We are thankfully all different and our lifestyles can vary from very active both in our jobs and in our leisure time, to sedentary: perhaps deskbound during the day and our evenings spent being inactive. Our energy, however spent, is derived from the food we eat and a simple equation is the more we expend energy the more food we need to fuel our bodies; more calories.
An official definition of a calorie is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1gm of water by one degree. Let’s call it a small calorie. In a nutritional sense we measure food in kilocalories. A kilocalorie is a 1000 of these small calories and is used, particularly on food labels to measure the energy value of foods. Everything has a calorie count! Empty calories are the ones to avoid; they have no nutritive benefits whatsoever and usually end up as fat! Lunch is an important part of the day; it is fuelling our bodies but let’s face it how many times do we end up having a hastily grabbed sandwich and a packet of crisps! Perhaps it’s time to think of lunch as an important part of the day; targeted to our needs and our own particular lifestyle.
Much as counting calories is boring it is important to have a bench mark: 1 gram of protein equals 4 calories as does I gm of carbohydrate; 1 gm of fat however has more than double that: 9 calories. Only water has none!! So any decisions about your lunch has to bear this in mind. Next to consider is your occupation and the demands of it.
The professions which need large amounts of energy to be expended daily, need more fuel. Construction workers, electricians, gardeners, plumbers, mountaineers, anything which requires a great deal of strength and physical effort to complete tasks: lifting heavy loads and machinery; walking long distances; climbing ladders. These professions also have a proportionally higher ratio of males to females, so body weight will be higher too.
Those jobs which require hours in front of a computer such as bankers, secretaries, clerical workers, will need fresh light food with plenty of variety but low in calories. The physical energy expended will be minimal and so the need for high calorie packed food will be reduced: teachers, hairdressers, mums at home are examples of this too. Although these jobs can be stressful and active they do not need as many calories as the more overtly physical occupations.
Children’s lunch boxes also need to be fun and cater for the draw of the playground. Huge amounts of energy can be used in a very short time and the calories are needed for growth as well as energy.
So what is the ideal combination of foods in the tailored lunch boxes? Ideally the proportions should be from all the food groups. Things to avoid for children would be, surprisingly, dried fruits which are quite high in sugar and bad for their teeth. These should kept to times when cleaning teeth is not far away! Try little home-made jellies made with fresh fruit or a fruit salad in a little box instead. Sandwiches made using interesting breads: wraps. bagels, pitta can add variety cut into halves, triangles make them easier to eat on the go or at a desk! Children’s can be made using cake cutters like stars or animal shapes (mum can have the bits in her lunch) a huge variety of fillings are possible ranging from the protein foods such as cheese, ham, eggs and fish to nutritious nut butters, depending on taste. Chop up salads fine and include some of the delicious superfoods such as seeds and berries too. Try to use wholefoods which have a high nutritional worth and not processed foods which have lower values. Fresh fruit juices also can be high in fruit sugar for children and not good for teeth so encourage water instead. Everyone loves crisps so try the new lentil ones which are lower in fat and just as tasty.
Active adult’s lunch boxes can be high in energy foods and tolerate slightly higher fat content and therefore a higher proportion of calories, if needed, to increase energy output. Remember however, it depends on your lifestyle. Cold pizza may be great for a roofer but not for all! Salads, fruit and crunchy veg should be a major part of everyone’s diet maybe some interesting dips? Food can be prepared overnight and ready to go on busy mornings but make it colourful and appetising whoever it is for! So our advice is to tailor your lunch box according to your needs and make it an event rather than a snatched moment in your day! Be mindful, good nutrition is essential to both physical and mental health.
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