NOTE: This blog was written by Jenna Leopold, a dietetics student that interned with me this summer.
With school already underway and summer coming to an end, now is as good a time as ever to start thinking about packing a healthy lunch for your child or even for yourself. Packing a lunch from home has many benefits; it allows you to control portion sizes, it saves you money and it helps you develop healthy eating habits.
When packing lunches, the most important thing to remember is to have a well-balanced meal that includes all the major food groups. These food groups include grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy. By including all the major food groups, you add variety to your lunch, which also helps you stay fuller longer. Keeping all the major food groups in mind will also help you avoid eating one big portioned meal and help you eat smaller portions of multiple food items. By eating a well-balanced diet, you allow your body to get a variation of vitamins and nutrients, which helps you stay healthy and energized.
If you are packing a lunch for your child, it is important to involve him or her in the process. One of the best ways to get your child involved is taking him/her with you to the grocery store. This will allow the child to pick the foods he/she likes, which makes your child more likely to eat the food you pack for him/her. To help them pick healthy choices, make a list of four or five different items from each food group and allow he/she to pick what he/she would like to eat. Also, if you are having trouble determining what foods belong to a certain food group, the MyPlate website (www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/) is a great tool. This website will give you a bunch of different foods and recommended daily intakes for each food group.
Food groups are a very important part of a well-balanced diet, but there are also other things you can do to make your packed lunch healthier. Most kids like the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which can be quite healthy. However, the jelly can add unwanted sugar. A better alternative is a peanut butter and banana sandwich; this will reduce the amount of sugar and provide more nutritional value. If you or your child prefers meat on your sandwiches, try choosing lower-sodium and no-additive options like the Di Lusso fresh cut meats at the Hy-Vee deli. Another great way to make your lunch healthier is switching from white bread to 100% whole wheat bread. Not only will the bread make you stay fuller longer, but it will also help to reduce the risk of heart disease. Lastly, if you get bored of eating bread sandwich every day, try experimenting with wraps or pita pockets – and of course eating leftovers is also a good and easy option to change up your lunches.
-Jenna Leopold, Dietetic Intern