Make Your Lunch Box CANSA Smart
Eating well is an important part of improving your health and helping reduce your cancer risk. A daily diet based on a relatively high amount of minimally processed foods, with plenty of wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, and with less salt, red and processed meat, can help cut cancer risk. (1, 2)
1. Starting with Small Steps
The lunch box is a tool for setting up healthy eating habits for life, so it is really important to think about all the foods that are packed into your lunch box. Remember every little bit counts. Small steps can make a big difference. (3)
Eat a wide variety of wholegrains, vegetables, fruits and pulses such as beans:
- Basing your daily diet on plant foods is a great first step to eating well and reducing your cancer risk.
- Research shows that eating plenty of wholegrains and consuming a diet rich in fibre decreases the risk of bowel cancer. This may be because fibre helps to move food more quickly through the bowel as well as preventing insulin resistance. (4)
Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products (5):
- Choose whole-grain breads, pasta, couscous, quinoa and cereals (such as barley, rye and oats) instead of breads, cereals, and pasta made from refined grains, and brown rice instead of white rice.
- Limit your intake of refined carbohydrate foods, including cakes, pastries, candy, sugar-sweetened breakfast cereals, and other high-sugar foods.
- Eating a diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and pulses can also help you stay a healthy weight, which is linked with a reduced risk of 11 cancers, making it one of the most important ways to reduce your cancer risk.
- Vegetables and fruit provide vitamins, minerals and other substances known as phytochemicals which help protect cells in the body from damage that may lead to cancer. Different types of vegetables and fruit contain different phytochemicals, so it’s best to eat a variety every day. (6)
Include Fruit & Vegetables:
Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre. They can also help you keep a healthy weight as they are relatively low in energy. (7) Eating fruit and vegetables also has cancer risk reduction benefits. Plus there’s the added budget bonus: fruit and vegetables, especially produce that’s in season, is often much cheaper than packaged products and it tastes better too.
Why wouldn’t you pack fruit and vegetables every day?
- Eating veggies through the day is the simplest way to reach the recommended number of serves.
- Snack time is a great time to include fruit and veggies in the lunch box, such as cherry tomatoes, celery sticks and carrot sticks with cottage cheese or salad veggies on whole-wheat crackers.
- Fresh fruit makes a great snack, as it is easy to eat and not too messy.
- Serve fruit and vegetables in different ways: chop fruit in to small pieces; serve raw veggie sticks with a vegetable or yoghurt based dip; pack salad for lunch; or add fruit and vegetables to baked goods such as whole-wheat muffins, mini quiches and frittata.
- Include vegetables and salad as sandwich fillings.
- Try ingredients such as carrot, zucchini, apple, pear, banana or pumpkin. Baked goods can be made in advance, then wrapped individually and frozen.
- Plant some veggies or herbs at home for the family to pick, wash and pack into their lunch boxes.
Eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruits each day (8):
- Eat a variety of at least 3 servings of vegetables and 2 fruits each day.
- Fresh, frozen and dried vegetables and fruit plus varieties that are canned in water or natural juices. All count towards your 5-A-DAY.
- Include vegetables and/or fruits at every meal and snack.
- Emphasize whole fruits and vegetables; choose 100% juice if you drink vegetable or fruit juices and not more than ½ cup of juice diluted (50:50) each day.
- Limit your use of creamy sauces, dressings, and dips with fruits and vegetables.
Tips for Lunchboxes
- Cut up large pieces of fruit and put them in a container – this makes it easier to eat, especially if they have less time to eat than they are used to. Send a damp cloth in a plastic bag to help with extra juicy fruit.
- In the hot weather, send frozen milk, yoghurt or water, or even frozen orange segments. This makes a great refreshing snack and helps to keep the lunch box cool.
- Go for colour and crunch in the lunch box by offering a variety of colourful vegetables and fruit.
Choose foods and drinks in amounts that help you get to and maintain a healthy weight (9):
- Read food labels to become more aware of portion sizes and kilojoule content. Be aware that “low-fat” or “no sugar added” does not necessarily mean “low-kilojoule.”
- Eat smaller portions when eating high-kilojoule foods.
- Choose vegetables, whole fruit, legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans, and other low-kilojoule foods instead of energy-dense foods such as French fries, potato chips, ice cream, doughnuts, and other sweets.
- Limit your intake of sugar-sweetened beverages such as fizzy drinks, sports drinks, and fruit-flavoured drinks.
- When you eat away from home, be especially mindful to choose food low in calories, fat, and added sugar, and avoid eating large portion sizes.
Limit Processed and Red meat (10):
- Minimize your intake of processed meats such as bacon, sausage, lunch meats, and hot dogs.
- Choose fish, skinless poultry, or beans instead of red meat (beef, pork, and lamb).
- If you eat red meat, choose lean cuts and eat smaller portions.
- Prepare meat, poultry, and fish by baking, grilling or poaching rather than by frying or braaing.
Our bodies do need sodium (salt) but only in small amounts. Our daily intake of salt should be no more than 6g a day – that’s about one teaspoon.
As well as flavouring our food, salt is used as a preservative to keep foods fresh for longer. So not only should we think about the amount of salt we add to food when cooking or at the dinner table, we also need to consider salt in the food we buy. (11) Read food labels and see the amount of sodium in a portion of food.
- Be careful of adding salt to your food, e.g. oats, main meals.
- Salt-containing flavouring agents include foods such as onion salt, celery salt, garlic salt, vegetable salt, barbeque and chicken spices, meat tenderisers, commercial sauces, soups, gravies, and stock cubes.
- Processed foods like viennas, cold meats, ham, hamburger patties or bully beef, beef and pork sausages are very high in salt.
Remember to Keep your Lunch Cool:
- Use a cooler bag and pop in an ice-pack or freeze a carton of juice and place in to keep your food cool.
- Keep your food in the fridge until you need to leave if you make it in advance.
- Don’t store your lunch next to a heater or in the sun.
- Wrap sandwiches in brown paper, slip into zip-lock BPA –free plastic bags or use squish-proof reusable BPA-free containers.
Examples of Lunchboxes
Pasta salad (cooked pasta + tuna, chopped tomato, avocado, parsley and Canola mayonnaise – mix together, place in a sealable container , pack a spoon).
Lightly spread whole-wheat crackers
Mozzarella cheese wedge
Fruit portion: banana, a small bunch of grapes or a pear
Water and/or diluted juice and/or Iced Tea* (recipe)
125 ml [½ cup per serving / day)
- 1 litre hot rooibos tea (made with 2 rooibos tea bags) (4 cups)
- 3 mint leaves (optional)
- 1 litre unsweetened fruit juice: orange, apple, apricot, or cranberry & kiwi
- 15 ml lemon juice (1 tbsp.)
- Pour the hot rooibos tea onto the mint leaves in a 1-litre jug.
- Pour the fruit juice into a 2-litre jug.
- Add the cooled down rooibos tea to the fruit juice, pouring it through a sieve (to catch the mint leaves). Mix lightly.
- Stir in the lemon juice.
- Chill and serve ice cold.
Salad in a Jar* (no egg)
Whole-wheat roll. Layer roll with shredded chicken breasts and hummus** and avocado.
1 Fruit portion: whole apple or sliced watermelon or papaya (when in season) in separate container
Water and /or diluted juice and /or Iced Tea (recipe)
*Salad in a Jar
A great way to get you and your family to eat their portion of veggies each day.
The arrangement from bottom to top
- Dressing – some Canola seed or Extra Virgin Olive oil & balsamic vinegar or Pesto or Hummus
- Shredded carrots, Chopped onions, Cherry tomatoes, Sunflower seeds, Hard boiled eggs (optional), Baby spinach
- Arrange ingredients in a large mason jar
- Store in fridge
- When ready to eat: shake jar, place on a plate, and eat!
- You can make any arrangement you want… you can add red onion, cucumbers, radishes or peppers. Always remember to put the dressing at the bottom and the lettuce at the top—a must!
- 400g cooked Chickpeas
- 60ml Lemon Juice
- 5-10ml Garlic, crushed
- 60ml (4T) Tahini (Sesame seed paste)
- (Salt, pepper, Paprika, Parsley)
- Mix all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and season to taste.
- Store in fridge for up to one week.
- Variations: can add pesto, basil or beetroot puree.
Egg muffin** or Bran muffin***
Bottle of water
Can replace Quinoa with Couscous
- 180g quinoa
- 1 yellow pepper, chopped
- 1 punnet red cherry tomatoes, halved
- ¼ small red onion, finely chopped
- 75g cashew nuts
- Handful fresh coriander, chopped
- 100ml low fat plain yoghurt
- 5ml honey
- 40ml orange or lemon or grapefruit juice
- 2½ ml ground coriander
- Garlic salt to season
- Cook the quinoa according to the packet instructions. Drain and cool
- Make the dressing. Mix the yoghurt, honey, juice and coriander. Season well with garlic salt.
- In a large bowl, mix the cooked quinoa, peppers, tomatoes and onion. Add the cashew nuts and coriander. Toss and serve with the dressing over it.
Makes 4 muffins
- 1 tablespoon Canola Oil
- 6 Egg
- 4 Mushrooms (chopped)
- 1 Red Bell Pepper (diced)
- ½ cup Ham or salmon (chopped)
- ¼ cup Spring Onions (chopped)
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- ¼ teaspoon Freshly Ground Pepper
- Herbs of choice
- In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients and stir until well combined.
- Pour into a lightly oiled muffin tin, and bake for 10-12 minutes, until “muffins” have cooked and set.
- Pop out and serve, or refrigerate and reheat to serve.
***Bran Muffins (Low GI)
Makes 24 large muffins
NOTE: This batter should stand overnight.
- 2 eggs
- 150 g soft brown sugar (1 cup)
- 60 ml canola oil
- 250 ml oatbran, pressed down into the cup
- 375 ml flour (1 ½ cups), sifted before measuring
- 500 ml digestive bran (2 cups)
- 2 ml salt
- 15 ml bicarbonate of soda
- 1 large grated apple (optional, can use other fruit, e.g. banana)
- 250 g sultanas
- 5 ml cinnamon
- 500 ml low fat milk
- 5 ml vanilla essence
- Beat together eggs, sugar and oil.
- Add all the dry ingredients, grated apple and the sultanas.
- Mix thoroughly.
- Mix the milk and vanilla and add to the flour mixture.
- Stir until well blended.
- Leave overnight in the fridge.
- When ready to bake, stir and drop into muffin pans.
- Bake at 180°C for 15 minutes.
This mixture can be kept in the fridge for up to 30 days. Do not freeze the batter. Baked muffins freeze very well.
NOTE: These muffins are deliciously moist and do not need margarine or butter.
Tips to Make your Lunchbox Affordable
- It’s cheap and easy to repurpose leftovers and create yummy lunch box favourites. For example, chicken, fish or lean mince or beef leftovers can be used as a tasty filling for whole-wheat sandwiches.
- Don’t use plastic bags, tinfoil or wax paper to pack school lunches as these are wasteful and expensive. Invest BPA-free plastic containers that are divided into different compartments for the different types of food.
- Don’t buy the snack-sized whole-wheat prepacked crackers– rather buy in bulk and pack as much as you need.
- Don’t buy veggies that have already been sliced or diced. Prepacked and processed products are always more expensive. It takes a little more effort to cut them the night before, but you can always chop these up a week in advance and have them ready for the lunch box the night before.
- Also try to stick to fruits and veggies that stay fresh for a long time to get your money’s worth. For instance, apples, oranges, celery and carrots are economical. If you keep them in the fridge they can last several weeks. On the other hand, grapes, peaches, pears and plums don’t stay fresh as long.
Challenge your whole family to all take a lunchbox with to school and work each day.
Reducing Cancer Risk in our Communities
Adopting a healthier lifestyle is easier for people who live, work, play, or go to school in an environment that supports healthy behaviours. (12)
Working together, communities can create the type of environment where healthy choices are easy to make.
We all can be part of these changes: let’s ask for healthier food choices at our workplaces and in our schools. For every junk food item in the vending machine or tuckshop or office trolley, ask for a healthy option, too.
The Bottom Line
Let’s challenge ourselves to lose some extra kilos (if needed), increase our physical activity, make healthier food choices, if you drink – limit your alcohol, and look for ways to make our communities healthier places to live, work, and play. (13)
Megan Pentz-Kluyts RD (SA)
Nutrition & Dietetics Consultant
1 – http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/diet-and-cancer
2 – https://www.wcrf-uk.org/uk/preventing-cancer/cancer-prevention-recommendations/enjoy-more-grains-veg-fruit-and-beans
3 – http://healthylunchbox.com.au/tip/starting-small
4 – https://www.wcrf-uk.org/uk/preventing-cancer/cancer-prevention-recommendations/enjoy-more-grains-veg-fruit-and-beans
5 – https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/diet-and-physical-activity.html
6 – https://www.wcrf-uk.org/uk/preventing-cancer/cancer-prevention-recommendations/enjoy-more-grains-veg-fruit-and-beans
7 – http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/diet-and-cancer/how-healthy-eating-prevents-cancer
8 – https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/diet-and-physical-activity.html
9 – https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/diet-and-physical-activity.html
10 – https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/diet-and-physical-activity.html
11 – https://www.wcrf-uk.org/uk/preventing-cancer/what-can-increase-your-risk-cancer/salt-and-cancer-risk
12 – https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/diet-and-physical-activity.html
13 – https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/diet-physical-activity/diet-and-physical-activity.html