Healthy school lunches on a budget -

Healthy school lunches on a budget

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One of the toughest school-year assignments is packing healthy lunches your children will eat.

Nutritionists at the University of Louisville's Healthy for Life program say parents often complain that eating healthy is expensive, but it doesn't have to be when you know how to shop smart.

Dr. Brooke Sweeney, the medical director of Healthy for Life, said she thinks in portions when putting lunches together.

"A fruit and/or vegetable, a grain and a protein," said Dr. Sweeney.

But Dr. Sweeney adds that parents should keep in mind that protein doesn't always have to be a meat -- it can be legumes or nut butters, for example. Meat proteins can drive up food budgets fast and they're items that will often need to be tossed within a week if not eaten.

Megan Lafollette, another nutritionist at the Healthy for Life program, said buying fruit in general can be confusing, because it's sold by the pound. But when you break it down, you'll find most whole fruits cost between 20 and 40 cents.

Another way to save is to know portion sizes. Consider pairing up some pricier, trendy veggies like sugar snap peas and sweet peppers with more affordable options to get kids to eat more veggies.

Stay away from empty calories, like pastries and bags of chips. Instead, reach for low-fat pudding cups, yogurts and granola bars. You'll save on both budget and nutrition with those choices.

Lunch Combination Examples:

  • Turkey Pita + low-fat string cheese + 1 cup of pineapple
  • Turkey Pita + 1 granola bar + ½ cup grapes
  • Tuna on Crackers + apple slices + 1 cup raw sweet bell peppers and carrot sticks
  • Cottage Cheese Lunch with pineapple + 2 cups light popcorn + 1 orange
  • Mediterranean Salad + 2 cups light popcorn + ½ cup grapes
  • Ham and Cheese Sandwich + low-fat pudding cup + no sugar added applesauce
  • Ham and Cheese Sandwich + ½ cup baby carrots + one banana
  • English Muffin Sandwich + 1 container low-fat yogurt + grape tomatoes
  • Hummus Wrap + 1 container low-fat yogurt + 1 peach


  • Limit items with sugar like pudding cups and granola bars to once per week as a treat. This will keep your kid's lunch healthy and save grocery money for fruits and vegetables.
  • If packing perishable items like cheese, mayo, meats, yogurt, etc. Keep your child's lunch cold by using a freezer pack each morning.
  • Let your child help pack their lunch at a young age to get them interested in their food. As they get older, they will continue to choose healthy items and be able to pack their lunch independently.
  • Spend time on the weekend cleaning and prepping fruit and vegetables in small baggies or containers to save time during the week.
  • To keep apple and pear slices from browning: Mix 1 Tablespoon lemon juice in 1 cup cold water and soak slices for 3-5 minutes. Drain and store in plastic baggies or container in the refrigerator.

Note: Appropriate portion sizes vary based on age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. Amounts shown are healthy guidelines for the general population. For more information on portion sizes, please visit

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