sauces/dressings which can make them soggy), cut up vegetables or fruit and put in sandwich bags, make individual salads in tupperware containers, create your own single serve yogurt or cottage cheese by placing 3/4 cup into a small tupperware container from the bulk container. Hard boil eggs and make rice/quinoa.
Lunch meat or tuna sandwich with cheese, tomato, romaine lettuce, & mustard if desired
PBJ or PB & Honey on whole wheat bread
Low-fat cottage cheese with canned fruit, walnuts, & cinnamon
Crackers & cheese
Fresh broccoli & cauliflower
Brown rice/quinoa with beans, salsa, and cheese (rolled into a tortilla with lettuce and tomato if desired)
Orange or clementine
Spinach salad with hard-boiled eggs, carrots, celery, tomatoes, oil-based dressing
Place salad in a pita to enjoy
Milk (cow's or soy)
Tortilla with hummus, lots of veggies and feta cheese
Quinoa with dried fruit and nuts
Remember that lunch doesn't have to be only lunch foods. Both breakfast and dinner foods can be enjoyed at lunch...just follow the guidelines above. Leftovers from dinner often make a great and quick lunch the next day!
Katie Davis MS, RD, CSSD, LDN is the owner of RDKate Sports Nutrition Consulting, based out of Naperville, IL. She offers individual consultation, small-group sessions, and team services. Visit her website or contact her at YourRDKate@gmail.com for more information.