Guest Blogger: Better Bagged Lunches (now for eating at home)

Mrs. Q: Things got away from me and I meant to put this guest blog post up while I was still in school. Thankfully these suggestions can be incorporated very easily into lunches made at home over the summer. And now without further delay…

Better (not boring) Bagged Lunches (now at home!)

I grew up eating bagged lunch every day, save for a few days in elementary school when I begged my mom to let me buy pizza for lunch. I believe that packing my lunch, among many other healthy habits I learned while growing up, led me to have a career as a Registered Dietitian.
One healthy tip I like to stress with my clients is for them to pack their own lunch as much as possible instead of going out for lunch, since you’ll always eat healthier and more portion controlled when you have control over what goes into your lunch. The same holds true for students and school lunches. Unless they’re attending one of the few schools that has made healthier school lunches a priority, they’re likely faced with salt and sugar stuffed lunches with few nutrients to get their minds and bodies through the school day.
Sending your child to school armed with a healthy lunch in hand can be the best way to ensure she’s getting the nutrients she needs for a better brain and body. The best lunches will have a combination of good grains (whole wheat bread, tortillas, pita pockets, pasta), protein (yogurt, peanut butter, lean meat, beans, hummus) and a fresh fruit or veggie. Don’t forget to pack a frozen drink or ice pack to keep cold foods chilled.
Bagged lunches don’t have to be made up of soggy sandwiches and lackluster leftovers. Here are some fun (and nutritious!) bagged lunch ideas to pack with your kids and make them long for lunch:
·        Fruity yogurt parfait: In a Tupperware container, layer reduced fat yogurt with fresh berries. Pack a snack back of whole grain cereal on the side so your child can sprinkle it on top of the parfait and scoop it up with a spoon.
·        Veggie platter: Pack a sectioned Tupperware container with veggie sticks like cucumbers and bell peppers, whole wheat pita chips, hummus, feta cheese, and grapes so your little one can dip into this Mediterranean-style meal (and eat with his fingers, too!).
·        Roll-ups: With a long carrot stick in the center, roll two layers each of low sodium deli turkey with reduced fat cheese and a whole wheat tortilla on the outside. Your child will have fun eating this sandwich roll-up with a surprise crunch from the carrot in the center.
·        Sweet sandwich: If PB&J is getting boring, try another sweet sandwich filler by using fresh berries. Spread a roll or bread slices with light cream cheese or Laughing Cow Light cheese and top with strawberry slices or pitted cherries (pictured here) for a sweet treat. This sandwich might be a best bet in schools that have outlawed peanut products.
·        Personal pizza: If your kid is a fan of cold pizza, why not pack some for lunch? Top a whole wheat Sandwich Thin or pita pocket with some pizza sauce, light shredded cheese, veggies and beans.
·        Pasta salad surprise: Packing pasta salad is a great way to use up leftover pasta, veggies, beans or lean meat. Toss all of the above ingredients together with some Italian dressing for a quick and tasty pasta salad meal.
Try packing lunch in the evening with your child so you can still send him or her off to school with a healthy lunch, even on the busiest of mornings. Don’t forget to throw in some snacks and beverages to keep those tiny tummies satisfied all day.
Janel Ovrut MS RD LDN is a Boston-based Registered Dietitian who is passionate about helping others make healthy changes, one bite at a time. You can read her blog Eat Well with Janel or follow her on Twitter.
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11 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Better Bagged Lunches (now for eating at home)

  1. great idea. i think it'd be interesting to note the cost difference between brining and buying. because sometimes i find that bringing is actually less expensive (overall) than buying.. and obviously healthier.

  2. being a former P.E. teacher, I always stressed the importance of bringing your lunch, rather than buying! Such a healthy, fun way to pack in the nutrients for a long school day!

  3. My girls love roll ups, and the best thing is they can have leftovers in them! Sometimes I make a taco roll up, with cheese and taco meat, but chopping grilled chicken works well too. My son likes his sandwiches cut into shapes, so I use my cookie cutters to cut season appropriate shapes. It adds a bit of fun and my kids love it.

  4. Bringing a lunch has to be less expensive, well, depending on what you bring. The key with kids is to not overwhelm them with tons of food and to pack foods that are good for them in quanities that they will eat.
    I happened on Mrs. Q's blog while looking at bento blogs and other lunch related blogs.
    Lots of parents are sending their kids to school and day camps with wonderful lunches utilizing lunch systems that they have bought or devised that are reusable and leave zero plastic trash to throw away at the school.
    My oldest went to a private school for 2 years that served no lunch, everyone brought their own, refridgeration was available and a whole counter of microwaves for reheating food. Many brought leftovers from the night before.
    Same thing at the preschool where I teach. Lots of leftovers. Very few lunchables. Thank goodness.
    Right now my oldest is married and pregnant and I'm trying to get her to take her lunch to work…easier, and much better for her, plus she doesn't have to watch out for allergy triggers.
    Keep your fingers crossed that she will listen to her mother.
    Back to kids. Mrs. Q. Perhaps you could get another guest poster who regularly sends a HEALTHY lunch in a laptop lunch box or other bento. Chef Ann Cooper has a book with lots of good recipes to send to school too.
    A good school lunch doesn't have to be HOT.
    Nor does it have to consist of a deli sandwish and an apple or Chips and juice and peanut butter.
    Think outside the box like this guest blogger does. I love the idea of a veggie platter.
    My youngest used to take homemade veggie "sushi"

  5. I wish we would quit advocating for low fat/skim anything… especially for children! They need healthy saturated fat (from pastured animals) for brain development. Eating fat does not make you fat, nor does it contribute to heart disease. In fact it is protective for the heart. I can't wait until the science proving this truth becomes mainstream!

    For more information from reliable sources:

    Whole Health Source is a wonderful blog written by a PhD who studies body fat regulation. I highly recommend clicking on the label "Fats" to find out the truth about nutrition and diet.

  6. Thanks to everyone who commented! The picture is so colorful and it's in contrast to what I was eating at school

  7. This is a nice post. I have something new to prepare for my lunch in school! I am going to try it!

  8. We brown-bag…well actually bento box-it and have done so for 2 years now. Once you get the hang of packing healthy lunches it takes only 10 mins everyday-well worth every minute!

    The National school lunch program feeds over 31 million children making it essential for schools to provide meals that are nutritious and fresh. Fortunately there are schools out there that do…Our school is half way there (i think), and there are others that make the effort.
    Ive been following School Meals That Rock:!/pages/School-Meals-That-Rock/115393195143514

    It's encouraging to see that it can be done.

  9. This was a great reminder. We eat lunch at home every day, but we're still in the rut of pb and J sandwiches or deli sandwiches. I homemake my own whole wheat bread and we go through three loaves a week. I'd love to eat less bread around my house. My kids LOVE their fruits and veggies. They'd love all of these recipes. They'd think it was a treat! I'll be making a variety of lunches from now on. Thanks for the reminder.

  10. I agree with anonymous. It is exasperating seeing health professionals time and time again assert that reduced fat food products are better than the real thing when the research showing the opposite is true is not exactly obscure. A good starting point is Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food." I prefer to give my family dairy products that haven't been overly processed and packed with additives, fiilers and synthetic vitamins, as the author here is recommending.

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