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From PB&J to Paleo: Rethinking School Lunch

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A functional-medicine nutritionist offers an upgrade to the classic kid’s lunch.

We asked Adriane Angarano, MS, CN, of Seattle’s Green Lake Nutrition, to suggest an alternative to a classic kid’s lunch — a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a flavored-yogurt tube, Goldfish cheese crackers, and a juice box. Needless to say, she found plenty of room for improvement.

In place of this refined-carb-laden meal, she offers a Paleo-inspired feast: turkey-veggie meatballs with an herb-tomato dipping sauce, rosemary-toasted almonds, orange slices, and coconut-water kefir.

“The old PB&J lunch plays to our sugar and salt addictions,” Angarano says. “The reimagined lunch is real, whole food.”

BEFORE

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PB&J: Most parents have moved on from white bread, but whole-wheat bread isn’t necessarily all that much better. Not only is it gluten-dense, it’s actually higher on the glycemic index than a Snickers bar. Add the sugar from the jelly, and you can expect a spike in blood sugar that will affect concentration and behavior for hours.

FLAVORED YOGURT: Most flavored-yogurt tubes are full of sugar and are either low-fat or nonfat, putting them surprisingly high on the glycemic index. Healthy fats and protein are essential because they prevent a blood-sugar crash,” says Angarano. (For more on the perils of low-fat dairy, see “Skimming the Truth“.)

GOLDFISH: Angarano pulls no punches about this iconic kid snack: “Empty calories. White flour. No fiber. Tons of chemicals. Goldfish appease our liking for crunchy, cheesy, salty things, but provide no nutrition or energy.”

JUICE BOX: Packaged juices are basically liquid sugar, says Angarano, and they are often full of artificial colors, which have been shown to cause adverse, ADHD-like effects in children.

 

AFTER

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MEATBALLS AND DIPPING SAUCE: Angarano loads up these fun-size turkey meatballs with lots of finely chopped veggies. Her tomato dipping sauce contains fresh herbs, which punch up the antioxidant and flavor quotient. “The standard American diet is so bland!” she says. “It’s important to expose children to lots of flavors and textures at a young age.”

ORANGE SLICES: Oranges are a wonderful source of fiber, vitamins, and phytonutrients. But mix it up, Angarano urges: “If we eat the same thing all the time, we’ll miss that variety of micronutrients.” Other lower-sugar fruits include berries of all types, apples, cherries, grapefruit, and pears.

ROSEMARY-TOASTED ALMONDS: Studies show that rosemary can enhance memory and focus, just one reason Angarano believes this herb is a great candidate for school lunchboxes. The almonds serve up healthy fats, fiber, and protein, all of which satisfy hunger and help moderate blood sugar.

COCONUT-WATER KEFIR: Although they are an acquired taste for some kids, kefir and other fermented drinks, such as kombucha, offer a delicious brew of probiotics and bioactive enzymes that enhance digestion and nutrient absorption. Angarano is especially fond of coconut-water kefir because it also has electrolytes and lauric acid, which fights the buildup of harmful yeasts and bacteria in our digestive systems.

This article originally appeared as “Rethinking the Lunchbox: Meal Makeovers” in the September 2014 issue of Experience Life. Check out the article for other lunch makeovers and for various recipes, including Angarano’s turkey meatballs with tomato sauce.

is a writer and author in Portland, Ore. Her new book is The Soil Will Save Us.

Photos: Stafford Photography Food/Styling: Betsy Nelson