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Prairie Fare: Try These 5 Tips to Build a Healthful Lunch

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Students may appreciate a homemade lunch they can bring to school in their backpack. (Photo courtesy of maena, morgueFile) Students may appreciate a homemade lunch they can bring to school in their backpack. (Photo courtesy of maena, morgueFile)
Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist (NDSU photo) Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist (NDSU photo)
Eating lunch gives you a chance to refuel your brain and body after a morning of hard work.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

When I was perusing Facebook, I noticed many “first day of school” pictures featuring smiling kids with brand new shoes and colorful backpacks brimming with notebooks, binders and pencils. Some had lunch bags, and many had water bottles.

I hope they were not too excited to eat breakfast. Having a nutritious breakfast with at least three food groups, such as whole-grain cereal, milk and fruit, helps kick-start learning in their exciting new classrooms. We adults who are far beyond the elementary classroom need to “break the fast” in the morning, too.

Nutrition plays a major role in learning, memory and mood, and the brain is the “control tower” for our bodies. If you put your fists together, you visually can approximate the size of your brain. All that “gray matter” of your brain contains upwards of 100 billion brain cells.

We all need to take steps to maintain our brain through adequate sleep, exercise and nutrition. Nutritionally, our brain needs protein, fat and carbohydrate, as well as antioxidant nutrients, which are abundant in fruits and vegetables. We also need to maintain our hydration with plenty of water and other healthful beverages.

If you skipped breakfast, aim for a morning snack and then a healthful lunch. How about a mozzarella cheese stick, whole-grain crackers and fruit as a midmorning pick-me-up? Yogurt with granola and a cup of water also can fuel your activity.

What’s on your lunch menu? Do you buy lunch or make it at home? For kids, meals at school are a bargain, but sometimes the youngsters may want a change of pace with a homemade lunch. Be sure to keep protein-containing lunches cold by packing them in lunch containers with freezer packs.

For adults, purchased lunches at a nearby restaurant can add up to a hefty price tag. According to one study, the average purchased lunch costs about $8. During a five-day work week, that adds to $40 per week, or more than $2,000 per year. Several years have passed since that study was conducted, and food costs have increased significantly.

A well-balanced lunch can set you up for success. Eating lunch provides an opportunity to refuel your brain and body after a morning of hard work. Selecting a variety of food groups creates a balanced meal with a healthy supply of different nutrients your body needs to stay focused and help avoid that after-lunch slump.

The lunch you prepare at home is almost always more healthful than a purchased meal. Be sure to select a variety of healthful foods with these tips:

  1. Pack some protein. Include lean protein in your lunch to help you stay feeling full longer. How about a sandwich made with grilled chicken or meat loaf from last night’s dinner? Protein helps build and repair your body. Less expensive protein options include canned fish, beans and eggs.
  2. Vary your veggies. Choose a variety of colorful vegetables, which provide vitamins and minerals. Purchase vegetables in season for the best value and nutrition. In-season fresh vegetables are often at their best quality and price, but fresh, frozen and canned vegetables all count toward the recommended amount.
  3. Welcome whole grains. Try a variety of whole-grain foods such as bulgur, oats, quinoa, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and wild rice. Be sure to look for the words “whole grain” as one of the first ingredients on the nutrition label.
  4. Fill up on fruits. Fruits are a low-calorie way to satisfy your sweet tooth while also getting fiber. Fruits are packed with soluble fiber, which helps keep cholesterol low, and insoluble fiber, which helps keep you regular. As with vegetables, pick a variety of colors and types of fruits to get the best health benefits.
  5. Don’t forget dairy. Dairy products are well-known for their boost of bone-protecting calcium. However, dairy also may help with blood sugar and blood pressure control. If you cannot tolerate milk, try vitamin D-fortified soymilk, yogurt or another calcium-rich option.

If you are an adult, visit https://www.ndsu.edu/boomers to learn more about nutrition and your brain. Visit https://www.ndsu.edu/eatsmart for more nutrition information for children and families.

Here’s a recipe adapted from Arizona Cooperative Extension and shared by Colorado State University. This easy-to-make recipe is a fun way to gather kids in the kitchen, too.

Homemade Energy Bars

2 c. rolled oats

1/2 c. shelled pumpkin seeds (or sunflower or other seed)

1 c. sliced almonds

1/2 c. ground flax seed

1/2 c. honey

1/4 c. brown sugar, packed

2 Tbsp. butter

2 tsp. vanilla

1 to 2 tsp. cinnamon

1 1/2 c. dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, cut dried fruit)

Pinch of salt

Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9- by 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Spread oats, pumpkin seeds and almonds out onto a cookie sheet. Toast in the oven for 10 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring every five minutes. Heat honey, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, salt and cinnamon in a saucepan until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the oat and nut mixture from the oven and combine with the ground flax seed, dried fruit, and sugar and butter mixture. Evenly distribute the mixture in the baking pan.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 F and bake 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Cut into 16 squares. You can store the bars in plastic wrap or place in zip-top plastic bags. Makes 16 servings. Each serving has 170 calories, 7 grams (g) fat, 4 g protein, 22.5 g carbohydrate and 6.5 g fiber.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)


NDSU Agriculture Communication - Sept. 3, 2015

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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