Must-Haves for a Healthy Lunchbox

| By Jamie Rametta |

When I think of August, I think of back to school.

Even if we’re not currently students, we feel the energy change with the start of each academic year.

Advertisements flood our email inboxes and mailboxes with sales on colored pencils and 3-pronged folders, traffic patterns change and we see children waiting at bus stops in our neighborhoods.

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As a dietitian, I also think of the school lunchbox — it’s such an important part of the day’s nutrition for kids and adults alike (and isn’t it fun to see the new styles?!). So, what are some important foods to fill it with?

Read on for my top 5 must-haves for a healthy lunchbox.

1. A Food-Safe Lunchbox

The first thing is not a food itself but something extremely important to keeping the food safe — an insulated lunchbox with a few ice packs. Often lunchboxes contain perishable food without any temperature control. (Perishable food should be kept below 40 degrees F and should not be exposed to higher temperatures for more than 2 hours to avoid food-borne illness.)

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2. Pack it with Produce

Did you know that 90 percent of the U.S. population does not meet the fruit and veggie recommendations?

Lunch is a great time to enjoy a variety of colorful produce. (Fruit snacks and jelly/preserves don’t count.)

Consider rainbow baby carrots, mini bell peppers, sliced cucumber or celery with yogurt dip, hummus, or guacamole cups; a piece of whole fruit like an apple, banana or orange; using fruit in the meal such as a peanut butter and fruit sandwich; sliced strawberries or blueberries in a salad; or adding veggies to a sandwich.

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3. Good Grains

Replace chip bags with popcorn or whole-grain crackers packing at least 3 grams of fiber per serving (such as Triscuits); choose a 100-percent whole-grain bread, pita or wrap instead of white or honey wheat bread — or a granola bar made with oats — to boost fiber, which promotes satiety.

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4. Protein Beyond Processed Meats

Tuna and salmon packets and cups are convenient and pack in an omega 3 boost. For the adventurous eater, try sardines. Don’t forget canned beans or hardboiled eggs for protein, too. And a peanut butter sandwich makes a great meatless alternative. Protein also comes from dairy.

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And for some moooooore protein ideas…

5. Dairy or Dairy Substitutes

Don’t forget the dairy or alternatives for bone health!

Shelf-stable fat-free or low-fat milk boxes are awesome for the lunchbox because they are perfectly portioned and keep the milk safe despite lack of refrigeration.

Cottage cheese and yogurt cups are convenient and nutrient-rich; look for options with live and active cultures (aka probiotics) and vitamin D and keep them on ice.

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Happy back-to-school and happy lunching!


JamieAndrewEngagement_2017-38Jamie Rametta, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE, is a registered dietitian, a lifelong cook and a frequent gym-goer. She’s also a proud dog mom and a newlywed.

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