Guest blogger: Teen’s perspective

My name’s Rachel and I’m 19 years old. I grew up and currently live in rural eastern Pennsylvania. I’m also the author to the Eco Smart blog. I’m determined to make a change in how and what I eat.
Like with most teenagers, I love pizza and all manners of fried foods. For years I had been buying lunch at school, because I actually thought it tasted alright and all of my friends were eating it. Of course, after elementary school we were not required to buy the standard lunch or pack our lunch.
You could mix and match the al carte items. I remember some of my friends eating one or two “big” cookies, bags of chips, bagels, and complete with a lot of sugar loaded iced tea (soda was taken out my freshman year). The optional breakfast wasn’t any better, offering only bagels, muffins, and the questionable frozen pigs in a blanket.
My friend, that I mentioned, and I are both severely overweight. The summer going into my senior year I knew something needed to be changed. With the recession in hand (lunches cost $3) and my own health to worry about, I decided that I would pack my lunch the whole school year.
I always thought that brown bag lunches were always boring, consisting of a bland sandwich, some chips, and neon colored fruit snack in the shape of Dora. I search all of the internet for tips and tricks on how to pack my lunch. Soon enough I created my own system for packing my lunch. My lunch box consisted of an entree (most often a sandwich, on whole wheat bread, or leftovers from dinner), veggies, fruit, yogurt, a small treat, and water.
I was lucky enough to balance this with a 90 minute gym class which, believe it or not, is optional during your senior year.
Along with creating a healthy lunch routine I learn to make time to eat breakfast before I left or take it along with me to eat before homeroom or during first period. Quickly, bagels, waffles, and even cereal became portable breakfasts.
In the end, the tables were turned when my lunch was envied by everyone at my lunch table.
Even now that I’m transitioning from a high school student to a college student, I still find that I love packing my lunch for work.
Here are a few lunch packing tips:
  1. Divvy up veggies and fruits the night before or, even better, divvy up a whole week’s worth on the weekend.
  2. Worry about the sandwich in the morning.
  3. Place all non-perishables in lunchbox the day before.
  4. PB and J’s are freezable! Make a few and freeze just in case you are limited on time in the morning. Make with 100% whole wheat, low sugar jelly, and natural peanut butter (Smucker’s is good)
  5. Replace fruit snacks with fruit leather for a treat. They’re made with real fruit and not as much sugar.
  6. Add a little variety and invest in a good thermos to pack pretty much anything that’s hot.
  7. Switch up sandwiches. Try wraps or pitas or other breads (rye, pumpernickel….). PB&J go great on rye or Dark German bread.
  8. Break from the ‘piece’ of fruit to a fruit salad. Cut up any fruit laying around the house and add 1 tbs lemon juice and 1 tbs water.
  9. No time to make fruit salad? Keep a few cans of fruit cocktail around. Strain the juice and rinse with water if the can says in “heavy” or “light” syrup. Dilute if 100% juice is the sweetener.
  10. Add a small container of light ranch dressing for veggie dipping.
  11. Let kids help pack so you know what foods they’d want. Give them categories to pick from.
  12. Invest in a aluminum or stainless steel water bottle. Fill with juice in the morning and have him/her fill up at the water fountain when they run out.
  13. Buy a large container of yogurt instead of the smaller ones. They can mix in cut up fruit or granola.
  14. Don’t forget the golden rule of packing lunch. Keep cold things cold and hot things hot.

Sites for ideas
“15 Fresh Brown Bag Lunch Ideas”
“School (and Work) Lunch Ideas”
“10 Ideas for Packing a Healthful School Lunch”
“Pack School Lunches with Punch”
The Brown Bag Lunch Cookbook

I credit my good grades that year to a good on-the-go breakfast and a healthy lunch. What are your own lunch ideas?

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25 thoughts on “Guest blogger: Teen’s perspective

  1. I noticed that when my daughter ate school lunches most of the time, her after lunch class she always pulled a B or C in. Yet she is an A-B student most of the time with those B's being high ones. Now that I take the little bit of time it takes to pack her lunch, she keeps her energy all day and doesn't get lethargic after lunch like she used to. It really doesn't take that much planning or time or money for that matter. And with her in Middle School now where they offer Papa Johns pizza and Chick-fil-A sandwiches as lunch options daily, packing her lunch has become non-negotiable!
    I agree with the blogger, mixing up the bread has helped keep things interesting. I will even use a whole wheat waffle to make PB&J's sometimes.

  2. Excellent post! I loved all of your lunch ideas. As I start another school year I will post your list of ideas on my fridge for my school lunches.

  3. My daughter (kindergarten) loves taking her lunch to school. I think it makes her feel grown-up to carry her Barbie lunch box full of stuff that Mom has packed for her…I love how I can send her a juice or a small bottle of water (which she loves). I think I have a much better shot at getting a good meal into her with a lunch from home rather than having her pick through a hot lunch.

  4. Good for you Rachel! Your lunches sound yummy & you've given me some more ideas for me to pack for my kids. I remember eating junk in high school & I'm hoping my kids who are 8 now will want to continue eating healthy lunches as they grow & not be embarassed to do so when their friends are buying junk in middle & high schools. Hopefully they will. Even now my kids tell me their friends steal their red bell pepper strips & sugar snap peas which I think is funny…if their parents only knew their kids would eat this stuff they would probably pack it in their lunches!

  5. I think it is wonderful that you are making steps to change to a healthier diet, especially because I know how hard that can be in high school! Most of my friends in high school bought pizza, topped it with french fries and dipped it in high-fat ranch dressing. Sooo gross and soo unhealthy. I always brought my lunch, although sometimes it was very tempting to go to the "snack line" (the a la carte line) and just eat nachos and cookies for lunch like many others. I commend you for making healthy choices when it isn't easy! Also, thanks for the great website suggestions.

  6. Good for you for taking charge of your own lunch! Great tips too!

    Keep reading and learning about nutrition. I recommend Michael Pollan's "Food Rules" as a quick easy read but one packed full of good information that you can pass on to family and friends.

  7. I love this!! I am always looking for new ideas to make lunches more interesting and all the tips for school kids work well for college lunches too 🙂 Ok, maybe I don't need to cut my healthy sandwiches into boats and bears to convince myself to eat it (plus it seems like a waste of good sandwich for me to cut it out!) but anything quick, easy, durable to pack, will last all day is a great help.

    Is it ok if I take some of the ideas from those links you posted that would work best for me and post them on my site too? I will totally give credit back here 🙂

  8. Great post, Rachel!! You sound wise beyond your years and it's great to see you taking the initiative to be so healthy! My daughter is only 1 year old, but when school eventually starts for her, you best believe she's going to be bringing healthy food from home.

    Keep up the great work 🙂

  9. Now that school has started and I'm back to packing my daughter's lunch, I'm wondering how other people keep sandwiches cold.

    My daughter won't eat a sandwich for lunch because she says it gets warm and "slimy". And this is with a freezer-pack in her lunch box! (I guess I don't mind "slimy" sandwiches, because a warm sandwich has never bothered me.)

    She'll eat colby-jack cheese sticks, but not the mozzarella ones –she says they get so disgustingly slimy that they slip right out of her grip. And again, this is with a freezer pack in the lunch box. Especially when the weather is hot (as it has been here for the last week), I get so frustrated about her lack of protein/fat at lunch (she has a fatal allergy to peanuts and tree nuts, so those are not options for her).

    Does anyone else have this problem and/or a solution?

  10. Renee: I have had the same issue with my kids. (And husband!) Two things that have worked for me: instead of bread pack Reduced Fat Triscuits (or the generic equivalent) they only have about 5 ingredients, have a decent amount of fiber, and my kids love them. They will stay crunchy if kept separate from whatever you want to put on them.

    Slice the cheese and put it in a separate container, with rolled up lunch meat (if eat lunch meat).

    The other thing that has worked (with my husband in his work lunches over the summer, haven't tried it with the kids yet) is to put the bread completely plain in it's own bag or container, then put all the veggies for the sandwich in one container, the cheese/meat in another (or another compartment in the same container) and any condiments in another. Send along a spoon for spreading since knives seem to be forbidden in most schools.

    Tell your daughter she gets to put together her own sandwich. She might like it, and even if she eats the pieces separately it doesn't really matter, nutritionally.

  11. Rennee, can your daughter have sunflower seeds? If so, there is a product called sunbutter on the market. I've heard good things about it so you might want to give it a shot.

  12. Renee — It's extra moisture that seems from the food. I know, because I hate slimy food too. I usually wrap my sandwiches in a paper towel and then put them in a tupperware. The towel absorbs the excess moisture and helps keep things dry. And of course, I use "barriers" that are dry (cheese) between things that aren't (tomato, lettuce) to keep the bread from getting soggy. Alternatively, I like to pack the ingredients and assemble the sandwich at lunchtime.
    As for the cheese — well, I'm not a fan of prepackaged cheeses, but normally when I pack slices of cheese I stick a cracker in the container. The cracker absorbs the extra moisture (it ends up soggy) and the cheese stays fine. It's a trick I learned from when I was a kid and my mom would stick cheddar and saltines in the same tupperware for my lunch. Inevitably, the crackers were gross and the cheese was fine. When I started packing my own lunch, I separated them, and ended up with slimy cheese. So now I sacrifice a cracker for the sake of the cheese.
    I hope this helps!

  13. Thank you for the post Rachel. It was so fun to read and I wish you great success for your first year of college.

  14. Great guest blog, Mrs Q!

    Way to take charge of your lunch, Rachel. I am so inspired by the changes you made! Best of luck to you as you start college.

  15. I'm in college now, and thinking back, I can't believe I ever ate school lunches. I did every single day! I'm a total health nut now, so it's bizarre for me to look back at so recent a time and see how much I disregarded nutrition, because I didn't know any better! Clearly it was in me to be nutrition conscious, so schools are really dropping the ball on educating students about how to live a better life. I'm jealous that Rachel figured things out for herself early enough!

  16. Renee,

    There is something called soynut butter. It is made out of soy (a bean) and has NO peanuts or tree nuts. It is a good source of protein and many people use it as an alternative to peanut butter. Search "soynut butter" in a search engine or just look in the peanut butter section of your grocery store.

  17. great post! appreciate the tips from Rachel, some I never had thought about. Best wishes in college.

  18. @renee with the idea of not wanting to always make sandwiches with sunbutter or what not….buy a "fit & fresh" lunch container. It has the cold pack INSIDE the container to help keep it cold! I use it and it works great!

  19. For other great lunch ideas, I'd recommend joining a Flickr group like "Laptop Lunches" to see how others pack their lunches and what they include in them. There are actually many bento box blogs, websites, and Flickr groups from which I've gotten many great ideas.

    This is not to take anything away from Rachel, who has made a great start of taking care of her lunch and herself. Rachel, I wish you luck as you make this transition.

  20. Thanks for all the tips –I'm going to try that cracker tip to see if the cheese will stay better, and also look into the "fit & fresh" container.

    I LOVE sunbutter, but my daughter, not so much. I think because she couldn't have nut-butters and didn't get used to them when she was young, the texture bothers her.

    Thanks again!

  21. I'm a college student and I often have to take lunch with me to eat between classes. I love all of Rachel's tips and some things seemed so obvious that I hadn't thought of before! I love PB & J, but never thought to freeze them. Duh.
    I know you mentioned fruit cocktail, etc. that comes in a syrup. I know that fresh fruit is expensive (and often hard to find out of season). I try and buy more when I find it on sale, and cut it and freeze it to use in the late fall/winter.

  22. NEVER underestimate the way aluminum foil preserves a beautiful sandwich. I don't know what happens, but whenever I wrap a sandwich in aluminum foil (we're talking big, beautiful, restaurant-quality sandwiches made with diced up chicken and fresh veggies on thick cuts of bread), they keep astoundingly well. The bread doesn't get soggy, nothing gets smashed, it looks just as perfect as it did on the cutting board. Plus, if you make your sandwich the night before and keep it wrapped in foil and stored in the fridge, it keeps cool longer and STILL doesn't get soggy.

    Magic, I tell you.

    PS–granola/granola bars in your bookbag during college are a lifesaver. You'll find yourself hungry at the oddest times, and that's when you're most likely to hit the vending machines and convenience stores. It's easier to "talk yourself off the roof" if you've got something healthy in your bag for emergencies.

  23. Renee: My dad packed my lunches as a kid, and we had problems with that too! Solutions we found that worked: we always used foil to wrap sandwiches, not sandwich bags or tupperware. I've tried both as an adult, and went immediately back to the foil – I think it works because it's not 100% airtight. The moisture might be coming from condensation on the inside of the bag/tupperware. We also always packed any veggies in a separate container to be added at lunch. The icepack would go on the top, since warm air rises and cold air sinks. Our lunches would also be cold before they were put in the lunchbox: Dad would make the sandwiches the night before and put them in the fridge, and we'd pack our own lunchbag in the morning. Getting a lunchbag that's a cooler, not a paper bag, is also essential. We would get the kind with a separate pocket. Sandwich, drink, fruit, and ice pack would go in the main container, and napkins/dry snacks would go in the separate pocket. That way, everything that went into the main compartment was straight from the fridge/freezer and was already cold.

    It also matters where the lunchbox goes at school – when I was in grade school, lunches went in cubbies in the ventilated corridor. In high school, it was the top shelf of a stifling locker – I eventually started buying lunch partly because I was fed up with trying to keep anything besides PBJ fresh in the warmer months (and the condensation from the cold lunchbox was getting my books wet!).

    And there are some foods that just won't keep well enough to pack – we used to argue with my Dad all the time about deli corned beef. We loved it at home, but it definitely always tasted different (and gross) at school.

    Getting creative and expanding beyond deli meat can also help. One of my favorite school lunches as a kid was cold leftover chicken with Chinese take-out duck sauce packets for dipping!

  24. I'm so impressed with your writing, self-prescribed good nutrition, and great tips. Do watch out for juices, though… they are diet killers! Much better to just eat a piece of fruit. Congrats on making such wise choices. God bless you.

  25. These are some terrific ideas! I did want to point out another way to be eco-friendly is ditching all that plastic! Washable sandwich bags and reusable containers are the way to go. They will keep your food fresh and the waste down. Keep up the great work!

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