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Lunchbox Strategies: What to Pack

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Katherine Brooking, RD - Blogs
By Katherine Brooking, MS, RDRegistered dietitianAugust 19, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

The start of a new school season is just around the corner (and has already arrived for some). Will your child’s lunchbox make the grade this year? It may sound shocking, but a recent study found that packed lunches from home are often less nutritious than those served at school.

That’s right, researchers found that the homemade lunches in the study had less produce and dairy, more sodium, and fewer whole grains than lunches in the National School Lunch Program. Even worse, the study showed that the home-packed lunches were full of sugar: 90% contained sweetened beverages, snack chips and dessert. So while you’re busy buying pencils, notebooks and backpacks, don’t forget to stock your kitchen with healthy foods that provide important nutrients so that your little learners can perform their best in and out of school.

Lunch box essentials include:

  • A whole grain serving for energy
  • A source of protein like almond butter or lean protein meats for staying power
  • A fruit and/or veggies for vitamins and fiber
  • A low fat dairy serving like milk, yogurt or cheese
  • Water for hydration

Putting these basics together, here are some of my favorite easy-to-prepare, healthy lunchboxes:

  • Hummus, Avocado and Veggie Wrap
    Start by spreading hummus on a whole grain tortilla – four ounces of hummus (1/2 cup) will serve up 8 grams of protein (that’s more protein than you’ll find in an egg). Add in some fresh avocado. Just two to three slices in a sandwich equals a fruit serving and will provide nearly 20 different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Top with finely chopped carrots, peppers, spinach or broccoli for added crunch and nutrients. Serve with a cup of low fat milk.
  • Whole Grain Peanut Butter Sandwich Topped with Strawberries and Bananas
    Spread 2 slices of whole grain bread with peanut butter and top with sliced strawberries and bananas. Peanut butter is an affordable and nutritious part of a lunch or snack. In fact peanuts have more than 30 important vitamins and minerals, plus more protein than any other nut – which provides sustainable energy. Opt for a natural peanut butter with little or no added sugar – there will be enough natural sweetness from the fruit topping. Bananas and strawberries offer potassium, fiber and vitamin C. Add some calcium to this meal with a few sticks of low fat string cheese or a small yogurt and serve with water.
  • Chicken Salad Whole-Wheat Pita Pocket with Leaf Lettuce
    Stuff a whole wheat pita pocket with chicken, leaf lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and shredded carrots. Serve with a piece of fruit, low fat cheese rounds, and water.

Smart After-school Snacks

Kids need between-meal snacks to keep their energy levels up. A study from the University of North Carolina found that more than a quarter of kids’ calories come from snack foods – many of which are low in nutrients like candy, cookies, soda and chips. Instead of junk-food snacks, make sure that their between-meal noshes come food groups that they need more of like fruit, dairy, whole grains and especially veggies.

Research found that school-aged kids ate significantly more veggies when they’re paired with a ranch or pizza-flavored dip. Smart snacks to try include:

  • Fresh fruit kebab with tube of low fat yogurt
  • Apple slices with peanut butter and low fat granola
  • Fresh cut veggies with individual serving of hummus
  • Trail mix with low fat milk
  • Low fat cheese with whole grain crackers
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About the Author
Katherine Brooking, MS, RD

Katherine Brooking is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition education from Columbia University. She is dedicated to helping people have better health and live richer lives through sound nutrition and good lifestyle choices.

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