Packing a Healthy Lunch

Scene: It’s already been a hectic morning, the kids are about to miss the school bus and you realize you forgot to pack lunches for their field trip. So you grab whatever prepackaged foods you have lying around and shove them into a paper bag for the kids. For yourself, you figure you will just have a donut at the meeting you are running late for and then grab whatever you can get from the local fast food restaurant for lunch.

 Sounds like a typical morning?  The decision of what to pack for lunch can be a tough one, especially if you do not have a lot of time. With a little planning it can become easy to pack healthy, delicious lunches your whole family will love.  Here are some tips:

Save Time and Money
  • Use leftovers.  Pack up leftovers into lunch containers while you are cleaning up for dinner so it will be ready to go in the morning.
  • When grocery shopping, choose foods that will go easily into a lunch box such as apples, string cheese, and yogurt.  Divide items such as carrots into single serving containers on Sunday so they are ready to go all week.
  • Buy items that will last in bulk to save both time and money.
Make it Healthy 
  • Use MyPlate as a guide. Try to include one item from each food group and make it as colorful as you can!
  • Include fresh fruits and vegetables when possible.  Try serving a banana or some carrots with hummus instead of chips, or sneak extra veggies onto a sandwich.  Salads also make great lunches; just put the dressing in a small container on the side.
  • Choose lean meats such as turkey and chicken instead of high-fat meats like bologna and use whole wheat bread for sandwiches to give them a healthy twist.  Or try other entrees like brown rice and beans or grilled chicken dippers.
  • Pack only water or 100% juice and fruit for dessert.  Sugary treats like soda and snack cakes can make you or your child crash in the afternoon.
Keep it Safe
  • It is important to follow food safety guidelines to keep lunches safe.  The USDA provides some tips for packing healthy lunches: begin with safe food, keep everything clean while packing lunches, keep lunches cold, and and reheat to the proper temperature (165 degrees F).
  • Foods that need to be refrigerated should never be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours.  If you don't have a place to refrigerate your lunch, use an insulated lunch bag and an ice source to keep it cold.
  • When packing your child's lunch, only pack the amount you think they can eat since leftovers will be difficult to keep cold until the end of the day.

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