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Refresh Your Lunch Box With Healthy Choices

For many, the start of the school year can give feelings of excitement and hope, similar to those felt at the beginning of a New Year. Author Gretchen Rubin noted, “September is the other January.” After the more laid back schedule of summer, fall finds us ready for a new routine. This desire for a new groove may give you the motivation to pack healthy lunches. What you put in your lunch box can make a huge difference in your day, and your overall health.

A healthy lunch promotes long-lasting energy and helps you avoid an afternoon slump. It should include three parts: 

1. A healthy carbohydrate
2. A lean protein
3. A half plate of non-starchy vegetables

This formula can give you healthy and appealing lunch options. A bento-box style lunch box that includes three compartments can also help encourage you to stick with the plan. 

Pick one item from each of the categories below to create a balanced lunch. 
Healthy carbohydrates:

  • Whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice or whole wheat products like whole wheat English muffins, whole wheat wraps, whole wheat bread or whole wheat pasta
  • Fruit
  • Starchy vegetables such as sweet potato, corn, sweet peas or potato
  • Legume-based products, such as lentil pasta or chickpea pasta

Lean proteins:

  • Skinless chicken breast
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Beans, peas or lentils
  • Low fat dairy such as Greek yogurt 

Non-starchy vegetables:

  • Salad greens
  • Kale
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers 
  • Mushrooms
  • Jicama
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Broccoli
  • Celery 
  • Peppers
  • Squash, such as zucchini, spaghetti and summer squash 

Healthy recipe ideas:
Chicke pesto: Use zucchini noodles mixed with pesto (made from walnuts, basil, spinach, garlic, olive oil), topped with skinless chicken breast and a side of corn or fruit.
Homemade chicken Caesar wrap: Use a whole wheat or low-carb/high-fiber wrap of choice, add 3-4 ounces of cooked skinless chicken breast, 2 Tbsp light Caesar salad dressing (or make your own with fat-free greek yogurt), 1-3 cups greens, such as romaine, spinach or kale.
Quinoa burrito bowl: Add a low-sodium taco seasoning to quinoa as it cooks, combine with black beans or tofu for plant-based protein and add a sliced tomato and bell peppers for non-starchy vegetables. 
DIY protein box: Pack your lunch with an assortment of hard boiled eggs, low fat cheese, sliced fruit, celery, tomato and cucumber slices, then add a side of hummus or peanut butter for dipping. 

Featured Image
Healthy bento box lunch

Ashley Reed, RDN, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She works at Chesapeake Regional’s Lifestyle Health & Fitness Center in Diabetes and Nutrition Services.​

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