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September is upon us, and of course that means schools have reopened. The level of activity in the morning increases with getting everyone ready for the school and work day. Parents and caretakers will be thinking about what to pack for lunches, if lunch is not purchased at school.

Healthy brown bag lunches

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September is upon us, and of course that means schools have reopened. The level of activity in the morning increases with getting everyone ready for the school and work day. Parents and caretakers will be thinking about what to pack for lunches, if lunch is not purchased at school. Since this mid-day meal should provide one-third of a child’s nutrition some thought needs to be given to the contents. The food should provide good nutrition for growth, academic rigors and physical activities. Here are some reminders for packing up healthy brown bag lunches.

These are three core groups of foods to include in a healthy lunch box (for kids and adults):

  1. Protein to meet growth needs: cheese, meats (fish, poultry, beef, pork), eggs, beans, nuts
  2. Starches and whole-grains for carbohydrate energy: breads, rolls, wraps, crackers, pasta, rice, potatoes
  3. Fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals

Sandwiches can take on a new meaning if there is a different holder of the filler: corn or flour tortillas, rolls or bun, wraps and pita pockets. But consider starches in a different form such as homemade muffins or cornbread. Whole-grain pasta or rice bowls, layered with protein and vegetables, are a fun switch-up too.

Leftovers from dinner make it easy to plan it forward into lunchtime menus the next day. Meatball sub, shredded chicken tortillas, diced leftover fish on salad or diced pork in a brown rice and veggie bowl. Any soups and stews from dinner can be heated in the morning and packed in a thermos for lunch.

It is interesting because some kids want variety for lunch and others want the same thing day after day. There may be a peanut butter sandwich every single day but perhaps the fruit and veggies on the side are changed up. Some kids are not fans of any type of sandwich so finger foods or appetizer-type foods may be best: hummus and baked pita chips; salsa or guacamole and whole-grain chips, cheese and whole-grain crackers such as Triscuits; then add raw fruits, veggies and yogurt to round out the lunch.

Don’t forget to pack a beverage; water or milk are best.

Food safety reminder: use frozen solid ice packs to keep food fresh in the lunch box and wash out lunch boxes every single night with warm sudsy water.

Recipes to try:

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.