What’s in Your Lunchbox?

Since 1980 the obesity rates for children have doubled and for teenagers actually tripled. The school lunch menus are now planned by Registered Dieticians to reflect the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. There are guidelines for those schools participating in the National School Lunch Program. These lunches must contain at least 1/3 of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of necessary nutrients, contain a certain amount of calories, food group choices, calories and saturated fat. However, some meals still exceed the recommendations for fat. Children who buy their lunches for the first time have a say in what they choose and can end up choosing an unhealthy mix of items. As a child, my son would only eat pizza. He could easily pick pizza daily. Occasionally packing a lunch will teach them about making good nutritional choices.

Here are some things that we can do to help our children make healthy choices:

    • Get your child involved in the selection and preparation

      • I take my youngest daughter grocery shopping and allow her to pick out her selections. We then look over the selection and choose together. She does very well now. Just have to make sure she does not hide something.
      • I allow her to actually pick out the fruit and vegetables, which teaches her how to select the freshest choices.
      • My youngest now prepares her own lunches. Allow your child to help. Many times she puts the items that do not require being cool in her lunchbox the night before.
      • Let your child pick out an awesome lunchbox or decorate the old standby -the brown paper sack.


  • Discuss that good nutrition will give them the energy to finish the day
  • Encourage healthy choices
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      • Fresh fruit
      • Popcorn
      • Snack vegetables
      • Water instead of soda
      • Raisins
      • Applesauce or fruit cups in light syrup


  • We print the monthly menu from the school website, review it, and choose which days she will take a lunch and which days she will buy one. Post it where your child will see it such as the refrigerator, a bulletin board, or as in our case, the kitchen island. She circles the days she would like to bring her lunch.
  • Keep nutritious options at their level
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      • Middle of refrigerator shelf
      • Middle pantry shelf
      • Keep cookies, chips, candy, etc on the top shelf out or sight and reach (I have a couple of places in my pantry where I hide this type of item…out of sight, out of mind)


  • Variety
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      • Don’t pack the same things over and over
      • Plan out the weekly meals


  • As a child, I would find notes or little “surprises”, like some plastic item, in my lunchbox. I carried this tradition on with my children so it makes it fun to open the bag at lunch.

Lunchbox Makeover

Consider In Place of Why
Whole-grain breads, tortilla wraps White bread White breads have less fiber
Lower-fat deli meats such as turkey Higher-fat lunch meats such as bologna Bologna can have up to 980 calories. They won’t notice the difference between ham and bologna.
Baked chips, pretzels, baked pita chips, air-popped popcorn, trail mix, veggies and low-fat ranch or other low-fat dip, string cheese Fried chips and snacks Fried items have more fat calories and saturated fat. I know it sounds far-fetched but try it.
Fresh fruit or fruit in natural juice Fruit in syrup Fruits in syrup have more sugar and calories. Look for items packed in natural juice or light syrups.
Light mayonnaise or mustard Mayonnaise Regular may can have 48 grams of fat. There is no taste difference between regular and fat-free mayo. This small change can make a big difference.
Trail mix, yogurt, sugar-free gelatin, Graham crackers, granola bars, 100 calorie snack bags, frozen yogurt Cookies and snack cakes Cookies have more sugar, calories, carbohydrates and less fiber. This type of energy is used up very quickly and is only good for short spurts of energy.
Low-fat milk, water, 100% fruit juice Fruit drinks and soda Fruit drinks and sodas have more sugar, carbohydrates, and calories. Milk provides calcium.

Sandwhich Ideas

  • Whole-Wheat Bread
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      • Whole wheat pita bread
      • Whole wheat rolls
      • Try different brands
      • Try one slice white and one slice whole wheat
      • Cut bread into different shapes


  • Pinwheels- Roll up a whole-wheat tortilla filled with favorites then cut into 3-4 wheels:
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      • Peanut butter
      • Cream cheese
      • Low-fat cheese slices
      • Roast beef, turkey, tuna salad
      • Lettuce
      • Add tomato in a separate bag so wrap doesn’t get soggy
      • Cucumber
      • Grated carrot


Safe Packing

  • Cold packs or frozen foods
  • Wash out lunch boxes daily
  • Pack moist towelettes so kids can wash hands before eating
  • Hot foods can be placed in a thermos

Let me grade your child’s lunchbox. Post on our Facebook page and I will look at them and assign a grade for you. What grade do you think your child’s lunch will get?

Meat Loaf

My kids absolutely love this recipe. They have been unaware, until just recently, that one of their favorite meals has vegetables in it!

6 ounce can tomato paste
½ cup red wine
½ cup water
1 clove minced garlic
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (or to taste)
Salt to taste
1 pound lean ground turkey breast
1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup oatmeal
¼ cup liquid egg substitute or 1 egg
1 small zucchini
1 small onion

In small saucepan, combine the tomato paste, water, wine and Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside. Place onion, zucchini, and garlic in food processor. Process until finely chopped. Combine ground turkey, ground sirloin, salt, oatmeal and egg or egg product, half of the tomato mixture and the zucchini and onion mixture. Mix well. Place into an 8X4 inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Pour off pan juices. Return to oven and top with remaining tomato mixture. Bake another 30 minutes or until center is cooked.

Nutritional Information Per Serving
188 calories
12 grams protein
12 grams carbohydrates
10 grams fat (less if you use ground sirloin and very lean ground turkey breast)

Adopted from The South Beach Diet cookbook by Arthur Agatston, M.D.

Eggplant Ricotta Bake

3 eggplant
1 ½ cup onion
1 ½ teaspoon garlic
2 cups low-fat ricotta cheese
1 ½ cups part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
¾ cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
3 large tomatoes

Cover Cookie sheet with foil. Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray. Slice eggplant into 1/3 inch circles. Place on prepared cookie sheet. Lightly salt slices. Bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Sauté onions and garlic until onions are soft. Combine the cheeses. Combine the wheat germ and spices. Coat a large baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Layer eggplant, wheat germ, cheese, onions and tomato. Repeat layers. Cover pan. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Uncover pan and bake an additional 5 minutes.

Serves 12

This recipe is by special request from some of the staff. I like the leftovers for breakfast. Has protein and carbohydrates with some vegetables added in. This would be nice for those with diabetes.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
148 calories
Saturated fat 2 grams
Total fat 4 grams
Carbohydrates 14 grams
Protein 14 grams

Source: www.everydayhealth.com