How to Build a Healthy Lunch

It is that time of the year again, back to school!

As your children go back to school, are you asking yourself what you should pack for their lunch?   Are you trying to figure out if a packed lunch from home is healthier than school lunch? Good question!

A recent study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that only 27 percent of the students’ that brought lunches to school met most of the standards for school lunch.

School lunch has to follow five standards set for cafeteria meals. These standards are considered the building blocks of creating a healthy meal.  Each meal served has to include: ½ cup of fruit (no juice), ¾ cup of vegetables, 1 ounce of grains, 1 ounce of meat or protein and 1 cup of milk.

How does the lunch that your child is bringing to school add up?  If there is some room for improvement, you are not alone.

One of the major challenges in bringing a packed lunch is to pack a lunch that does not need to be refrigerated and also tastes good.  Below are some suggestions to help choose what to put in your child’s lunch.  Keep in mind that freshness is the key for produce.

Whole grain bread and small/medium size bagels are options for grain.  Small cans of tuna and nut butters, such as peanut, almond and sunflower butters are all sources of protein.  Carrots and celery sticks will add a crunch and vegetables to lunch. You can add some sweetness by including whole fruit, such as apples, peaches, nectarines, and bananas, and single-serve sugar-free applesauce. Lastly, milk (dairy and non-dairy) boxes are available in most grocery stores, but these need to be refrigerated after they are opened.

 If you are looking for a little bit more variety but need refrigeration, try packing your child’s lunch in a cooler bag.  Make sure to include an ice pack in with the food to keep it cold.

This article is written by Inmay MacNeil, Nutrition Education Specialist

References: HealthDay.  “Kids’ Lunch Boxes Often Fall Short on Nutrition”. http://consumer.healthday.com/kids-health-information-23/education-news-745/kids-lunch-boxes-often-fall-short-on-nutrition-690141.html

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