Eating healthily at school

School food has improved no end since Jamie’s School Dinners. In my school you can’t even buy fizzy drinks or chocolate and there are no vending machines.

But I generally don’t eat in the school restaurant because when I do go in, I make poor food choices. I eat sandwiches rather than vegetables. I say yes when the lovely ladies ask me if I want extra roast potatoes. There are puddings with custard. And the nutritional requirements of hollow-legged, active, growing teenagers are different from those for overweight thirty-somethings.

The last few years, I can see from my weight graphs, I have lost weight in the autumn term, gained it over Christmas and then it peaks at the end of the summer when I get a bit of a grip again. My diet gets steadily worse as I get more tired, and when the lack of structure of the summer holidays arrives I am my own worse enemy.

But I do find I can lose weight at school if I am careful and sensible. This is how I do it.

Fruit

It has worked well for me to take in a week’s fruit at once and have a fruit bowl on my desk. There is something healthy to snack on right there and you can see how well you are doing – it’s a visible progress bar in front of you. Last year I took in a banana and an apple for most days, this year I think I will try and add something else as well, citrus fruit or kiwis maybe.

Another benefit is that I can rarely persuade myself to eat breakfast before I leave the house, and sometimes not until I’m well into my school day. But if I just have fruit at break time, that still counts as breakfast, right? Even if I’m on my nth cup of coffee?

And if you want to consider it as pedagogy, you could even make the point that you are modelling healthy eating to your students.

Graze boxes

These give me lots of interesting things in small portions. Even if you go mad and eat two or three punnets at once you aren’t going to break the calorie bank.

If you’ve never tried graze, you can get a free sample here.

Tinned soup

I went through a phase last summer of eating tinned soup for lunch every day. It’s definitely nicer than cup-a-soup, and reasonably healthy. Low calories for sure, and it sort of counts as part of your five a day. It is generally pretty heavy on salt and industrial food. Just as the three fruit a day tipped me over my daily recommended sugar intake on MyFitnessPal, a tin of soup gets you a long way towards your daily salt ration. But keeping a stock of tins of soup in your classroom cupboard for emergencies is definitely a helpful thing to do.

My PT wants me to be avoiding carbs as much as possible, and certainly not eating bread, potatoes or pasta. Even so, I am on the lookout for other long life products I can bulk buy and keep in the cupboard for the days when I can’t be bothered to make a packed lunch (or I leave it in the fridge at home). Oatcakes perhaps, the nice Carrs ones wrapped in portions?

Salad

I really ought to be eating salad for lunch every day. At first thought, that’s a very depressing thought, but there are plenty of tricks I have come up with to help that work a little better.

I mentally categorise vegetables into three groups. Ones I can eat by themselves (carrots, sweetcorn). Ones I don’t like but can eat if there are enough other things on my plate to take the taste away (broccoli, spinach). And the ones that make me feel sick regardless of how I try to swamp the taste (swede, sprouts, parsnips… it’s a long list.)

Fortunately most salad veg fits the first category. Most leaves are OK – but those salad pillows do not last very long and if you buy them at the start of the week they are looking pretty sad by the end of it. And once the pillow is opened, releasing all the putrefaction delaying gas, the contents deteriorate pretty fast. And you also need loads of it to count as a portion. Whole lettuces last longer but then you have less variety, and you have to faff about washing and spinning them.

The crunchy vegetables last longer in the fridge and are more interesting to eat. By and large you need less of them to count as a portion, and lots of them are sweet too. I like carrots, radishes, peppers, celery for starters so you can get a good salad going with that lot.

Salad dressing

The vegetables by themselves need a little something to get them going, and a salad dressing is a must. Once on a channel ferry, a prepacked French salad had a one-inch tall plastic bottle with oil and vinegar in it for you to shake and make your own dressing, and that basic idea made its way into my lunchbox. I’ve got a small glass jar for the dressing that I keep separate from the veg until lunchtime, then shake it up and pour it over.

As all good cooks should, I have a variety of oils and vinegars to choose from as well as plenty of other condiments and ingredients to add. It’s certainly true that most days there are more calories in my dressing than all the vegetables put together. But it’s not an insane amount.

A basic dressing is a tablespoon of oil (EVOO) and teaspoon of vinegar (balsamic, sherry, cider, home made red wine…). Always a good screw of salt and pepper.

And then to mix things up, some of the following: honey mustard – runny honey and wholegrain mustard with cider vinegar; just a good glug of sweet chilli sauce; a good glug of toasted sesame oil for an interesting flavour; fresh herbs like basil or tarragon.

Salad – something to look forward to

And as if a delicious dressing wasn’t enough I also like another ingredient. I don’t have to have something to take the taste away as I’m OK with most salad vegetables, but it’s still nice to have something to look forward to. A good slice of deli ham is a great start, or something sweet in the mix – grapes or raisins. Something crunchy like walnuts or seeds of some sort for texture. Anything from the world of cheese.

My #2 nemesis – cake in meetings

Who can spell ‘obesogenic’? (I just had to check!)

It’s lovely that people bring cakes and biscuits to meetings. I do it quite a lot myself. We’ve had some absolutely awesome ones and some of my colleagues are really talented bakers. Some of us buy in our cakes and that’s nice too. My problem is saying no. Or just eating one biscuit. I’m not at all equipped to resist temptation, especially after a busy day – and a lot of our meetings are after the children go home.

My #1 nemesis

My #1 nemesis on the healthy eating front is the feeling that “after the day I’ve had I deserve…” and the thing I think I deserve is a really terrible food choice. “Drive thru” at McDonalds or Starbucks over the road from school – and even the threat of meeting students there is not always enough to deter me. If I make it onto the motorway without buying something daft, there’s always the four corner shops I have to pass on the way home too. At this point in the day I’m often so hungry I really can’t be bothered to cook dinner either, so the temptation to stuff my face is very real.

And the result is plain to see on my weight graph. Which I’m not going to share. So here’s to 20kg of weight loss and no putting it back on again!

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