We, as a society, are in the midst of a protein-obsessed craze. There are many opinions on what constitutes the right amount of protein. For the purposes of this article, I'm using the Canada Food Guide as my basis.
Today, we focus on Meat and Alternates
First, why worry about it?
Protein found in this food group is essential for building and repairing cells in our entire bodies. Inadequate servings can also lead to iron deficiency anemia and lower immune system function. Many B vitamins are also found in meat and alternates.
Iron deficiency anemia is a disease that can be caused by the inability to absorb iron, and/or insufficient amounts of iron-rich foods. Although you can get iron from non-meat sources, known as non-heme iron, the iron (heme) from meat sources is more readily absorbed by your body. Be sure to compliment the iron found in non-meat sources with vitamin C, and avoid sources of calcium at the same time as that can inhibit iron absorption. Zinc can be found in other foods as well, and is one factor associated with a higher immune system.
The Canada Food Guide determination for servings of Meat and Alternates is age dependent. From 2-8 years old, both boys and girls need 1 serving of meat/alternates per day. From 9-13, that jumps to 1-2 servings per day for both sexes. From 14 onward, girls need 2 servings, and boys need 3.
What constitutes a serving?
So what does this look like in a typical school lunch?
Here are some protein-rich foods you could send in a lunch. The cooked chicken, in the top left corner, is about a half serving- around 37 g. That's what my first son is taking to school tomorrow, because we also plan on eating peanut butter toast for breakfast, and pasta with meat sauce for dinner. He's in the 2-serving a day age range.
Everything else in this picture is 1 full serving of protein. Chia chocolate pudding in the top middle, sunflower seeds top right, 2 eggs below the chicken, canned tuna bottom left (my lunch!), and some cooked salmon from the freezer. A full serving of fish, for example, would be a lot for a child to eat in their lunch.
If your children are picky eaters and only like peanut butter but can't take that to school, it's ok. Chances are good they won't be lacking in this department, because many other foods have protein in them as well- such as milk and bread. Give yourself permission to skip out on a dedicated protein portion in their lunch box.
If it makes it easier, consider breaking their protein portion in 2. Give them a tablespoon of peanut butter for an after school snack, and a small handful (1/8 c. or so) of sunflower seeds in their lunch box. Or a single egg in an egg salad sandwich, and a little pork for dinner, about 1/4 c. You can eyeball servings, but if you pick up a scale you'll use it. We have a sensitive postal scale that we've used more than you'd think possible over the years. Just be sure they don't run on those awful little watch batteries.
Remember what the Canada Food Guide suggests for protein servings, and chances are good you're eating too much. I know we tend to! I also know this is controversial in the age of fad diets and fitness experts. We're all on this journey to become healthier. Pay attention to your overall consumption and your health in general.
Hopefully this will help you with your school lunches this week! Feel free to like, comment, and share. Together we can make school lunches a healthy habit!