With back-to-school season here, see how I pack in my husband's teacher lunch box full of healthy, immune boosting foods.
This post is sponsored by GoodBelly Probiotics.
It's the Tuesday after Labor Day which means the majority of students in the United States are back in school. But not just students - teachers, administration, school staff, and so many others are back in their classrooms and schools now, too. There have been a lot of posts over the past month with back-to-school ideas for students but not so much about what to pack in a teacher lunch box. I wanted to show an example of what I pack for my husband, a high school teacher, for a day of eats that not only nourishes and sustains him during, but also keeps him healthy. After all, schools can sometimes be a bit germy, so I try to do whatever I can to boost his immune system and keep him healthy.
Improving Gut Health Improves Immunity
When I'm focusing on improving my family's immune systems I focus on foods that enhance gut health. Around 70% of the immune system is located in the gut (1). Gut bacteria heavily interacts with and influences the immune system, along with how our bodies function and the development of health and disease (2). We're even learning that the gut microbiome codevelops with the immune system starting at birth (3).
Probiotics specifically can stimulate the immune system due to their immunomodulation properties. For a little deeper science talk, probiotics enhance the nonspecific cellular immune response which is characterized by activation of macrophages, natural killer cells, antigen-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocytes, and the release of various cytokines in strain-specific and dose-dependent manner (4). Additionally the type and combinations of different probiotic strains may lead to different cytokine responses.
Other foods that can improve the health of both the gastrointestinal and the immune systems include fruits and vegetables, high fiber foods, fermented foods, prebiotic-rich foods, whole grains, and foods rich in polyphenols (like almonds, broccoli, blueberries, cocoa/ dark chocolate, green tea, onions, etc.)
Here's what we have packed in my husband's teacher lunch box:
An Immune-Boosting Breakfast:
My husband's school has students start at 7:30am and he likes to get there a bit earlier to get started on his workday, so his teacher lunch box actually is a teacher breakfast/ lunch box. 😉 Because of this, he prefers something he can eat or drink one-handed while working, like a breakfast sandwich or smoothie. We make smoothies an easy part of his work day with a personal-sized blender and protein powder he keeps at work and prepped smoothie bags he can grab at home and blend when he gets to work.
This morning he brought an NTF 5-a-Day smoothie with spinach, strawberries, blueberries, sweet peas, pumpkin seeds, and a scoop of protein powder. Starting his day with 5 servings of fruits and vegetables is a great way to get a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and more -- all of which can improve gut health and lead to a stronger immune system.
Probiotics for an Improved Immune System:
Now, the hubs isn't exactly the type that would remember to take a probiotic capsule supplement daily. But give him a tasty probiotic food or drink and he's in! 😉 My husband is a HUGE fan of the GoodBelly Probiotics PlusShots. They're super easy to toss in a cooler, if you don't just toss one back on the way out the door. If he's having a smoothie while at work, he loves to add a GoodBelly PlusShot to his smoothie. If it's more of a breakfast sandwich kind of day, he'll drink a PlusShot with his breakfast or lunch.
Bonus? The PlusShots also contain essential vitamins and calcium, adding even more nutritional variety to his diet and improving his gut health!
Lunch: Vegetables, Lean Protein, & Whole Grains
My husband and I both love the satiating and delicious combo of vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains in our lunches. All of the vitamins, minerals and fiber found in the vegetables and whole grains is beneficial for promoting healthy gut bacteria. By adding a lean protein and complex carbohydrates from whole grains, we're left satisfied, energized, but not overly full - perfect to keep him going for an afternoon of teaching.
This particular day his teacher lunch box featured leftovers (one of the easiest ways to prep a nourishing lunch fast!) of easy chicken stir fry with garlic ginger sauce. Bonus? Garlic and ginger can also help enhance the immune system!
On days where he has late meetings or other commitments after the school day ends, he finds himself in need of a snack. Typically he goes for a piece of fruit, like an apple or a pear, and pairs it with something like almonds he keeps in his desk to add a little protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
Apply These Concepts to What Works for You
While you don't have to have smoothies for breakfast or stir fries for lunch, the same principle of packing foods to boost gut and immune health can be applied. Both of my parents are actually teachers as well, along with several friends, so I reached out and polled what types of lunches they prefer that fit in to their day and leave them feeling their best. The most common answers seemed to be leftovers or simple meals that don't require reheating. For example, my dad is typically takes a sandwich most days, as he doesn't have easy access to a microwave and prefers to not spend his brief lunch finding and waiting to use a microwave. Yet still, the same concept can apply: use a 100% whole grain bread, lean protein, and vegetables on the sandwich and as a side (i.e. baby carrots or cucumber slices for easy munching). And of course, a GoodBelly PlusShot can always easily be packed in your teacher lunch box!
Since I am personally gluten-free and know several of my followers are as well, I do want to mention that the GoodBelly PlusShots are not certified gluten free. They contain oat flour (not from certified gluten free oats) and barley malt extract (which can often be derived from wheat products). But, as I tell all of my clients, a gluten-free diet is not necessarily healthier than one with gluten and different things work for different folks! I support my family, friends, clients, and readers all in doing what works for them, and that includes buying GoodBelly PlusShots for my husband since he swears he notices a difference when he takes them and truly loves having them in his cooler every day.
If you are gluten-free, look for the GoodBelly products with a green cap! The Tropical Orange and Cultured Probiotic Coconut Water are made with a gluten-free, non-GMO oat flour.
Now I would love to hear from you! What are your favorite ways of boosting the health of the lunches you're packing, whether for a student lunch box, teacher lunch box, work, or anything? And if you enjoyed this post, don't forget to share it!
- Vighi G, Marucci F, Sensi L, et al. (2008, September.) Allergy and the Gastrointestinal System.
- Palm NW, de Zoete MR, Flavell RA. (2015, August.) Immune-Microbiota Interactions in Health and Disease.
- Ahern PP, Faith JJ, Gordon JI. (2014, June 19.) Mining the Human Gut Microbiota for Effector Strains That Shape the Immune System.
- Ashraf R, Shah NP. (2014.) Immune System Stimulation by Probiotic Microorganisms.