Easy Lunchboxes, Essentia Health, health, Heart Healthy Recipe

Got the junk food blues? Try these tips for packing a healthy lunch

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By Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.


Kids are back in school and they need healthy lunches that they’ll eat and enjoy.  Adults can get on a healthy track as well.

Studies have shown that going out to eat for lunch provides the highest risk of eating an extra 150-250 calories a day. This could result in gaining one or two pounds each month or 10 to 12 pounds in a year.

In my work as a registered dietitian, I have patients who see positive result from packing healthy lunches instead of eating at restaurants, gas stations and cafeterias. They find it easier to loose or maintain weight, control blood pressure, control diabetes and eat the recommended four to five cups of fruits and vegetables each day.

Look for sales to buy:

stackable food containers



insulated lunch bags


reusable ice packs


thermoses or soup mugs


These items help insure that the foods you pack are in good shape and safe to eat. Reusable containers and lunch bags are also friendly to both the environment and your wallet.

What’s in a healthy lunch box? Katie Sullivan Mortford, a registered dietitian in California, has written a great book, “Best Lunch Box Ever: Ideas and Recipes for School Lunches Kids will Love.”  She offers a list of containers that work well, what to keep in your pantry and what each lunch should include. Then she provides some great recipes.

Mortford reminds us that the U.S. Department of Agriculture says 80 percent of our kids’ lunches need “substantial improvement.” I believe that many adult lunches also need improvement.

A can of pop, a bag of Cheetos and a bologna sandwich on white bread will not give you the nutrients you need to function efficiently.  At mid-day, we need high-octane nutrition to fuel our brains and offset moodiness. We also need vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support growth and repair in our bodies.

To have a week of great lunches, you need to plan ahead. Discuss lunch menu ideas with your family each weekend. Restock your pantry, refrigerator and freezer with supplies and ingredients. Cook extra meat, soup, stew, rice or beans.

The night before is the best time to get that lunch box on the starting line. Plan the menu for next day.  Set out clean lunch boxes, containers and utensils. Take advantage of leftovers from dinner. Pack them into your lunch containers before putting them in refrigerator. Select fruits, vegetables and a crunchy side. Fill and chill water or milk containers. Freeze a water bottle to use as your ice pack the next day.

In the morning, heat soup or other hot food before placing it in thermos if a microwave is not available during lunch. Assemble all the items into your lunch box, add ice packs and head out the door.


Mortford offers these six steps to a superb lunch:

  1. Start with the main course:  Salad, soup, rice and beans or the age-old standard of a sandwich.  This should include a good protein source.
  2. Add a fruit. Use seasonal varieties. Local apples are great now. Bananas are a fast pack year-round.
  3. Add a vegetable. If your main course is loaded with vegetables, such as a soup or salad, this is optional.
  4. Add a satisfying side or snack. This could be some nuts, healthy popcorn or whole-grain crackers.
  5. Don’t forget a drink. Pick water or milk, unless they are available at work or school.
  6. Add an occasional sweet. Goodies make lunch something to look forward too. Try a square of dark chocolate that’s 72 percent cocoa or a homemade whole-grain muffin or cookie. Or offer a small treat that’s not food, or a little note to your loved one that will bring a mid-day smile.


Here’s a tasty recipe from “Best Lunch Box Ever: Ideas and Recipes for School Lunches Kids will Love” by Katie Sullivan Mortford:


Takeaway Taco Salad

  • 2 cups chopped Romaine lettuce and/or spinach
  • ½ cup cooked or frozen (thawed) corn kernels
  • 2/3 cup chopped raw vegetables (any combo of carrot, jicama, cucumber, red pepper, tomato)
  • 1/3 cup coarsely grated cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup shredded cooked chicken or cooked/canned black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 ounce tortilla chips


  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Dash of favorite taco sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey

In a medium bowl, mix together the lettuce/spinach, corn, raw vegetables, cheese and chicken. Divide the salad between two containers. Crumble tortilla chips and divide between two small containers or wax-paper bags. To make the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, taco sauce and honey. Divide the dressing between two small containers. Yield: 2 salads.

webbonnie-brost_0Bonnie Brost is a licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.

About Becky Flansburg

Becky Flansburg is freelance writer, blogger and virtual assistant living in Northern Minnesota. A dedicated mom to two beautiful kids, her veteran blog Franticmommy.com is filled with laughter and love about the joys parenthood. Becky is also committed to helping women realize their work-from-home dreams, enjoy life beyond the cubicle and find clarity in the work/life/family balance. Connect with Becky via her website, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest