Healthy Lunch Healthy You

October 9th, 2013 | By Marjie No Comments


In collaboration with Caroline Ward personal trainer and founder/owner of TransFit

Go ahead, pack your lunch for tomorrow’s busy day at work or school.  Now, take a good look at what you’ve included.  The typical ‘packed lunch’ today is a sandwich with processed meats (we actually call them ‘lunch meats’), chips, maybe fruit (or something that sounds fruity like fruit leather), a dessert that is likely pre-made and purchased from your local grocer, and a juice box or soda.  If you grimaced, don’t feel bad.  We’ve just described the average lunch people throw together.

We all know we can do lunch more healthfully than that.  The question is:  How do we make a healthier lunch that is inexpensive, quick and easy to make, and delicious?

That’s what this article is all about … making a healthy lunch so you can be a healthy YOU!

School lunches … they’re not what they used to be!

Some kids want to eat the school lunch, no matter what’s on the menu.  If that’s in your family’s budget and your children will eat a nutritious lunch, that’s perfect!  School lunches are getting more and more healthy, thanks to a number of national, state and even local initiatives that are addressing the types and amounts of food our kids eat as part of the school lunch program.
In fact, you’ll find some popular, traditional Southern foods in local schools, including collard greens and sweet potatoes, plus all-time kid favorites like spaghetti, enchiladas, and hamburgers.  Schools are making traditional lunches healthier by making some very easy and smart changes, like using whole grain breads and pastas, serving more fish and chicken, and making food look more appetizing.

Caroline Ward, a personal trainer and the founder/owner of Transfit right here in Athens, helps her clients make healthy lunch choices as part of their nutrition and fitness goals.  She shared some thoughts about school lunches:
“School lunches should meet the applicable recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that no more than 30 percent of an individual’s calories come from fat, and less than 10 percent from saturated fat.  Regulations also establish a standard for school lunches to provide one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories.

I believe that schools are becoming more aware of the importance of healthy lunches, and many schools are adopting Wellness Committees to assist schools in offering healthy alternatives.  Lunch staff are learning the importance of using whole grains and adding in more raw fruits and vegetables, too.

I personally don’t believe that a school should be the entity that limits calories for children. I believe school lunches should provide healthy low calorie options for all students, and lunch staff should be trained (and allowed to) encourage students to make healthy choices.  Of course, it is primarily the parent’s job to teach, encourage, and assist children of all ages to make healthy lunch choices.”

The workday lunch routine

In this day and age, it’s just plain easier to grab a snack or lunch from the vending machine or nearest fast food restaurant when you’re hungry than to take time in the evening or early morning to make a lunch for yourself.  Vending machines are usually just a few steps away from your office, and fast food is familiar and relatively inexpensive.

The down side is that – with very definite exceptions – fast food is typically loaded with salt and heavily processed foods.  Even the ‘healthy’ options at fast food places are often healthy only when compared to the non-healthy options.  And vending machines seldom carry whole grain foods or fresh fruits and veggies.

It isn’t unusual to spend the better part of a $10 bill … or even a $20 bill … if you want a delicious, healthy lunch from a restaurant.  And it’s tough to say “no, thanks” when your co-workers are all headed to the local café for a meal that’s going to be prepared, served, and cleaned up by someone other than yourself.  The bottom line, though, is that unless you are very aware and diligent, you will generally spend a great deal less and eat a great deal more healthfully if you ‘brown bag it’ from home.

Transforming the contents of your lunchbox

So, how do you update a ‘typical’ lunch to make it healthier?  In other words, if you’re helping your kids pack a lunch … or packing one for yourself … how do you turn a favorite PB&J with chips, a cookie, and a sugary juice drink into a healthier version of the same lunch?

First of all, remember that you and your kids want to enjoy the lunch you pack!  That means selecting foods you know are favorites.  Talk with your kids about what to plan and pack for lunches, teach them how to make good and tasty choices, and then help them pack lunch themselves!  It’s fun for them to spend that time with you, and then to eat what you have all worked on together.

Second, make changes gradually.  It’s not important to go from white bread and chips on one day to whole wheat and carrots the next.  Take time to explore foods that you and your children like and then figure out together how to incorporate them into lunches.  Get creative!  If they love eggs, teach them how to hard-boil them and pack them for the next day’s lunch.  If they like carrots dipped in a little ranch dressing, look for a fun little container to hold that condiment in their lunch box.

Third, add nutritional value to your lunches without making it obvious, especially at first.  The lunchtime meal should help you and your child get some daily doses of protein, fiber, fruits, and vegetables.  Look for foods that are high in nutrients and low in sugar, but that are tasty.  Let your kids have a Taste Test Party where they can sample different types of whole grain breads, real cheeses, fresh fruits, and raw veggies with dips!

The new and improved brown bag lunch

Healthy proteins:

  • sliced turkey, ham, or roast beef (roll ups are fun) – don’t use processed lunch meats, though
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • nuts/almonds
  • no-sugar-added peanut butter and other nut butters
  • hummus or other bean dips
  • yogurt
  • freeze yogurt tubes for a fun treat
  • edamame (whole soybeans)
  • cottage cheese
  • cheese sticks
  • roasted chickpeas
  • Low sugar treats and desserts:
  • yogurt (check the label for sugar content and artificial flavorings)
  • pudding made with low-fat milk
  • fig bars
  • oatmeal cookies
  • animal crackers
  • graham crackers
  • freeze-dried fruit
  • muffins or quick breads loaded with fruit or veggies (zucchini or banana bread)
  • trail mix (skip the candy) with dried fruits, nuts, seeds

Tips for picky eaters:

  1. Be patient when introducing new foods to yourself or your kids.
  2. Make mealtime and lunchbox-packing-time fun.
  3. Recruit your family’s help!  At the grocery store, let everybody select fruits, vegetables, and other yummy,  healthy foods.  At home, get everyone involved in rinsing veggies, stirring batter, and setting the table.
  4. Set a good example.  If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your family is more likely to follow suit.
  5. Hey, mom and dad … don’t be short-order cooks. Preparing separate meals for children after they reject the original meal can promote picky eating.  Encourage your kids to stay at the table for the designated mealtime, even if they aren’t eating the whole time.  And keep serving them healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred, at lunch and every mealtime!

You can learn more about building healthy lunches at and And learn more about Transfit at

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