The glycemic index -- or GI, for short -- is a measure of how much a food affects your blood sugar levels. Your body digests foods high on the GI quickly, leading to blood sugar spikes, followed by feelings of withdrawal, increased hunger and reduced satiety. Low GI foods are digested more slowly and help to maintain steady blood sugar levels. Packing a school lunch that is low on the GI helps maintain steady blood sugar levels, ensuring energy for the rest of the school day. This is especially helpful for diabetic students whose bodies cannot regulate blood sugar levels.
A Plan With Balance
When packing a low-GI lunch for your child, aim to achieve the right balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats. Each nutrient type adds something to your child's school performance and energy level. For example, carbohydrates low on the GI provide your child a steady energy supply. Carbohydrates that are best for the brain include fruits, cereals, vegetables and dairy products. Getting the right ratio of carbohydrates to proteins -- which the body uses to manufacture neurotransmitters in the brain -- can help stimulate brain function. Pairing low GI carbohydrates with a high-protein lunch source, like peanut butter or turkey slices, can improve brain performance. Fats are also an important component for a low-GI lunch. Pack healthy fats that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as canned salmon or tuna, soy or ground flaxseeds that can be added to yogurt. Avoid fats that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, which can be high in calories.
Whole-wheat bread or a whole-wheat pita is a low GI food that you can combine with tuna, lettuce and tomato for a sandwich that satisfies. You also can include a small amount of low-fat mayonnaise. Incorporate a side salad with low GI veggies like carrots and low-fat cheese. For dessert, low-GI fruits like a grapefruit, pear or a watermelon slice can satisfy without spiking your child’s blood sugar. Avoid fruits like dried dates or raisins, however -- they rank much higher on the GI.
Peanut Butter, Please
A non-meat option that’s low on the GI is a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Making it on whole-wheat bread keeps the GI impact low. You also can pack a small serving of oven-baked, whole-wheat pretzels or air-popped popcorn without butter or salt -- both low-GI foods. Give your child milk money or pack a low-fat milk to complete the meal.
Hummus is a mashed chickpea dish that easily packs in a lunch. A 30-gram, or 1-ounce, serving ranks as a 0 on the GI, making it a healthy lunch option. Hummus can be a versatile lunch food. Pack it with whole-wheat pita chips or spread on a whole-wheat pita with chopped bell peppers and ground turkey to make a hummus pizza. Don’t forget to add a piece of fruit or yogurt for a healthy, nutrient-packed meal.
- Harvard Health Publications: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for 100+ Foods
- Linus Pauling Institute; Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load; Jane Higdon, Ph.D.; December 2005
- AskDrSears.com; Brain Foods; Dr. Barry Sears; 2006
- dLife; Healthy Lunch Ideas; Lara Rondinelli, RD, LDN, CDE; March 30, 2011
- "Cooking Light": 22 Healthy Lunch Ideas