Is lunch the key to our success?
On July 24th 2013, I posted on my Your Health Hunter Facebook page an article from The Guardian entitled, “Do you miss your packed lunch?”. The article debated a potential new initiative where packed lunches are eradicated in favour of cooked school lunches for everyone (apparently due to the nutritional horror that lies behind many a lunch box’s lid). I must admit I wasn’t quite sure where I sat on this rather bold and undoubtedly controversial idea, so ever inquisitive, I took it upon myself to do a bit of extra reading.
My detective work took me to the School Food Plan website (www.schoolfoodplan.com), an initiative created and devised by Henry Dimbleby (@Henry_Leon) and John Vincent (@JohnV_LEON). As you may have deduced from their Twitter accounts, these guys (along with chef and food writer Allegra McEvedy) are co-founders of the restaurant chain LEON – a fast food enterprise that prides itself on selling nutritious, seasonal food that not only does you good but also tastes good. I must confess their sweet potato falafels are particularly delicious!
These restaurateurs have delved into the political and messy cauldron of school dinners in an attempt to improve our country’s food culture from the bottom-up. It is a brave and ambitious plan but one that is drastically needed. As Mr Dimbleby and Mr Vincent discovered themselves, we as a nation are literally eating ourselves to death. Eating ‘bad food’ not only increases our risk of becoming overweight and obese but it also increases our risk of suffering with certain cancers, heart disease, stroke or diabetes, REGARDLESS of our weight. Not only that but this lack of proper food is playing havoc with our moods, concentration levels, productivity and our children’s educational progress.
In fact it is this last point that I wish to focus on a little more, though I will be coming back to many of the concepts raised within the School Food Plan in future blogs and you can have a read of the full initiative if you so wish here.
Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day but lunch isn’t far behind
Hunger affects concentration and the research is there to prove it. Yet how many of us pull apologetic faces as our tummies call out in anger when the clock strikes four o’clock (there are only so many times you can blame it on your office neighbour!) As adults, this hunger leads to decreased productivity and concentration whilst for children it results in decreased school performance and attainment. So for the future of our country and our jobs it seems that our lunches deserve a little bit more attention.
Fortunately, there are some minor alterations you can make to your lunch time meal to help ensure you remain at the top of the class/office.
- Increase your intake of lean/low fat protein such as skinless chicken breast, egg, low fat cottage cheese, pulses and grains or tofu. Protein has been shown to be the most satiating food group and therefore can help you feel fuller for longer. In addition to your protein rich main meal, why not try finishing your meal off with a low fat and low sugar yoghurt.
- Mix your protein with a complex carbohydrate such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat noodles, or wholemeal chapatis. Complex carbohydrates not only provide us with a steady stream of energy but they also contain B-vitamins, which are important for enhancing mood, as well as fibre which also plays a role in keeping hunger at bay.
- Include foods that are rich in potassium and iron such as bananas and mushrooms (for potassium) and green leafy vegetables and dried fruit (for iron) as these nutrients play a key role in learning and memory and energy levels respectively.
- Include lots of vegetables with your meal. Steamed or lightly stir-fried vegetables not only provide a whole array of vitamins and minerals but also contain virtually no calories and lots of fibre meaning they fill you up in a completely guilt free fashion!
So regardless of where your lunch comes from, make sure it contains the correct amount and balance of nutrients and I promise it will be a case of gold stars all round (and a decreased desire to reach for the biscuit tin to fix those mid-afternoon munchies).
Ps To inspire you to make these changes, I have included a sample lunch menu, based on the concept above, that although vegetarian, I am positive will be enjoyed by carnivores and non-carnivores alike! If you are operating from an office, prepare it the night before and then just warm it through in the office microwave. Happy concentrating!
Nutty Quinoa-Stuffed Mushroom
– 75g Quinoa
– ½ vegetable stock cube
– 2 large flat mushrooms (with stalks removed and chopped)
– 1 small red onion, finely chopped
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 50g Ricotta cheese
– 15g roasted cashew nuts, roasted and chopped
– ½ tbsp chopped oregano
- Pre-heat oven to gas mark 4.
- Bring a pan of water to the boil and crumble in stock cube. Add the quinoa and simmer for 20minutes until the grains are swollen and tender. Drain.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onion and chopped mushroom stalks. Cook until softened. Stir in the quinoa, ricotta, chopped nuts and oregano with 2tbsp of water. Season.
- Spoon the mixture into the mushroom cups and press gently to level the surface.
- Cook in a baking tray lined with tin foil for 20minutes until the mushrooms are tender and the topping lightly browned.
- Serve with a large green salad.
NB: Follow after with a low fat/low sugar yoghurt and a piece of fruit or small handful of dried fruit and don’t forget to drink plenty of low calorie fluids – water or herbal teas are best!