Healthy lunch box ideas for kids

With school starting back this week, many parents have to add the chore of making packed lunches back to their long “to-do” lists. Here are some nutritious ideas which will not only get your kids excited about opening their lunch boxes, but will also give them plenty of energy to learn and play until the home-time bell rings.

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These ideas will give your children lots of energy as well as a good serving of nutrients as well (Photo by Sarah Pflug)

Think beyond the sandwich

Sandwiches are quick and easy to make but with a little bit of planning and some clever shopping, you can provide your kids with an interesting alternative. If cooking up rice or pasta sounds like too much faff, you can buy some great pre-cooked grain packages now. Or if cooking some for dinner just cook a little extra and keep in the fridge for the next day (cooked rice needs to be kept either hot or cold to stop bacteria from developing).

You could just pop some into a Tupperware with a little soy sauce and either some raw or cooked veg. You can even buy cooked flavoured rice such as Tilda’s Cheese and Tomato or Mild Curry rice that save you from having to do any prep at all.

 

Playful popcorn

Popcorn
Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash

All supermarkets now sell a range of flavoured popcorn. Many manufacturers such as Propercorn now offer a wide variety of flavours that contain no refined sugar or artificial flavours. At around 100 kcals per bag they are great alternative to a packet of crisps.

 

Fruity variety

Bear, Nakd and supermarkets now offer a wide variety of bars and snacks made from dried and pureed fruit. These are sweet enough that children will enjoy eating them, but they also deliver a good serving of vitamins from the fruit.

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Cleverly designed lunchboxes make the chore of creating packed lunches gun

Embrace the Tupperware

Make like the 80s and rediscover the world of Tupperware in order to package up a wide range of snacks. There is a world of shapes and sizes available now such as the great range from Sistema. You can cut up veg such as peppers, carrots or cucumber, pack little pieces of cooked meat, fish or cheese, hard-boiled eggs, nuts (although please check if your school has a ‘nut free’ policy first), mini breadsticks, dried fruit and more. The possibilities are endless.

Chocolate rice cakes
These rice cakes from Itsu (https://www.itsu.com) are far more appealing than the plain variety and are available at many supermarkets

(Rice)cake is on the menu

Rice cakes are no longer the cardboard-like offering they once were. There are now a huge variety of flavours available including chocolate and yoghurt covered, caramel, cheese, BBQ and more. Although the nutritional value of them is fairly low, they are a worthwhile addition to a lunchbox if they allow your child to enjoy a strong flavour without having to take on a high number of calories with equally low nutritional value.

(Please note, I am by no means suggesting keeping childrens’ caloric intake down. I am suggesting merely keeping calories that are low in nutritional value down.)

Paleoathome
Follow @Paleoathome for a wealth of lunch box inspiration

Want more inspiration?

For amazing inspiration for nutritious lunchbox ideas I highly recommend following @Paleoathome on Instagram. Creator Emma Farrell regularly posts pics of her daughter’s incredible lunch boxes. The enviable packed lunches feature a wide variety of creatively chopped fruit and veg, homemade “gummy sweets”, and ingenious meat, fish and egg creations. Warning: they will make the basic ‘cheese sandwich, packet of crips, KitKat and an apple’ lunch box seem well below par. They have been known to make me feel a large amount of mum guilt, LOL. 

Please tag in my in pics of your most ingenious snack ideas on Instagram (I’m @hilton_health) in order to win a Sistema Bento Cube. I look forward to seeing your creations.

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Chewing the fat

Coconut oil
Coconut oil can be eaten raw or used in cooking

Don’t worry, I always go for the low fat option.” This is something clients say to me all the time. And I always tell them to do the exact opposite from now on.

See, contrary to what most of us think, dietary fat is vital for optimal health; our bodies need it to function properly. The important thing to realise is that not all dietary fat (i.e. fat we eat) is created equal. There is a huge nutritional difference between say, a handful of almonds and a portion of fish and chips from the chippy (and no prizes for guessing which is better for you – sorry is not the fish and chips).

Look at it this way, the first food stuff many of us consume after birth is breast milk, which is 93 per cent fat. If fat was bad for us would Mother Nature really have provided us with so much of it to start us off in life?

 

Fat is important for proper cell function, helps us to absorb certain vitamins and produce certain hormones, helps our immune system to work properly, and is also an important slow-release energy source.

Current guidelines suggest that 15 per cent of our daily caloric intake should be made up with healthy fats, but nutritional experts actually believe that this suggestion is too low. Nutritionists from leading UK nutritional consultancy company Mac Nutrition suggest that our diets aught to consist of anything between 15 and 80 per cent healthy fat. Those who regularly participate in endurance sports, such as long-distance running and cycling, should ensure over 22 per cent of their diet is based on fat. Meanwhile those who regularly participate in resistance activities (any exercises which sees the body lifting weight, including bodyweight) should consume between 25 and 45 per cent fat per day.

Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts are a great source of healthy fat

It is true however that some fats should be avoided, and these are known as “trans fats”.  These are primarily man-made substances and are found in margarine, fried food, pastries and highly-processed snack foods. These fats are known to severely increase our risk of cardiovascular disease, and to cause inflammation within our lymphatic system and blood vessels.

So when clients tell me they avoid fat as much as possible I suggest that they stop doing that, and that instead they start choosing full-fat yoghurt and milk, real butter and to get into the habit of snacking on handfuls of nuts (not bags full – nuts are high in calories despite containing loads of great nutrients). I also urge them to include other healthy fats such as oily fish, olive oil, coconut oil and eggs in their diets too.

 

For a free ‘healthy fats’ graphic head over to my Facebook Page. If you would like more information or feel you need some help getting your nutrition on the right track, please feel free to contact me at laura.f.hilton@gmail.com or via my Facebook page Laura Hilton PT.

Plan for a healthy festive period

christmas-buddy
Buddy says “Merry Christmas” 

The Christmas season is lurking around the corner. You’ve been working hard all year to be healthy and now fear it all being undone in a few short weeks.

Here a five tips to help you keep healthy over the festive period, so you don’t have to join the masses slogging their guts out in the gym come January.

Plan, plan, plan – You will know how many evenings you can be out per week without it taking its toll. Set that number in your head now and don’t exceed it. Make sure it’s a number that will allow you to get a good amount of sleep. On the evenings you’re at home nourish your self with nutritious food and get to bed early.

Schedule alcohol-free days – Designate certain days of the week alcohol-free and stick to it. Even if you are at a celebration on one of those days opt for non-alcoholic drinks.

Sleep – I already touched on it above but don’t burn the candle at both ends. We need at least eight hours sleep per night in order to stay healthy, and at this time of year with extra germs flying around we need all the help we can get.

Plan your indulgences – Are you a sucker for mince pies? Do you love to snuggle up with a glass of mulled wine? Can you not get enough pigs in blankets? Or do the kids have to fight you for the Roses tin? Be mindful about your indulgences this Christmas. Allow yourself the foods you enjoy but in sensible amounts, and in a conscious way. Set realistic limits and stick to them. Only allow yourself five chocolates at a time for example. Or perhaps only drink mulled wine at social events. Setting yourself these boundaries in advance will prevent you from mindlessly chomping through the calories.

Move – If you do no exercise at all throughout the Christmas period it can be very hard to get back to your exercise routine come January. Whatever number of exercise sessions you tend to do on a “normal” week, stick to it during the festivities, even if you need to make swaps. You may change you Friday morning kettlebell session for a winter walk with the kids for example, or your Tuesday night circuits class for a 20 min jog. Maintaining the habit of exercising is far better than having to restart the habit again in January.

 

Enjoy Christmas in a healthy way, focussing on spending time with the people you love. Your soul and waistline will thank you for it.

Merry Christmas x

My story: Why I say “I understand”

IMG_5291My motivations to be a personal trainer and nutritional advisor go way beyond wanting people to be proud of their big biceps and washboard stomachs. Sharing the story which lead me to this path is a bit scary, as it’s it not something I discuss with many people, but hopefully it will help people see why I preach and get so passionate about the things I do.

It’s rather long at just over 2000 words, but I hope you find it interesting, and that it helps you or someone you know in some way. Please feel free to share it.

 

Dog walking and dam building

I have enjoyed being active my whole life. My happiest memories as a child are climbing trees, building dams and wandering the fields near my home carrying a rucksack full of nature books in order to identify any critters that I came into contact with. I loved walking my dog and got up early to do so before school (I’ve always been an early bird).

My senior school had a leisure centre on site and as soon as I was allowed I spent my lunchtimes in the gym or pool. By this time though another motivation was at play. I had been bullied from the age of 12, which continued on-and-off for the remainder of my school years. With this, as is often the case, my confidence plummeted. Add the rollercoaster of teenage hormones and an increasingly negative relationship with my body image, and the result is that my exercise sessions became more about feeling marginally happier with my body than about having fun.

Wafer-thin ham sandwiches

Into this mix I now added what I was led to believe were healthy food choices. Thinking back to those days I remember eating a lot of rice cakes and sandwiches made from Weight Watchers bread, with no spread or a tiny bit of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Light spread and two slices of wafer-thin ham sandwiches. My lunches looked anaemic in short.

My mum is an amazing cook yet I felt terribly guilty eating her delicious meals, and enviably watched my brother devour his own bodyweight in food day after day, whist he remained lean. Meanwhile I was always hungry yet my body did not seem to reflect all the effort I was putting in. It was like I was baking a cake with all the “right” ingredients, yet the result was always flat, burnt and disgusting to taste. I could not understand it.

Discovering some confidence

It was a huge relief when I could finally leave the bullies behind as I left to go to university in Swansea when I 18. I was free to break free from the social anguish that had plagued me for six years at school. I could make friends based on who I was at that point in my life, not based on who I had gone to school with.

When I started uni I had been in a relationship for several years with a guy from home (not school, I was far too short on confidence there). About half way through that year though, the relationship came to an end. Although I felt devastated initially I very soon felt more free than I had for a really really long time. I was like an exotic bird discovering for the first time it’s beautiful wings, then realising that they were also my passport to freedom.

I made great new friends, many of whom I’m still close to. I had tons of fun, got involved in new things, in short I had the university experience. I felt loads happier and was more active. I was also thinking less than I had about food than I had for years and ironically weight started to fall off me, without my even noticing. I soon needed to buy smaller clothes and received lots of compliments from those around me. I felt ecstatic. Finally I discovered what it felt like to not completely hate my own body.

Heading into the danger zone

Subconsciously though, I linked my loss of weight to my new-found popularity and fun-filled life. Therefore once I slowly but surely started to gain weight again, I was terrified. In my head I would loose my great new friends and fab new life if I put weight on again. I once again returned to rice cakes and Weight Watchers bread sandwiches. They had just as much success for me then as they had last time though.

I was by now a second-year student; drinking most nights of the week, frequently grabbing takeaways on the way home and sleeping way less than I needed. As the weight increased I got more and more desperate. This is how I became bulimic.

In a shared house of nine I could easily get away with sneaking off to nearby shops to buy bags of “forbidden” foods, and then embark on binging and purging sessions. Or so I thought. I suspect my housemates were on to me far sooner than I realised.

I can’t really remember how long this went on for. I do remember though that at some point I realised that I needed to tell someone what I was doing in order to experience the shame needed to get myself out of it. I told my mum about it, who got me to see a counsellor, I read a book about it but it didn’t help a great deal.

Meeting Dan

It was meeting Dan that really put a stopper in it. Mainly because I was generally either at the gym or with him (or both) during my free time, so I had far less private time in which to embark on any bulimic behaviour. The binges and purges became less frequent, and at some point stopped altogether, but the poor body image and shaky self-confidence remained with me for years.

Throughout all of this I was still an avid gym-goer. I would come in from clubbing and be in the gym a few hours later. Looking at it now I must have been a metabolic wreck, but I guess you can get away with it more when you’re young.

“Running 20-odd miles a week unfortunately doesn’t mean you can get away with eating whatever the hell you like”

I continued to be a gym bunny when Dan and I moved from Swansea to Cardiff, where I studied to be a journalist, and then when we moved from there to Bath. Funnily enough the gym we joined when we moved to Bath was at the YMCA. If someone had told me then that I would be working for them in a few years I would never have believed them.

The nutritional side of things

As you do when you join a gym I had a programme written for me by the lovely Simon (who ended up getting me my YMCA job years later). I met with him every 12 weeks for a retest and at one of them we found my results weren’t what he’d expect given how much I was in the gym. I knew, and he most likely knew too, that was due to the nutritional side of things.

marathon
Me after running the London Marathon

I distinctly remember him suggesting we look into my nutritional intake. I was petrified. I went to the gym so that I could eat chocolate, cake and all the rest of it. I knew he would tell me not to eat such crap and I couldn’t have coped with that. I vowed to just exercise more and decided to take on the London Marathon. I would surely loose weight if I trained for a marathon wouldn’t I?!

 

Not necessarily, so it turns out. Running 20-odd miles a week unfortunately doesn’t mean you can get away with eating whatever the hell you like, as I believed it would. I thought that if I was doing that much exercise I would get back the body I had at the end of my first year of uni, which was the smallest I had ever been.

Extra chocolate allowance

Maybe it would have done if I had been eating well, but it didn’t for me, no doubt partly because I was counterbalancing the running with chocolate. I had joined Weight Watchers by then and every time I came back from a run or gym session I would work out how many points I had just burned, and consume that exact amount of chocolate. I would even do an extra mile or an extra ten minutes in the gym simply to “buy” myself some extra chocolate allowance.

So this mentality went on until I fell pregnant with Jack. After having him I went straight back to the gym and to weighing out chocolate, despite the fact that I was breastfeeding and shattered. However now a change occurred. My gym sessions and runs were now the only headspace I got. They were the only times I saw people and did the things I had done before I became a mum. Over time my exercise sessions became more vital for my mental wellbeing than my physical wellbeing.

Huge amounts of cake and chocolate

Since having Jack I had been eating huge amounts of cake and chocolate because I was breastfeeding, and had been told by midwives and everyone else that I needed to eat lots of extra calories to produce the milk that he needed. Clearly I had been eating enough to produce milk for several babies, and consuming such a huge calorie surplus that my weight had gone up and up.

“Clearly I had been eating enough to produce milk for several babies”

I seriously needed to get my weight under control, but no longer had loads of spare time I could spend in the gym. I needed another tactic.

In searching for some help I came across The Clean & Lean Diet and everything clicked. The book spoke about cutting out refined, processed foods, caffeine, and alcohol, and about eating whole, clean foods. I decided to give it a go for a few weeks and have never looked back. Not only did I start to loose weight, but most importantly I felt far healthier that I probably ever had. No surprise. For the first time I was eating loads of nutrient-dense food instead of air-filled nutrient-poor foods.

Game changer

This was real game-changer for me. I had discovered that the secret to being healthy wasn’t hidden in a certain number of hours logged in the gym or a particular “health” food. It was in a clean and, most importantly, healthy approach. Combine this with the fact that to me exercise was no longer a way to control my weight, but something I enjoyed in and of itself, and you can see why I felt better than I had in years. And I felt better not just physically but mentally and emotionally too. The bulimic inside me slowly grew smaller and smaller until I realised she had gone entirely.

Today I enjoy healthy food, and I also enjoy the occasional treat. I no longer fear “treat” foods, as I am in control of my feelings around them now. My own exercise sessions are now fun and something I love to do, not something I feel I should do in order to look a certain way, and I hope that my clients and class participants feel the same about the ones I deliver to them.

The road to making my discovery was a painful one for me, and it angers me that food companies, supermarkets and in many ways the government had made it so hard for me, and others like me, to make that discovery.

This is why I decided to retrain to be a personal trainer and nutritional advisor. I wanted to help educated people about how to live a healthy life, be it mentally, physically, nutritionally or emotionally. If I save just one person from going down the horrible road that I did, that I will have succeeded.

So when I tell you I understand how hard it can be to live a healthy life, I really do.

I will be there to help whoever I can in whatever way I can.

Thanks for reading.

 

Why health is my most important value

I just wrote this for a task and thought it was relevant to share it here:

Why is health your most important value? 
Describe a time in your life when it has been particularly important

Health means that you have the ability to live life to the full. If you want to climb a mountain you can do it, if you want to swim in the sea you can do it, if you have to dash upstairs to get a forgotten jumper before the school run you can do it. It gives you freedom and more choices.

For me it has been the times in my life where my health has been compromised that I have realised just how important it is. Pneumonia got in the way of our annual family trip to the Enchanted Christmas event at Westonbirt Arboretum last year, and for months over the past two years has stopped me from running and doing the CrossFit workouts I (perhaps weirdly) love.

It made me miss my son’s first school assembly and stopped me breastfeeding my daughter when I was forced to take steroids. And right now an injured wrist is once again getting in the way of bike rides, CrossFit and throwing heavy chunks of metal around at the gym (to quote Emma Farrell).

Being healthy is a major factor (not the only factor, I know) in being able to do what you want, when you want, and this is why it is my most important value. It is also why I am so passionate about helping others be their healthiest selves. For me it is not about big biceps and shredded abs. It’s about living a happy life to the full. Every. Single. Day.

Lunch on the go

11358215_1455462974773612_78535042_nMornings are hectic, I get it. It’s challenging enough to get everyone to where they have to be, with the right bag, snack and drink, without stopping to think about your own lunch. Then lunchtime comes around and your only option is the work canteen’s gloopy offerings, the vending machine or the cafe next door.

With a small amount of planning and savvy shopping though, you could change all of this. Here are a few ideas lunch hacks that will improve the nutrient density of your food you eat at work:

  • Pre-cooked chicken or fish– comes in a variety of flavours but plain is best if trying to avoid sugar and other additives. Pair with a bag of salad for a chicken salad.
  • No-cook grains – I love this one from Waitrose. You don’t have to cook it and paired with meat, veg, or even just some tamari soy sauce you’ve got a filling lunch.
  • Noodle pots – Itsu do some great ones but there are others available. Add boiling water and you have a healthy, filling lunch ready to go.
  • Last night’s dinner – It’s an oldie but a goodie. Cook a little extra for dinner and pot it up for lunch the next day.

Hopefully that gives you a few ideas to help revolutionise your lunch. If you have any other suggestions please share them.

 

When NOT to exercise

 

Lady with a cold small
Sometimes you just need to give into illness (Image from ShutterStock)

My biggest challenge in life and with regards to my training, is knowing when to stop. This is how I have managed to get pneumonia twice in the last few years. Despite feeling unwell I just kept pushing myself to keep going.

This is obviously not always a very sensible thing to do. Had I eased off at the first signs of a chest infection, it’s likely that both of my bouts of pneumonia would never have occurred.

But when should you push on through tiredness, illness and stress to train, and when shouldn’t you?

Thomas Weidner, head of athletic training at Ball State University says that a general rule of thumb is that if your symptoms are only affecting the area above your head, you are still ok to train, although it is sensible to reduce the intensity of your session. If your symptoms are affecting anywhere from the neck down then you should head to your bed instead of the gym.

This morning I made myself proud. The children are in childcare and I was originally planning on heading to the gym, but having felt rubbish for a few days and certainly no better today, I opted for a yoga session and a cold-busting homemade smoothie instead. This is a definite sign that I’ve learnt from my past mistakes.

Here are a few tips that might help whether to train or not. Remember that if symptoms persist, you have any concerns or signs of an infection then seek medical advice.

  • DON’T exercise is you are running a fever.
  • DO exercise if you’re a little weary, as it can give you a boost and can help realign your circadian rhythms. If you are persistently fatigued however, seek medical advice.
  • DO listen to your body. If you feel like you shouldn’t train, then don’t. You could only make your illness worse, which would set your training back for much longer. (I definitely learnt this one the hard way).
  • DO exercise if you simply have some aches from previous training sessions, although it’s sensible to reduce the intensity on those sore areas. Try to include some foam rolling in your session, and give achey muscles a good stretch.
  • DON’T exercise at any signs of an infection. Instead seek medical advice.
  • DO try to identify causes of recurrent illnesses as it might be that you need to make some tweaks to your lifestyle.
  • DO try to get enough sleep. We should aim to get at least 9 hours a night, which I’m sure very few of us actually get. Sleeping helps your body fix itself.

At the end of the day overall health is more important to our quality of life than the possible gains to be gleaned from individual training sessions. Try to look at the bigger picture and give in to illness, otherwise there’s every danger it will get progressively worse until you are forced to stop. Please learn from my mistakes!