healthy packed lunch with vegetables

Packing a Diabetes-friendly Lunchbox

If you are anything like me, you dread the thought of making packed lunches. Being a working mum with small children, life goes by in a blur of cooking, washing and tidying. Making time for oneself seems to be the first thing out of the window when there is so much to do and grabbing something quick (or nothing at all) seems to be an easier option.

However, as with most things in life, the easy option is not always the best option.

Having well-balanced and nourishing meals may be of even greater importance if you have diabetes. It is essential that your meals are regular and evenly spaced in order to maintain your blood glucose levels within the normal range. It is also important to ensure that we don’t end up snacking on foods, which not only increase our blood glucose levels but may also increase our weight and cholesterol – both vital in the management of diabetes.

All of this might sound great so far, but for busy mums (and which mum isn’t busy?!), time is often of the essence.

It is with this in mind that I need to share the first tip of a healthy lunchbox…..

PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION (I can’t stress this point enough!)

Being organised and well prepared enables us the time to make better choices and be able to choose from a wide range of nourishing foods, without the last-minute panic. Try to keep your fridge and cupboard well-stocked in the foods I am about to mention, and this will be half the battle.

So, what should we be including in our lunch boxes?

FILL UP WITH FIBRE

Despite the media fascination with carbohydrates and the many celebrities who endorse ‘no carb diet plans’, carbohydrates are needed in order to keep our energy levels up during the day, as well as our blood glucose levels stable. Skipping a meal may result in blood glucose levels dropping, which can cause feelings of dizziness, shakiness and feeling faint. This often leads to the consumption of something sweet to boost our blood glucose levels and help us to feel better again. Including wholegrain carbohydrates provide our body with more fibre (most people in the UK under-consume fibre), which along with keeping us fuller for longer, also improve our digestive (gut) and cardiovascular (heart) health.

Carbohydrate options may be:

  • A variety of bread or rolls (preferably wholegrain) to make different types of sandwiches
  • Seeded crackers can be used in order to dip into a protein (more on this below)
  • Wraps (wholewheat if possible) can be used as a sandwich alternative
  • Pasta/couscous/rice, mixed with salad

*Please be aware of your portion size (individual guidance may be necessary) as too much (only too much!) carbohydrate will increase your blood glucose levels*

INCLUDE PROTEIN

Protein-rich foods such as lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, beans and pulses are needed by the body for growth and repair. Together with the carbohydrates listed above, they help to promote satiety (feeling of fullness), which can help to make a meal feel more substantial. Protein-containing foods can be high in saturated fat, so limiting red meat (beef, lamb and pork) is an aspect to take into consideration, as those with Diabetes are at greater risk of developing heart disease.

Protein options may be:

  • Tuna/salmon/ egg with a small amount of mayonnaise with salad or in a sandwich
  • Chicken or turkey slices
  • A hard-boiled egg – sliced
  • Hummus – in a sandwich or with ‘dipping’ vegetable sticks and crackers

DAIRY FOR BONE HEALTH

The calcium that is found in dairy products is important to keep our bones and teeth strong – this is relevant to adulthood as well. As with the protein-containing food above, dairy products can be high in saturated fat, so effort should be made to choose the low-fat or fat-free options. There is no need to be concerned that a lower-fat alternative contains less protein or calcium, as this is not the case at all!

  • Sliced cheese with salad or as a wrap or sandwich
  • Cottage cheese with varying cut up fruit or vegetables. This can be accompanied by bread or crackers
  • A small yoghurt as dessert
  • Low-fat fromage frais

ALWAYS INCLUDE FRUIT AND VEGETABLES

Fruit and vegetables are essential as part of a balanced diet, due to their vitamin, mineral and fibre content – all-important to keep us healthy and prevent disease.

Here are some tips to include more of these foods at lunchtime:

  • Always slice vegetables and add to sandwiches – eg. Cucumber, lettuce and tomato
  • Foods which take longer for us to eat can help with satiety as it occupies us for longer – raw vegetable sticks – cucumber/carrots – can be used to dip in hummus, (low-fat) cream cheese or (low-fat) cottage cheese
  • Add fresh fruit as dessert – mixed fruit that has already been cut, such as strawberries, melon and apricots – may seem more enticing than a whole apple

REMEMBER THAT ALL FRUIT IS ALLOWED IF YOU HAVE DIABETES – you just need to ensure that you don’t consume more than 1 portion at any one time.

1 portion is equivalent to:

  • 1 apple/orange/banana (yes – you can eat bananas!)
  • 2 plums/tangerines
  • 1 small handful of grapes/melon/strawberries

REALLY SHORT ON TIME?

A great tip that I hear time and time again is to cook enough dinner so that there are leftovers for lunch. As soon as dinner is finished, package the food up into a plastic container and you’re ready to go”

OTHER SNACKS

A question that comes up in most of my consultations, is “what can I have for dessert or as a yummy snack?”. The stock answer to that is that all treats are allowed, as long as they remain treats i.e. not eaten on a daily basis.

Some healthier option treats may be:

  • 2 squares of dark chocolate
  • A plain biscuit
  • Small bag of popcorn
  • Snack-a-jacks
  • Corn thins
  • A small handful of nuts (no more than 30g)

Remember to vary all meals and snacks to stop it becoming boring!

DON’T FORGET TO DRINK!

It is important to stay hydrated during the day and many of us forget to drink enough unless the weather is very hot. The recommendation for fluid intake is approximately 2 litres (more in hot weather or during/after strenuous physical activity).

Strictly speaking, all sugar-free fluid would be considered acceptable (eg. Diet Coke etc), but water is the best choice! If you don’t like water, try flavouring it with some sugar-free cordial or a squeeze of lemon for some flavour.

GET AHEAD

If you can, get ahead the night before so you are ready to go in the morning – prepare lunch and snacks and store in the fridge overnight, then pack in an insulated lunchbox or bag with an ice-pack. It can be a good idea to stock up on a variety of different sized containers so you can separate out dips, salads, crackers, fruit and veg; this will help everything stay as crisp and fresh as possible.

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions!