How to EAT Healthy at School: FIVE Tips for TEACHERS

First thing is first with a blog title such as this!  I have to admit that it is most definitely a case of calling the kettle black that I am writing this blog article.  Why?  Well, because if there is a cookie, I will eat it.  If there is cake, I will eat it.  And for some reason there is always a cookie tray or a cake in the Teacher’s Lounge at school.  ERGO, I have a long history of not eating healthy at school.  I must also admit that I am STILL carrying the 20 pounds I VOWED to lose on January 1st. Which brings me to why I thought this would be a very much-needed article for teachers out there who might be like me and need to be healthier at school.

So, just like in yoga class, I have set my intentions.  I will lose that 20 pounds by the end of the year!  It is a priority in my life for health reasons but also because the hubs and I want to try for baby NUMERO DOS next year, and I want to start the next pregnancy at a lower weight.  This goal sent me on a task to scour the Internet and also poll my fellow teacher friends for tips on eating healthier while at work.  I even did a Scope on this very topic!  Look for me on Periscope @bespoke_ela to find my broadcast.  I am, by NO MEANS, an expert on the topic of health, so please feel free to leave comments to contribute to this discussion.

And now, let’s get to those tips!  Here they are!

Tip #1)  Bring healthy snacks to work and leave them there!

What I have noticed is that I end up cheating and eating unhealthy foods whenever I am super hungry and don’t have something healthy ready to eat.  This scenario tends to strike on days when I find myself literally running out the front door to get to school on time and don’t have time to make my lunch or pack snacks.  And then by the time lunch rolls around, I’m starving, I’m thirsty, I have nothing to eat, so I will step out of the school and walk down the block for a slice of NYC cheese pizza.  Calories BLOWN!  And then, I had an AHA! MOMENT!  (I miss Oprah btw).  I saw other teachers bringing food to school and leaving it AT SCHOOL, and I suddenly realized that I, too, could bring food up to school and create a stash in case I found myself in the pizza scenario of calorie doom.  

So, last year, I was pretty good about bringing up a bag of apples and a box of granola bars.  I left them in a locker that I shared with a fellow teacher—on the top shelf because we have RATS and MICE in our school.  I never once had a tiny mouse nibble on my snacks, so it worked out. 

Other healthy snacks you could stash at school include: 

bananas, oranges, berries, protein bars, carrot sticks, crackers, hummus, cottage cheese, cheese sticks, almonds, grapes, etc.  

Keeping healthy snacks on-hand at school will help bust those urges to eat junk and also fill the gap on days when you don’t have a lunch.

Notice that these cups have a ball/disk inside them to break up shake powder.  Make sure your cup has this for better mixing.

Notice that these cups have a ball/disk inside them to break up shake powder.  Make sure your cup has this for better mixing.

But snacks don’t really replace an entire lunch, so I also leave Protein Shake powder (like an entire canister) and a shaker cup at school.  It took some trial and error to find a shake powder that tastes good on its own with water, but I found one!  I don’t want to promote shake brands on here, but try some out and find one that you like.  On days I wouldn’t have a lunch, I had a protein shake on the ready, and it would keep me full for most of the day.  AND it would make me drink more water.  Killing two birds!

Here are some other tips I’ve heard but haven’t tried:

•    Bring a can-opener, bowl, and spoon to school along with cans of soup.  This can be a healthy       and quick last minute meal when needed.
•    Bring cans of tuna to work with crackers.
•    Try a jar of almond (or peanut) butter, apples, and crackers for emergency snacks.
•    Keep a box of instant oatmeal on the ready.  Oatmeal makes a great lunch alternative.
•    If all else fails, take a box of cereal and a gallon of milk to school and have a bowl of cereal any       time of day.

Tip #2)  Make bulk meals on Sundays or extra servings at dinnertime.

This tip I heard on one of my FAV TV shows The Chew.  Purchase five good Tupperware containers and then cook a bulk meal on Sundays that will be your lunches for the entire week! Don’t skimp on containers because you do NOT want them to start leaking all over your graded papers after a few washes in the dishwasher.  I learned this the hard way.  Put a serving of food in each Tupperware container assembly-line style, and TADA!  Lunch is ready to go!  I became pretty good about doing this in the spring.  I’d cook five chicken breasts on Sunday (simple, oven-baked breasts = super easy!) and make a large salad and that would get me through an entire week’s worth of lunches.  

But there are other easy-to-make dishes that you could do on Make-Ahead Sundays such as:

•    A large tub of chicken salad (or tuna or egg, etc.) that you could take to work and leave in the      fridge there (if you have one)
•    A veggie or low-fat ground turkey lasagna that could probably feed you a few dinners as well        as lunches at work
•    A container of chicken for Asian lettuce wraps with a head of lettuce that you can leave at            work
•    A veggie or low-fat turkey chili that you could take to work with organic tortilla chips  

And many, many other recipe ideas!  Check out the blog www.easylunchboxes.com for hundreds of quick and healthy meal ideas!

If you are someone who cooks dinner five nights a week for your family, then you could also make an extra serving that will become your lunch for the next day.  That’s right!  Leftovers!!  There is zero extra work involved with taking leftovers—that’s if you are already someone who cooks, of course.  Chances are that your leftovers will taste better and be healthier than those TV Dinners out there that are full of carbs, taste like cardboard, and are drowning in mystery sauce.

Tip #3) Meal swap with a friend!

I’ve never tried doing this, but I like the idea.  If you have a close friend at work, why not team up and swap meals?  One of you could bring meals for the BOTH OF YOU on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other person could bring meals on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then Fridays you are both on your own.  With this plan, you would only be making THREE MEALS per week instead of FIVE.  That could be a huge help.  But—this takes some planning and a trusted friend who can stick to your diet needs and also be accountable for bringing your lunches!  If you try this idea, definitely have a back-up lunch stored work such as the protein shake mix just in case your meal buddy calls in SICK!

Tip #4)  Drink WATER and stay hydrated!

Water boosts metabolism and also makes you eat less food!  If you drink a glass of water before you eat a meal, studies show that you will consume approximately 75 fewer calories.  If you use this strategy for all three main meals per day, you could save up to 200 calories per day!  That’s 1,400 calories over an entire week!!  Amazing!!  

Use the following formula to calculate how much water you should drink per day:

Body weight X 2/3 (67%) = ounces of H2O
Add 12 oz. of water for every 30 minutes of exercise

For a 175-pound person, this means he/she needs to drink about 117 ounces per day and even more if this person does any exercise.

Wow!  That’s A LOT of water!!  So, how to drink this much water in a day?  Get yourself a really good water bottle.  I recommend getting a CAMELBAK.  They last forever and come with a lifetime warranty.  And set yourself a WATER QUOTA that you must meet while at school.  For me, my water quota is two bottles of water before I exit the school for the day.  That is about 65 ounces.  Ideally, I would drink one bottle of water by lunch and one bottle by the final bell of the day.  This means that if I get to lunchtime, and I haven’t finished my first bottle of water, I will guzzle it down before I eat a bite of food.  This strategy keeps me hydrated AND also fills up my stomach so that I eat LESS!  It’s a win-win!

If you aren’t a big water drinker, try getting flavored water drops that will add some fruit flavoring to your water OR put fresh fruit into your water to give it a fresh fruit taste.  And then when you finish the bottle of water, you can EAT THE FRUIT!  That’s another win-win!!  

Tip #5)  Make balanced choices.

Most schools have at least one celebratory meal per school year.  Many schools have more than one.  These meals occur at the beginning of the school year, on birthdays, when test scores come back, around the holidays, etc.  And these are the times when we can really consume high amounts of calories, fats, and sugars.  What’s worse is that on holidays, many of us indulge at school and then go home to see our families where we indulge even more-- not to mention all of the students who bring us boxes upon boxes of chocolates.  This is why the average American gains weight around the holidays.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  You can still celebrate without dropping a bomb on your body.  Here’s how!

Figure out where you most want to use up your CHEAT CALORIES.  When I taught in Texas, my school would do these huge BBQ catered luncheons.  AND. THEY. WERE. AWESOME!  Sweet tea by the GALLON, rolls as big as my hand, buns as big as my face, brownies the size of my arm, and on and on.  But, I cut a deal with myself.  I had to choose where to spend my CHEAT CALORIES. These were the calories (about 300-400) that I would allow myself to spend on celebration.  That meant that I could either drink the sweet tea OR eat the buns OR have half a brownie.  But not all three.  I would always go for the brownie because I am addicted to chocolate.  So that meant that I drank water, didn’t have any bread, and savored that brownie at the end of the meal.  Consider that next time there’ s a luncheon.  Allow yourself 300-400 cheat calories and spend them on the ONE item that you love MOST.  

Another tip is to turn these meals into a “tasting menu.”  Instead of having a full serving of each dish (especially if it’s potluck style), literally put ONE SPOONFUL on your plate to TASTE it. When you use this approach, you can conceivably have up to 10 tastes for the same calories of an entire meal.  And if you really allow yourself to savor each bite while simultaneously drinking water throughout the tasting, you will be FULL by the end of the meal.  Allow yourself time to really taste each bite.  And have fun with it by doing a tasting with a co-worker and trying to outdo each other’s food descriptions.  

I hope these tips help you try to navigate the hamster wheel of teaching school while also taking care of yourself.  Try to make your mantra:  “The papers can wait.  My health CAN’T WAIT!  The papers can wait.  My health CAN’T WAIT!”  I am going to scream this at myself this year when I try to excuse skipping the gym because of essay grading.  Those essays can wait.  It won’t matter one ounce to my students in the grand scheme of life if it takes me one more day to get their essays back to them because I spent 30 minutes at the gym.  But those 30 minutes WILL MATTER in the grand scheme of MY life.  I say all of this, and now, I have to put it into ACTION!  

Please follow up with me in the comments to hold me accountable!  Let’s help each other out!



About the Author

Meredith is the founder and creator of TeachWriting.org and Bespoke ELA.  She has taught high school English for 10+ years in Dallas, Chicago, and New York City and holds a M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University.  She has always had a connection to the written word-- through songwriting, screenplay writing, and essay writing-- and she enjoys the process of teaching students how to express their ideas.  Meredith enjoys life with her husband, daughter, and sweet pups.