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What's in Your Lunchbox? Check Out Dietitian Lisa Cooper's Healthy Guide to Lunches for the Family

January 07, 2014

The nightly ritual at our house is packing lunches. We each have our own tastes and preferences – so our packed lunches look very different. Since my kids are older, I let them pack their own lunches (with a little supervision!) because I know they will be more likely to eat what they pack.

The plan is to have a variety of healthy options on hand so each of us can pack a nutritious lunch. My first choice is usually leftovers from the night before. Choosing leftovers ensures that I have a vegetable to go with my meal. I usually add a greek yogurt and ¼ cup of almonds for a snack. My oldest son prefers snack lunches. He chooses mandarin oranges in juice, applesauce, peanut butter with whole grain crackers and a granola bar. My youngest son is happy with a peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat with nonfat yogurt, two cheese sticks, cashews and an apple. My daughter opts for her homemade “lunchable” with rolled turkey, low fat cheese cubes, whole wheat crackers and grapes. We all take water to drink.

Create your lunch by thinking of it according to food groups—fruit, vegetable, dairy, protein, grain. Stock your cupboards with foods that the kids can use to make their own lunches. Get their input on what foods to have on hand.

Do I have a fruit? It could be a piece of fruit,

  • A fruit cup in 100% juice
  • No sugar added applesauce
  • Dried fruit (raisins or dried plums)
What vegetable can I bring?
  • Salad
  • Leftovers from the night before
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers
Dairy could include:
  • Low fat yogurt
  • Low fat Greek yogurt
  • Low fat cottage cheese cup
  • Low fat string cheese
Proteins can come in many forms:
  • Rolled up deli turkey
  • Tuna salad kit
  • Leftovers from last night’s stew
  • Peanut butter & jelly
  • Nuts
  • Hummus
Which grains are best?
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Graham crackers
  • Whole grain bread
  • Whole wheat pita
  • Whole wheat tortilla
  • Sandwich thin
  • Whole wheat bagel
  • Whole grain English muffin
Try to set lunch-packing as part of your nightly routine, so that everything is prepared and ready to go the next morning. If the kids are participating in lunch packing, they are more likely to eat what they pack. Have items on hand that make the packing process easier. Purchase small, re-usable containers for food items like peanut butter, hummus, left-overs and salads. Baggies, both sandwich and snack size, are useful for portioning nuts, pretzels, and dried fruits. Buy a lunchbox for each family member that can accommodate a freezer pack. This way, you will know that the items will stay fresh.

When assembling your lunch- make sure to evaluate your lunch items. Think according to food groups and try to and make sure you have a choice from each. Packing lunch from home is a way to ensure your family is getting healthy choices at lunchtime.