Packed Lunches Can Pack a Nutritional Punch

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LunchYes, packing your own lunch can help save money — but the savings don’t stop there! Bringing a bagged lunch to school or work can also save you from unwanted ingredients and excess calories. Here are some tips for healthful and tasty packed lunches…

Sandwiches are great lunch options. Pack a nutritional punch by choosing whole grain breads, flatbreads, tortilla wraps, or pita pockets as the base. Check the ingredient list for “100% whole grain/wheat/etc” and try to choose a product that doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup. If you are not a sandwich person, you can include whole grains in a pasta salad (with lots of veggies and beans) or crackers with natural cheeses.

Fruits and Vegetables
Instead of heading to an expensive salad bar, make your own salad for lunch! Include dark green leafy vegetables like Romaine lettuce and kale, then add your favorite toppings from different vegetable families. Try carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, beets, and sprouts. It’s also fun to add nuts, berries, and avocados to cover your protein, fruit, and healthy fat needs in one bowl! If you aren’t adding fruit to your salad, you can always have it as a juicy snack on the side. Pack a different fruit every day to keep your lunch fun and full of variety. Apples, bananas, and oranges are all hearty options.

Adding a dairy product to your lunch will provide you with bone-building calcium. Choose low-fat milk as your beverage, or add natural cheeses to your sandwich or salad. If you’re making a cold pasta salad, adding chunks of reduced-fat cheese can pack a protein punch to keep you feeling full for hours.

Meat and Meat Alternatives
Leftovers make a delicious and nutritious lunch option! Use last night’s chicken or steak in your sandwich or salad. No leftovers? No problem! Try a meat alternative, such as a hearty bean soup with lots of veggies, or edamame and tofu cubes tossed in a spicy ginger vinaigrette over a chopped salad, or have hummus with carrot sticks and pita bread wedges.

Healthy Fats
Don’t forget to add a little bit of healthy fat to your lunch. It will keep you satiated throughout the afternoon while also adding flavor and texture to your meal. Consider including avocado slices in your sandwiches, or sprinkling chopped olives and homemade dressings on your salads.

Whatever you pack in your lunch, make sure it packs a nutritional punch by including as many food groups as you can. There are tons of combinations to choose from, so a boring lunch will never be an option!

By Beth Rosen, MS, RD, CDN

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