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September 4, 2012

Healthy lunches don't have to be boring

September is back-to-school time for many families, which often means getting back into the routine of packing a lunch, at least occasionally. 

Some people thrive on routine and gladly eat peanut butter and jelly with an apple every day, but many of us enjoy a little change. Packing a new or interesting lunch does not have to take long and can make a diet more appealing.

When planning a lunch, try to include at least four food groups and follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines, which recommend that half of the meal contains vegetables and fruit. 

Choose whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread, tortillas, pastas and crackers, since they will be more filling. Fresh vegetables, such as carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, green beans and snap peas, are great for a lunch box, especially if your little one likes dipping. Also consider leftover cooked vegetables as sandwich-stuffers. Fresh fruit is also great, but keep unsweetened applesauce and dried fruit, such as raisins, on hand in case you run out of the other. When it comes to protein, go beyond deli meat. Leftovers work well in sandwiches; or you could try hard-boiled eggs, nuts or nut butters (if allowed on site); and beans or bean dips, such as hummus. Lastly, dairy should be low fat. Milk, yogurt and low-fat cheeses all make great lunch choices since they are good sources of calcium and protein. 

Dips and dippers are another healthy option. All you need is a combination of vegetables, pretzel sticks and either a bean- or yogurt-based dip. To make a very simple dip, add low-fat dressing, such as ranch, to some plain yogurt to taste. Add a fruit, such as applesauce (which can double as a dip as well), to satisfy the fourth food group. 

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