Think Outside the Bag with MyPlate!

Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD

Back-to-school or back-to-work doesn’t have to mean back to boring, brown bag lunches. By using USDA’s MyPlate, you can create lots of different lunch options that meet your nutrition needs. Start thinking outside the “bag”!

You want half your lunch to be fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables provide valuable vitamins and minerals to help with many of your body’s functions. Packing a variety of colors keeps the options endless.  Carrots and hummus, apples and peanut butter or layering your sandwich with spinach and tomato are all delicious options!

When packing carbohydrates for lunch, make sure to choose whole grain options. Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of fuel and help give you energy all day long. Branch out from the typical lunch carbs of bread and chips and try a cup of cold quinoa and bean salad, crunch on whole wheat crackers or baked veggie chips or wrap your typical sandwich up in a whole wheat tortilla or stuff it in a multi-grain pita.

Protein is important for your body to repair and rebuild muscles. Lean proteins in lunches are usually luncheon meat on sandwiches, but try a grilled chicken breast cut into strips, tuna packed in water, hardboiled egg, or even beans as a source of protein.

Dairy products provide carbohydrates, protein, lots of vitamins and minerals and are essential for helping to build and maintain strong bones.  MyPlate lists dairy as a side item, which can include low fat milk, yogurt, or cheese.

Here are five lunches to help the keep the boredom out of the bag this fall:

  1. Some like it hot lunch: Whole wheat penne pasta with spinach and mushrooms, hardboiled egg, low fat milk, sliced watermelon
  2. Pita packed lunch: Whole grain pita stuffed with chopped grilled chicken breast, baby spinach leaves, diced tomatoes, cucumber and hummus, 2 Clementines, Greek yogurt
  3. Cool fall day lunch: Three-bean soup, brown rice, 2% string cheese, baby carrots and grape tomatoes, baggie of mixed berries
  4. My kid hates sandwiches lunch: 1 serving whole wheat crackers, 2 oz sliced grilled chicken, pre-made guacamole pack, 8 baby cubes of cheese, apple and peanut butter
  5. Slice and dice it lunch: Mixed greens loaded with veggies, 3 oz salmon, 1 oz low-fat feta cheese, ¼ cup dried cranberries, ½ cup couscous and balsamic vinaigrette

Don’t get stuck in a rut while getting back into your routine schedule this fall! A few minutes of planning and creativity can have your whole family eating nutrient-rich lunches at home, school and work!  Color your day with MyPlate!