Nutrition Notes: Pack lunches with plenty of whole foods

Pencils, notebooks, rulers … raisins? While parents are stocking up on school supplies, whole foods should be on the top of the list.


Learning to eat a healthy diet is an important part of growing up, and is vital in preventing obesity and many other chronic diseases. With lots of options on hand, it is easy to pack a nutritious lunch for everyone — adults included. Just vary the amount of each food provided based on age.


Many foods are already packaged in the right serving size for kids, such as cheese sticks, mini bags of baby carrots, small boxes of raisins, 4-ounce cups of yogurt or one hard-boiled egg. Save money and “go green” by buying them in bulk and portioning them into containers or baggies at home. Save time by packing lunches right after dinner, when you can recycle leftovers right into individual containers for lunch.


If you are packing a healthy lunch for the kids, why not make one for yourself? Studies show that adults who bring their lunch from home tend to consume fewer calories and save money. Without a packed lunch on hand, they purchase a meal that usually has larger portions and then eat it all. Others may skip lunch only to overeat later in the day to “make up” for the meal. Eating regular meals helps adults to feel better and perform their jobs better, resulting in greater satisfaction.


The ingredients for a healthy lunch include a serving from each of the food groups: milk, whole grain, protein, fruits and vegetables. There is usually room in your daily calories for a small treat, providing 150 to 200 calories a day. Just make sure that treats aren’t a part of every meal, because they can replace more nutrient-dense foods or cause weight gain.


Here is one week’s worth of examples that include all the food groups. They are in suggested portions for kids age 9 and up. For younger kids or smaller appetites, just cut portions in half.


• 8 ounces low-fat milk (dairy); sandwich made with two slices of whole wheat bread (grain), 1 tablespoon peanut butter (protein), and half sliced banana (fruit); 1 cup baby carrots (vegetable).


• 4 ounces low-fat yogurt (dairy); 12 whole-grain crackers (grain); two cheese sticks (protein); small box of raisins (fruit); handful of grape tomatoes (vegetable).


• 8 ounces low-fat milk (dairy); 2 ounces whole-grain pretzels (grain); two hard-cooked eggs (protein); one apple (fruit); 1 cup sweet green pepper slices (vegetable).


• 4 ounces low-fat yogurt with 3/4 cup blueberries (dairy, fruit); one slice leftover pizza on whole-wheat crust (grain, protein); 1 cup broccoli florets with dressing dip (vegetable).


• 8 ounces low-fat milk (dairy); tossed salad with 1 cup lettuce/baby spinach/romaine plus any other raw vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, mushrooms, etc. (vegetable); 1 cup canned, rinsed and drained garbanzo or kidney beans (protein); 2 tablespoons dried cranberries (fruit); six whole-wheat crackers and one small granola bar (grain).


Use your imagination to come up with other combinations. Teach your kids how to plan a healthy lunch by letting them help. Older kids can take over this responsibility. Then when you go grocery shopping, everyone will be on the lookout for other fun lunch ideas.


Darlene Endy is a registered dietitian in Manlius. Reach her at 692-4887.