How to pack a healthy lunchbox + pumpkin & date muffins4

Posted on June 24, 2011 by ChristieBreakfast, Sweet Treats, Vegetarian

We all know it’s healthier and cheaper to take a packed lunch with us to work each day, but a lot of us just don’t do it. So in the interest of your health and wellbeing, I had a chat to dietitian Emma Stirling about how to pack a healthy lunchbox.

Emma is an Accredited Practising Dietitian, nutrition writer and editor of The Scoop on Nutrition. She is also a Scientific Advisor to Weight Watchers and Nutrition Editor of Weight Watchers magazine.

To get you started, I have made a Weight Watchers recipe: pumpkin, cinnamon and date muffins. That’s them pictured above fresh and hot from my oven (scroll to the bottom of this page to get the recipe). Now, let’s talk lunchboxes…

Emma, what comprises a healthy lunch box?

  • Nutritious carbohydrates to fuel fitness and maximise cognitive performance
  • Adequate high quality protein for maximum appetite satisfaction
  • Nutrient dense foods including fruits, vegetables, reduced fat dairy plus lean meats and fish that are packed with essential nutrients like calcium, iron, zinc + omega 3’s
  • Enough dietary fibre for regularity
  • Water to maintain hydration

What is the most common mistake people make when packing their lunch?

They forget to do it! Seriously, more and more people are skipping out on the benefits of a home packed lunch and heading to the food court. Weight Watchers research has identified the key to successful weight loss is planning, and this is easy to apply to lunch. Packin’ it makes sense for good health, weight loss and will save you cents too. But you need to think outside the traditional lunch box and be the creative foodie that you are. A “lunchbox” can be a can of tuna, an easy, microwave pouch of brown rice with last night’s slow roasted tomatoes, beetroot and pumpkin. You can say sayonara to the soggy sanger.

How can we easily pack a balanced lunch box? Is there a trick to knowing what types of foods to put in or a little acronym we can recall to make it easier?

The basic elements for a healthy, balanced lunch are:

Step 1 – Take one main sandwich maker or source of nutritious carbohydrates. Things like wholegrain bread or rolls, pita pockets, tortilla wraps, grainy crackers, large crisp breads and rice cakes, fruit and muesli bread, English muffins, cheese and vegemite scrolls, pasta, sushi hand rolls, or leftover homemade pizza.

Step 2 – Add lean meat sandwich filler or other protein source. This could include cold roast beef or koftas, canned tuna, hard boiled eggs, baked beans, chickpeas, four bean salad, shaved turkey, smoked salmon or sushi, mini meat balls, honey and soy chicken drumstick, or cold cooked tuna.

Step 3 – Add fruit and vegetables for fibre, vitamins and minerals. Avocado, mixed fresh berries, cherry tomatoes, carrot and red capsicum crudités, celery sticks with spread filling, fruit snack packs, frozen grapes, corn on the cob, tomato soup in thermos or tabbouli are all great for bulking out your lunch box.

Step 4 – Slip in a dairy serve for calcium. Or go for a skinny latte for snack time. Cheese sticks, slices or cubes, yoghurt tubs and tubes, reduced fat milk, spreadable cream cheese, tzatziki dip, calcium fortified soy drink or fruit cheese will all count towards your recommended daily intake.

Step 5 – Add one or more healthy snacks…especially if you’re heading to the gym. Air popped pop corn, dried fruit and unsalted nuts, rice crackers and salsa, oat cookies, date loaf, portion pack of pretzels, banana bread, handful of dry breakfast cereal, Grissini sticks and dip are all filling and healthy foods which are easy to eat on the go.

Step 6 – Add the water works. Thirst is often confused with hunger so don’t forget to carry water in a reusable BPA free
water bottle.

Why is it so important to get your five serves of veggies and two serves of fruit each day?

You don’t need a degree in Nutritional Science to know that fruit and vegetables are rich in natural nutrients. They help boost the vitamin, mineral, dietary fibre and protective antioxidant intakes that reduce your risk of lifestyle disease like obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease. At the same time they are low in kilojoules and the perfect choice to fill you up without filling you out.

As a rule of thumb you should aim to clock up at least two and five a day. However, research suggests that we could benefit from more serves as fruit and vegetables contain a vast array of naturally occurring plant components called phytochemicals. Phytochemicals, which include many potent antioxidants, keep your body cells and health protected for longer.

The first step is to reach your daily fruit and vegetable serves, however the real key is to go for plenty of variety so you maximise your intake of different nutrients. It’s easy to clock up your five plus serves of vegetables when you’re taking them as liquid – 75g of vegetables in soup is equal to a serve. Seasonal winter vegetables include beetroot, broccoli, brussel sprouts, pumpkin and squash.

Do you think people should invest in a dedicated lunch box with compartments? Can you recommend any?

With so many cute and convenient lunch boxes it pays to have your own than brown bag it. Insulated containers keep food safe – pop in a freezer block in the hot months. And no one is going to sneak a slice of your fruit loaf if it’s sealed away in your personal container in the fridge. I love the Nude Food Movers and also Built carry bags – their Gourmet Getaway Lunchtote in City Grid is covetable.

Now that you are armed with all this info, I hope you will organise a packed lunch next week (and beyond!). Do you already pack your lunch – what are your favourite inclusions?

Thanks to Emma for providing us with so many helpful tips and tricks. You can follow her on Twitter for more nutrition advice. Thanks also to Emma from Weber Shandwick for teeing up the interview and providing the recipe.

Christie x

Pumpkin, cinnamon and date muffins recipe

Weight Watchers Recipe / 5 ProPoints values per muffin
makes 12

1 cup (150g) self raising flour
1 cup (150g) wholemeal self raising flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup (80g) firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) skim milk*
1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil
1 egg*
1 1/2 cups (375g) cooked mashed pumpkin* (see note below)
1/2 cup (80g) chopped dried dates

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/375F. Line a 12-hole (1/3 cup/80ml capacity) muffin tray with paper cases.

2. Sift both flours and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl and stir in sugar. Place milk, oil and egg in a small bowl and whisk until combined. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients and stir until just combined (do not overmix). Gently fold in the pumpkin and dates.

3. Spoon mixture into paper cases. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Stand muffins in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool. Serve.

Note: You will need approximately 400g of peeled pumpkin to make 1 1/2 cups (375g) of mashed pumpkin.

Weight Watcher Disclaimer: Copyright 2011 Weight Watchers International, Inc. Any use or inclusion of Weight Watchers recipes must credit Weight Watchers. Recipes cannot be altered in any way and ingredients must not be substituted or removed. The Filling and Healthy Foods symbol is to be included, as is the definition of the term. Recipes must always be reprinted in whole. The ProPoints value of the meal is to be included. Filling & Healthy Foods are marked with an asterisk. Filling and Healthy Foods will help you feel fuller for longer. As a bonus, they are also lower in sodium, sugar and fat, and/or higher in fibre, so they’re healthier for you too.

  • Great advice Christie and fab muffins roo!

  • it does make more sense to pack your own. I always take ’emergency rations’ anyway in case there’s no InTolerant food available,but this challenges me to pack a better variety.

  • I’ve always been a lunchbox girl. I think a function of never getting time to leave my desk, honestly, but at least I know what I’m eating each day! Always love a new muffin recipe. Thank you for the recipe and information!

  • These muffins look soooooooooo good. I’m going to give them a go when Autumn comes with fresh pumpkins. (I’m in California.) If they taste as wonderful as my psychic tastebuds predict, I will be sure to tell you. :0)

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