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10 Tips to Pack a Healthy Lunch for School

Ed. note: 10 Tips for Healthy Meals was originally published in the USDA ‘The School Day Just Got Healthier’ Toolkit for Parents.

School is back in session, and it’s time to start packing those lunches again! A healthy meal starts with more vegetables and fruits, and smaller portions of protein and grains. Have your child help pack lunch with you so they can learn how to make a healthy, balanced meal. Show them how healthy food can be delicious, too, and encourage them to try new foods. Here are 10 tips to packing a healthy lunch for school:

Children with boxed lunches

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture
  1. Make Half Your Plate Veggies and Fruits: Vegetables and fruits are full of nutrients and may help to promote good health. Choose red, orange, and dark-green vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.
  2. Add Lean Protein: Choose protein foods, such as lean beef and pork, or chicken, turkey, beans, or tofu. Twice a week, make seafood the protein on your plate.
  3. Include Whole Grains: Aim tow make at least half your grains whole grains. Look for the words, “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the food label. Whole grains provide more nutrients, like fiber, than refined grains.
  4. Don’t Forget the Dairy: Pair your meal with a cup of fat-free or low-fat milk. They provide the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but less fat and calories. Don’t drink milk? Try soymilk (soy beverage) as your beverage or include fat-free or low-fat yogurt in your meal.
  5. Avoid Extra Fat: Using heavy gravies or sauces will add fat and calories to otherwise healthy choices. For example, steamed broccoli is great, but avoid topping it with cheese sauce. Try other options, like a sprinkling of low-fat parmesan cheese or a squeeze of lemon.
  6. Take Your Time: Savor your food. Eat slowly, enjoy the taste and textures, and pay attention to how you feel. Be mindful. Eating very quickly may cause you to eat too much.
  7. Use a Smaller Plate: Use a smaller plate at meals to help with portion control. That way you can finish your entire plate and feel satisfied without overeating.
  8. Take Control of Your Food: Eat at home more often so you know exactly what you are eating. If you eat out, check and compare the nutrition information. Choose healthier options such as baked instead of fried.
  9. Try New Foods: Keep it interesting by picking out new foods you’ve never tried before, like mango, lentils, or kale. You may find a new favorite! Trade fun and tasty recipes with friends and or find them online.
  10. Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth in a Healthy Way: Indulge in a naturally sweet dessert dish—fruit! Serve a fresh cocktail or a fruit parfait made with yogurt. For a hot dessert, bake apples and top with cinnamon.

To learn more, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov. Download 10 tips to healthy meals and 10 consejos para platos sanos