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Need ideas for healthy school lunches? A nutrition expert weighs in.

A nutritious lunch enables kids to focus on learning.
Lunches like this taco salad are the kinds of healthy offerings that families can prepare at home. Guidelines from the federal MyPlate program recommend vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy.
Lunches like this taco salad are the kinds of healthy offerings that families can prepare at home. Guidelines from the federal MyPlate program recommend vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy. [ MICHELLE STARK | Times (2018) ]
Published Aug. 5, 2020
Updated Aug. 5, 2020

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With school starting soon, prepare your child — or yourself — with a healthy lunch. Make it easy and nutritious by following guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPlate program.

Guidelines from MyPlate include vegetables, fruits, lean protein, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat dairy. By using the MyPlate as a guide, you will provide your children with a lot of healthy options, and you’ll teach them about portion control.

Kimberly Bragg-Armatrout
Kimberly Bragg-Armatrout [ Courtesy of the University of Florida ]

So why is lunch so important? Lunch is served during the middle of the day while kids are at school or adults are at work. This meal is going to give your children the nutrition and energy to get them through the day, help them learn and provide them with good habits for a healthy future.

If their lunch is nutritious, they will be able to focus on learning. If their lunch is full of fat and high sugar content, it is going to make them crash during the day and put a negative learning curve on their education. So, making a healthy lunch choice will benefit your child now and in the future.

Here are some examples of a well-balanced meal:

  • Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce, tomato, and low-fat mayo. Add sides of low-fat yogurt and apple slices. Then wash it all down with a big bottle of refreshing water.
  • Simple stir fry with beans, rice, bell peppers, and low-fat cheese. A tasty treat would be a 100 percent fruit juice drink.
  • Whole wheat tortilla with peanut butter and banana slices. A twist off the great peanut butter and banana sandwich, minus the extra calories for the bread. You can choose baby carrots with a yogurt-Ranch dip for the side, and of course, water to finish it off.
  • DIY lunch-able with turkey pepperoni, low-fat cheddar cheese cubes, whole grain crackers, cucumbers, grapes, and cool, refreshing water.
  • Egg or tuna salad in a whole wheat pita with grated celery and carrots, then add a side of no sugar added applesauce and low-fat milk.
  • Ham and cheese pinwheels on whole grain wrap, celery with nut butter and raisins for dessert, and water to wash it down.

If you include your kids in the process, they will tend to eat more and healthier. Children who know to eat healthy meals and snacks will do so at school and at home. Such eating habits will help prevent weight issues.

It has been determined that one of three American children are either overweight or obese. Providing them with healthy lunch options can help avoid this from happening to your child. If they are getting the nutrition that they need during the day, then they will not be as hungry when they get home, grabbing the first thing that they see, which is often unhealthy. They will be able to choose a healthy snack and wait for their dinner.

So, mix and match and be creative with school lunches.

Kimberly Bragg-Armatrout is a health and nutrition agent for the Hillsborough County extension of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Contact her at braggk@hcflgov.net or (813) 744-5519.

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