If your school is like many across the country, you’re faced with tough choices every day. Choices about classes, choices about boys, choices about your friends. But hidden beneath what-to-wear and who-to-sit-by are choices in unexpected places…like the school cafeteria. The a la carte line is chock full of greasy goodness, and it can be difficult to eat nutritiously while also satisfying those lunchtime cravings.
Let’s talk numbers…
- 150…the number of calories in one can of regular soda
- 290…the number of calories in one slice of pepperoni pizza
- 360…the number of calories in a cobb salad with chicken and ranch dressing
- 570…the number of calories in a large side of French fries
- 2,200…the average number of calories a 12 to 18 year old female should consumer per day
These foods seem fairly harmless when consumed alone, but consider portion size. We usually eat more than one slice of pizza and enjoy our French fries with a cheeseburger and a soda. Start adding the numbers together, and one fast food meal takes a big bite out of your suggested daily calorie amount.
So, amidst all the bad stuff, how do you make smart lunch choices? Here are a few tips to help you navigate your noontime meal:
To start off, eat a healthy, filling breakfast. By the time lunch comes around you won’t be starving and tempted to eat unhealthy food choices or stuff yourself full.
Brown bag it.
The best way to control what you eat is to prepare it yourself. Brown bag doesn’t have to mean boring. Instead of the tried-and-true turkey, cheese and bread combo, make a turkey wrap. Choose a whole grain pita pocket, stuff it with turkey, diced tomatoes, guacamole, alfalfa sprouts (for the extra crunch) and drizzle with ranch dressing. Pasta is also a great lunch because it’s versatile and rich with possibilities. Toss whole-grain pasta with some grilled chicken, tomatoes and zucchini in a mid-size plastic container. Top it with a little Parmesan and your favorite seasoning, and you’ll have yourself a healthy mid-day meal.
Find a sugar substitute.
South Beach cereal bars make a great substitute for that quick candy bar fix from the vending machine. They come in peanut butter, chocolate and cinnamon raisin, and pack a sweet punch. Plus, with 9 grams of protein per bar, they’ll give your body the extra fuel to keep your eyelids open during Pre-Calc. Satisfy the soda craving with a diet Snapple. Flavors like peach and plum-a-granite iced tea, bring you a fruity treat.
The cafeteria lunch line.
If you don’t have time to make your own lunch, do your best to create a balanced and healthy meal from the cafeteria choices. If your main meal choice can only be pizza and a hamburger, pick a salad and fruit for the sides and Jell-o for dessert. Choose white milk over chocolate milk, or orange juice over soda. The healthy choices are there, you just have to look for them!
Don’t get down on yourself if you give in to the a la carte craving every once in a while (everyone does!), but be conscious about what you use to fuel your body. Greasy food can be addictive and eating it regularly will have devastating effects on your body. Changing the way you do lunch will only make it easier to develop healthy lifestyle habits later in life.