Creating Healthy Lunches for the Whole Family

Mother helping daughter

For busy parents, making a healthy lunch for you and your kids to take to school and work can be stressful. Packing a healthy lunch can save big money and with a little planning, will give you and your family the energy you need to get through the day. USDA's MyPlate is designed to make building a well-balanced meal easier for families. Below are a few healthy choices from each food group that don’t take a lot of time to put together. Choose one from each, and you’re all set!

Fruit:

  • ½ small apple
  • 1 clementine or small orange
  • 16 seedless grapes
  • 1 small peach
  • ½ medium pear, a large plum or 4 large strawberries
  • ¼ cup raisins, prunes or dried apricots

Vegetables

  • 1 ½ cups leafy greens (any type of lettuce, spinach)
  • 1 ½ large stalks celery
  • ¾ cup broccoli florets
  • ¾ cup baby carrots
  • ¾ cup cooked sweet potato or squash

Grains

  • slice of bread
  • a cup of cereal
  • ½ cup of oatmeal, rice, or whole-wheat pasta
  • 1 mini bagel
  • ½ English muffin
  • 3 cups popped popcorn
  • a small flour, whole wheat, or corn tortilla

Protein

  • an ounce of meat, poultry or fish
  • ¼ cup cooked beans or peas (black, kidney, pinto, lentil, chickpeas)
  • hard-boiled egg
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut or almond butter
  • ½ ounce of nuts (12 almonds, 24 pistachios, 7 walnut halves)
  • ¼ cup tofu
  • 2 tablespoons hummus
  • a falafel patty

Dairy

  • 1 small glass of milk
  • 8 oz. container of yogurt
  • 2 slices of cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss or Parmesan cheese
  • 3 slices processed American cheese
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 8 oz. of pudding

Time-Saving Tips:

  1. Freeze it! Make the most of your leftovers! Pack the extras into single kid-size portions and freeze them for lunch. Or, freeze fruit before packing them up– they will defrost by lunchtime and keep a lunchbox cool.
  2.  Plan ahead.  Make a few sandwiches without condiments to save time. Wash, slice, and package produce so that you’re set for a few days (don’t forget to put some aside for your lunch, too).
  3. Smart Shortcuts: Is it economical to buy larger containers and some reusable storage to take smaller portions? Yes. But there are healthy pre-made single-serving foods out there that may work better for your schedule. Yogurt and unsweetened applesauce are two great examples of kid-friendly snacks that make for healthier lunch add-ins--choose the healthier shortcuts that work for you and your family.

Sources

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