We have the choice to make lunch time healthy.
Packing lunches isn't necessarily going to be inexpensive, but it can assure healthy choices. You can control the amount of sodium, calories, fat and sugar you consume.
We tend to eat the same thing week after week, so why not try to make a change each week? Ask your family for their lunch ideas, as well as their help with lunch preparations. Write down these lunch ideas and, before you know it, you'll have three or four weeks' worth of lunches.
A few ideas could be limit eating out, drink water instead of sugary drinks, try adding fruit and vegetables instead of chips and dessert, and take a walk while the sun is shining.
We all like to eat out but, with the rising cost of fast food, we could spend $6 per meal. Over time, we could have spent $30 a week, $120 a month, and up to $1,500 a year.
Besides the cost factor, most of the foods are fried and filled with empty calories.
Why not use that money for our brown bag lunches? Get creative with color, texture, flavors and shapes. Besides, we have leftovers or food we bought at the grocery store.
Sandwiches can be cut into different shapes with cookie cutters, or cut with a knife at different angles. If your family loves sandwiches, try different kinds of bread to give variety: whole wheat tortilla, crackers or pita bread. Use what you need, and put the rest in the freezer for later lunches.
Trade in the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for tuna or egg salad using plain low-fat yogurt instead of mayonnaise. Enhance your salads with different kinds of nuts, salad greens, black, kidney or pinto beans.
Limit your intake of hot dogs and lunch meat. Exchange them for leftover meatloaf or roast beef. Hard cooked eggs, chicken, turkey or cheeses are great sources of protein.
Each month, there are varieties of fruits and vegetables in season. Why not plan on packing these during their peak months? September and October offer a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
Consider the farmers' market, Geckle's Apple Orchard or your grocery store for the variety apples, grapes, oranges, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes and peppers.
If you need something that goes crunch at lunchtime, trade in the chips for popcorn, pita chips, trail mix or pretzel sticks. Why not add carrots, celery or other raw vegetables with low-fat ranch dressing or hummus?
Need something sweet? Why not make carrot or zucchini mini muffins, sometimes fresh fruit is just enough to satisfy our sweet tooth?
Remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. An insulated lunch bag with a freezer pack can keep items cold until it's time to eat.
Other ways to keep cold foods cold: Freeze your sandwich or bread the night before, or freeze juice boxes or yogurt.
Hot items can be put in an insulated Thermos. These work really great for leftovers or soups if a microwave isn't available.
Try to avoid the morning rush. Pre-bag veggies, slices of bread, crunchy items, mini muffins for the week. These make for easy grab and go, and will save time.
Another great thought is pack lunches the night before, or have things laid out so all you need to do it put it in the lunch pail or brown bag.
Lunches need not be just peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, cookies, fruit and milk. Think outside the "lunch box" and eat healthy.
McDougall is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program assistant for the OSU Extension Service in Hancock County. She can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.