“Oo, Sam, what have you got for lunch today!? Is that sushi…with avocado, smoked salmon and brown rice? And a soy-chilli dipping sauce with fresh coriander and lime?”
“As a well as a side of lentil, beetroot and feta salad on a bed of baby spinach?”
“And a handmade fruit salad with no watermelon but organic yoghurt?”
“Yeah. Watermelon’s just cheap filler, Miss.”
“…Can I go out to play now?
The lunchbox has changed since I was a kid. For a good ten years I had a Vegemite and cheese sandwich, a muesli bar and an apple. Reliable and unarguably steady.
Despite debates about school canteens and tuck shops, childhood obesity rates and certainly the more than occasional neglected lunchbox, I’ve definitely seen a vast array of lunchtime feeds that put my own hastily prepared salad sandwich to shame. And, I’ll be honest, my next meal is usually not far from my mind (taco brain, anyone?) and as a species that’s evolved to survive pretty well because of this, that’s hardly surprising.
However, even though we know that eating a variety of whole grains, veg and fruit, good fats and proteins is the equivalent of putting the finest fuel into our car, we somehow slip into the nasty stuff, especially as the term progresses.
Here are seven ways to eat well throughout the school term:
1) Prep the night before: Always plan to make a wonderful, gourmet lunch before school but then meetings/sleep/children/life get in the way? Yeah, of course, you’re human. And a teacher with a million better things to do at 6:30 each morning. So prep the night before, or make extra dinner, put it in the fridge and remember to grab it before you dash out the door. Or better yet…
2) Prep on the weekend: Make a massive salad/curry/soup/frittata/lasagne on the weekend and have it ready for the week. I know a particularly clever teacher who cooks a heap every few weeks and freezes it so she can get some variety (something I definitely could’ve used in my early school lunches!)
3) Take lunch outside once a week: A few years back I started scheduling a weekly lunch break in a nearby park. Almost non-negotiably I would leave work at my desk, my phone in my drawer and take a rug outside to eat. Sometimes colleagues would join, but just as frequently it was a solo mission. A time to enjoy my food and some space. Eating in a calm environment is another, sometimes overlooked, factor to eating well. If we’re shovelling food into our face-hole while calling kids from out of bounds on the top playground, it doesn’t allow our body to enter into its parasympathetic state. For the non-biology teachers among us, that means we’re closer to “fight or flight” than “rest and digest”. So, check the duty roster, grab a picnic rug and put an outdoors lunch break into your planner and phone (if it's not planned, it's not going to happen). If you’re not near a park or open space, think about where you’re eating, what (or even who) is in your environment and take action to regularly find a relaxing space for lunch.
4) Eat with your students once a week (but not every day!): If you’re an early childhood or primary teacher, encourage eating time to be a social and enjoyable experience and eat with your students regularly (but not every day - refer to point 3!). You might even like to try mindful eating – no speaking, just looking, smelling, feeling and tasting your food.
"Yeah right, Alison! I can’t get them to be quiet any other time. Why would they be quiet now!?"
a. Try it. Invite those who are interested to have a go.
b. At least don’t have an added distraction. Keep the screens off. Sit in a circle. Eat together.
If you’re in a high school or higher education, you might invite your home room/tutor group to eat together once a week, or tell your classes each week that on Tuesdays you eat your lunch at the picnic table near the library (or whatever, wherever you choose). They’re all welcome to join you, have a chat, ask questions, share lunch.
Sharing time and space over a meal is an inherently human, social experience. It’s programmed into us. It allows us to connect in a relaxed way and helps to build community and positive relationships. If you’re eating well, you can lead by example to your students.
5) Winter warmers/summer salads: What’s better than preparing a healthy, delicious meal for yourself? Having someone else do it, of course! Lunch clubs/pot lucks are another great way to eat well and build a sense of community in the teaching team. If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, it goes like this. Once a week (or whatever works) different people who’ve opted into the group are rostered to prepare a meal for the rest of those involved. Yeah, you’ve got to cook double the amount of your famed Thai pumpkin soup once in the term, but the rest of the weeks you get to eat a tasty variety of dishes. You can make it even easier for yourself if you…
6) Get a slow cooker: Chuck things in, turn it on, consume. Divide it up, freeze it, consume later. Shazam! I might’ve just changed your life.
7) Supervisors/Principals, organise a meal once a term (or better yet, more frequently) for your staff: This could be a game changer! Inviting everyone to eat together in a relaxed environment, without having to talk shop, can help to build trust, positive relationships and a sense of community within the staff. If there’s an executive team, you could all chip in. It doesn’t need to be elaborate – get a couple of quiches from a local deli, some salad mix and fancy bread. Voilà!
If your team is enormous, work out a way! Break it into teams, pot luck, sushi or at the very least, invite everyone to bring their own lunch to the staffroom once a week.
Most of us know that eating a variety of veg and fruit, whole grains, good fats and proteins and avoiding processed foods makes us feel better, be healthier and have more energy for teaching and life. The tricky part is that teaching and life frequently get in the way of our healthy eating!
So, reflect on what your hurdles are (morning rush, eating on the run or at your desk, uninspired cooking) and take action to make a change. If all else fails, you could do worse than Vegemite and cheese sandwiches, a muesli bar and an apple!
What's your best tip for eating well at school? Any amazing recipes for easy to prepare meals? How else can you create a proper lunch break?
Write your comments in the box below.
Stay in the loop! Sign up for the newsletter.