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5 Tips for Building a Healthful Lunch (FN1774)

A well-balanced, home-packed 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 avoid that after-lunch slump.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist

Jayme Ericson, Dietetic Intern


What’s on your lunch menu? Do you buy lunch or make it at home? For kids, meals at schoolare a bargain, but sometimes they may want a change of pace with a homemade lunch.

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.

A well-balanced, home-packed 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 avoid that after-lunch slump.

Lunch Photo

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 nutrient profile. 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.

 * Source: NPD Group


 Build a Healthy Lunch

For a variety of recipes, see our recipe database  (click on “Recipes”).

For more information about nutrition, food safety and health, visit this website

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