School lunches can be nutritious, help kids maintain their energy throughout the day and fit into a budget.
One nutrition expert offers some tips for cost-effective healthy lunch options.
"All foods belong in our diet, but we need to view them as energy," said Courtney Cary, a senior registered dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "For lunch, parents should look for foods that provide the most sustained energy to get their kids through the school day."
That means staying focused on proteins and carbohydrates, which are basic nutritional building blocks, Cary noted.
Some high-fiber carbohydrate options including whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, beans and fruit. Lean protein choices are canned chicken and tuna, boiled eggs, lean deli meat and yogurt.
"As long as there's a protein and a carbohydrate in your child's lunch, they will be set up for a successful day," Cary said in a college news release. "Carbohydrates give us energy, and proteins keep us full."
A sandwich can be both cost-effective and balanced, with whole wheat bread providing fiber and sustained energy and fillings like peanut butter and jelly or turkey providing protein.
Every meal should be balanced, Cary said.
That just might require a little mixing and matching to appeal to picky eaters. For example, add cottage cheese to mac and cheese for more protein. If your child wants the pizza from the school cafeteria, pack a side of yogurt to incorporate protein.
Lunch drinks are important for providing hydration but should be sugar-free to avoid an afternoon sugar crash.
If you're trying to save money, Cary notes that canned foods can provide the same nutritional value as fresh food at a lower cost. She suggests low-sodium soups and fruits and vegetables canned in water.
"Canned products are picked at peak ripeness and canned immediately, which preserves the nutritional factor," Cary said. "You're not sacrificing vitamins and minerals with canned foods."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has more on healthy eating.
SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, Aug. 16, 2022