Lunch: What to Pack, What to Eat


There’s no need to settle for an unhealthy lunch from home or the mysterious slop of greasy goo in the cafeteria. Why not eat a lunch that is delicious, good for you and doesn’t come in a cellophane wrapper? Knowing the best foods to pack or choose in the cafeteria is tricky given the high amount of calories and lack of nutrients in many food choices.

Did you know that the types of foods you choose affect your mood and energy levels? According to dietitian Andrea Garen of the Dairy Council of California, a healthy lunch “needs to combine nutrient-rich foods from several food groups to supply protein, fat and carbohydrates to sustain energy and concentration for several hours.”

And, since teens are growing and going through hormonal changes, the need for nutrients is even more important. “Because of increased muscle, skeleton, and hormone development, calcium needs are greater during adolescence than at any other time,” says Mary Choate, a food and nutrition educator. “Good sources of calcium include dairy products, calcium-fortified soy products, and calcium-fortified juices and breakfast cereals.”

And, that’s just the beginning. A balanced meal includes a wide variety of colors, flavors and nutrients, so you’ll never get bored.

“Basically, any lunch should contain at least three ounces of lean protein such as turkey, salmon, tuna, string cheese or tofu for vegetarians, plus some good sources of carbohydrates such as whole grain breads, bean soups, whole grain crackers or corn tortillas,” says dietitian and holistic chef Elizabeth Brown. She also recommends “lots of filling, high fiber and nutrient dense fruits and vegetables.”

For recipes, additional information or to see how healthy your eating habits are, check out the Lunch Guide and quiz below. Plus, don’t miss our interview with Mrs. Q, a public school teacher eating from the cafeteria every school day this year.





When it comes to lunch, we talked to the experts to get the best advice on how to fuel your school day. Check out their recommendations and ideas for lunch in the following slides:

"Heart healthy fats such as nuts, avocado and olives are a great addition to any meal or snack since good fats help to slow the digestion of meals and snacks which promotes sustained energy while also increasing nutrient absorption of fat soluble vitamins and antioxidant nutrients.

Keeping blood sugar stable by eating breakfast and eating every 3 hours will aid memory, learning and performance. Make sure each meal or snack contains some protein or heart healthy fat plus whole grains or starchy vegetables and lots of leafy greens or cut up veggies which add bulk to help you feel full."

Click forward for recipes by Elizabeth Brown --->

--Elizabeth Brown, MS, RD, CDE
Registered Dietitian
Certified Holistic Chef


4 large leaves, your choice; Mustards (spicy), Collards (hearty), Rainbow Chard (colorful), Romaine or Baby Bib Lettuce (familiar)
1/2 yellow pepper, finely diced
2 inches cucumber, finely diced
4 ounces tuna, salmon, chicken or tofu

Hummus Spread:
16 oz. can garbanzos (reserve liquid)
Juice of one lemon
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/4 cup tahini (ground sesame paste)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp sea salt (optional)

To make hummus spread:
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Add more liquid as needed to reach desired consistency, creamy, but not runny. Store in a jar in the fridge for 3-4 days. You can also freeze in small quantities to be thawed and consume in the future.

To assemble Lettuce Wraps:
Wash and dry leaves
Spread with 2 Tablespoons hummus
Add 1 Tablespoon each of chopped peppers, cucumber & tomatoes
Add chopped tuna, salmon, chicken or tofu
Wrap, eat, enjoy -- repeat daily in place of traditional sandwiches and look for a six pack in six to eight weeks!

Per Wrap: 134 calories, 3g fat, 9g carbs, 4g fiber, 18g protein, Vitamin A 24%, Thiamin 7%, Riboflavin 7%, Niacin 56%, B6 16%, B12 28%, Vitamin C 71%, Vitamin D 23%, Vitamin E 9%, Folate 26%, Calcium 11%, Copper 6%, Iron 9%, Magnesium 7%, Manganese 9%, Phosphorus 13%, Potassium 8%, Selenium 66%, Sodium 14%, Zinc 5%. Omega-3 to Omega-6 Fatty Acid Ratio: 2.5 to 1. Water: 5 ounces

--Elizabeth Brown, MS, RD, CDE


2 slices sprouted grain bread or brown rice bread (gluten-free option)
1 Tbsp Natural Organic Nut Butter
4 thin apple slices
2 dates, pitted and opened
1 cup almond milk or milk of your choice (to consume with sandwich)

Toast the bread if you like
Spread with nut butter
Apply apple slices
Place opened dates on top of apples so that they lie flat and cover the other sandwich fixings
May use three dates in order to get ample coverage. This is the only time the three date option applies; otherwise take it one date at a time.
Take a bite and wash down with almond milk or organic milk of your choice.

Per serving (sandwich plus 1 cup almond milk): 340 calories, 13g fat, 52g carbs, 8g fiber, 11g protein, Vitamin A 9%, Thiamin 19%, Riboflavin 9%, Niacin 34%, B6 10%, B12 0%, Vitamin C 3%, Vitamin D 20%, Vitamin E 48%, Folate 14%, Calcium 21%, Copper 17%, Iron 15%, Magnesium 22%, Manganese 85%, Phosphorus 26%, Potassium 14%, Selenium 32%, Sodium 17%, Zinc 12%.

--Elizabeth Brown, MS, RD, CDE


"Vitamin needs during adolescence are even higher than the needs during childhood. Thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), and niacin (B3) are needed in increased amounts to release energy from the additional carbohydrates eaten by growing teens.

Increasing muscle mass and an expanding blood supply demand vitamins B6, B12, and folate. Vitamin D helps build bone during growth spurts, while vitamins A, C, and E preserve the structure and function of newly formed cells. The B vitamins occur in whole grains, enriched cereals, animal protein, green vegetables, legumes, seeds, and nuts.

The following lunch and snack ideas incorporate whole grains for B vitamins, iron, and complex carbs; milk and cheese for calcium; fluid milk for vitamin D; poultry, eggs, meat and seafood products for B12, iron, and protein."

Click forward for
recipes by Mary Saucier Choate --->

--Mary Saucier Choate, M.S., R.D., L.D.
Food and Nutrition Educator
The Co-op Food Stores


Wraps made with whole wheat tortillas, containing lean cold cuts (turkey, ham, roast beef), lettuce and tomato or an all veggie option.

Whole grain bagel or mini bagel BLT's with turkey bacon, tomato and lettuce

Small whole grain deli roll with lettuce, tomato and salad fillings made with low fat mayo: chicken or turkey salad, egg salad, veggies and cheese.

Asian noodle salad with lots of vegetables



Apple slices with fruit yogurt dip

Low fat cheese cubes and seedless grapes

Sunbutter and jelly on whole wheat crackers. 4 crackers sandwiches per serving

Individual serving-sized containers of low fat yogurt or unsweetened applesauce or fruit without added sugar.

Baby carrots, or celery sticks, with guacamole, hummus or low fat sour cream dip

Alpine Lace or Jarlsberg lite cheese on whole grain crackers- such as Kavli or Akmak .

Healthy Co-op trail mix (recipe follows)

Individual serving recipe
For each serving:
2 Tbs. (15g) WALNUTS
1/2 cup (15g) CHEERIOS
1 tsp. (6g/8 pieces) M&M’s

Low fat regular and chocolate milk. Water. 100% juice. Low sodium V-8.


Recycle leftovers by turning baked chicken into a soft taco or chicken salad.

Participate in the school lunch program in full or buy a la carte items like regular or flavored milk and fruit at school.

Break the sandwich rut. Pack pita pockets filled with fresh fruit and yogurt, whole-grain crackers and cheese, or vegetable sticks and carrot or cucumber "chips" to dip in salsa, yogurt dressing or hummus.

--Andrea Garen Dairy Council of California

Cafeteria food is better for you this year…but is it enough?


Two 16-year olds investigate "mystery meat."


Some students are calling the new food rules a flop.

Which one can make the healthiest food?

2 comments on “Lunch: What to Pack, What to Eat

  1. 2013-9-9-Cassidy -Smith

    I think that kids even adults should pack a very health lunch for themselves, so that they have energy throughout the day.


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