Smile-Healthy Lunch Ideas from Your Family Dentist in Johns Creek, GA

By Dr. James Forester | Sep 11, 2023 | Uncategorized
lunchbox with sandwich, grapes, milk, and berries

Brownbag lunches have come a long, long way. Today we have Bento boxes and pre-packaged snacks, as well as microwaveable meals. However, it’s easy to become lax in packing healthy lunches. Throwing pre-packaged foods in a bag as your car warms up in the garage is not a good strategy for packing a nutritious lunch. 

Instead of thinking of packing lunches as a chore, think of it as a labor of love, a challenge to create a nutritious, balanced meal for your loved ones and yourself. Not only will a great packed lunch give the recipient a reason to smile, it’ll nourish the body, as well. 

In today’s blog, Dr. James G. Forester of Lifetime Smiles, a family dentist in Johns Creek, GA, shares great ideas for packing healthy, kid-friendy, adult-pleasing lunches. 

What makes a lunch healthy?

A balanced diet is important, but the food pyramid may have changed since you last saw it. Grains take a smaller role in today’s balanced diets. At MyPlate.gov, you can take a free quiz to find out the best foods and portion sizes for you and your family members. The website will provide a guideline for a day’s menu based on the age, weight, and weight-loss goals of your family members.

Remember, fresh is best. In most cases, the less processed a food is, the healthier it is. This means you should keep pre-packaged foods to a minimum and instead opt for fresh veggies and seasonal fruits, lunchmeat alternatives, and beverages like homemade teas, lemonade, or pure, unadulterated water. Keep starches/grains to a minimum, as well, particularly when packing lunches for people who want to lose weight.

A healthy lunch will have a:

  • Protein
  • Fruit/vegetable (or two)
  • Grain
  • Dairy

Keeping It Real…Real Fun!

Some people say, “It’s all in the packaging,” and it’s true of lunches. A crumpled brown paper bag with a squished bologna sandwich and chips is no fun. It’s actually quite depressing. Worst of all, it’s unhealthy.

Brown Bag 2.0: Instead of using a basic brown paper bag, opt for colorful bags or make your own with markers and stickers. Your child may enjoy decorating his own lunchbags for the week while you meal prep in the kitchen. Slip a Dad joke or a sweet note from Mom into your child’s packed lunch as a special treat. Also, pack a paper bag strategically. Heavy and hard items on bottom, smaller and more delicate items on top. 

Bento Boxes: The term “bento” is Chinese, and it means convenient. The popular Bento boxes are compact lunch containers with individual areas for different foods. Ziploc bags become obsolete if you use a Bento box, which is a plus for the planet! The best characteristic of a bento box is that its hard structure means lunch won’t get smooshed.

Lunchbox-Backpack Combo: Many backpacks now come with matching lunchboxes to match. The lunchboxes are usually canvas and attached to the backpack by way of clips or velcro. Eaters can select lunchbox-backpack combos featuring their favorite colors or characters. Be sure to choose a lunchbox large enough for your bento box and beverage.

Reusable Cups & Bottles: Unless you’re brown bagging and need to throw away all traces of your lunch, reusable cups and bottles make a nice adjunct to a bento box and backpack-lunchbox combo. Avoid glass containers.

Kid-Friendly Fruit & Veggie Options

Fruits can be a sweet treat in a lunch, and in addition to fresh fruits, dried fruits, and fruit juices are healthy choices. Perhaps best of all, fruits usually come in their own packaging! Apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries…they don’t need additional packaging. Larger fruits and melons fit best in a bento box if they’re cut into small cubes. You can even mix up the fruits for a taste extravaganza!

For transport, fresh vegetables work better than cooked, and they don’t require reheating. Incorporate favorite veggie dips, like low-fat ranch dressing, Italian dressing, or sour-cream-based dips. Fresh, thinly chopped carrots, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and squash can replace potato chips.

Long or wide lettuce leaves make a great alternative to bread when making a sandwich. Salads also make healthy, filling main courses for lunchtime, especially if they contain protein and dairy (meat, nuts, and cheese) components.

Overview of Fruits & Veggies for Lunch:

  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Melons
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Tomato
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Squash/zucchini
  • Lettuce wraps
  • Salads

Kid-Friendly Protein Options

We usually think of meats when planning protein in lunches, but eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, and soy products are part of the protein food group, too. Keep in mind that traditional lunchmeats are processed foods, high in salt and saturated fats. If you want to add meat to lunches, consider pulled chicken, turkey, pork, or sliced beef. Leftovers make good lunches!

Here are some other tasty, protein-rich alternatives to lunchmeat:

  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Peanut butter on crackers, celery, or bread
  • Hummus (made with chickpeas) for dipping veggies
  • Cold beans, including edamame
  • Yogurt
  • Whole-grain cereal
  • Whole-wheat bread (Banana bread counts!)

Find more protein options in this blog by Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RN.

Kid-Friendly Grain Options

You need to opt for whole grains, rather than refined grains, when choosing foods for your lunch. Whole grains feature full kernels of grain, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Most of the pre-made, pre-packaged grain options at the supermarket are made with refined grains. If you opt for refined grains, they should be enriched with B vitamins and iron. This defines “enriched” refined grain products.

Popcorn or whole-grain cereal without milk make a good snack, side, or dessert in packed lunches. When selecting grain options that are bready, like breads, pastas, cakes, and muffins, look for whole grain as well as low sugar in the ingredients. 

Overview of Grains for Lunch:

  • Popcorn
  • Cereal
  • Whole-grain cereal
  • Whole-grain breads
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Whole-grain muffins

Kid-Friendly Dairy Options

The problem with dairy in packed lunches is that many dairy options go bad without refrigeration. Most cheeses and yogurts, however, can last the day in room temperature. If refrigeration is not available, yogurt, milk, and other dairy options should be wrapped in aluminum foil to help hold in their coolness until lunchtime. You can also opt to use a thermal container for dairy items. 

Avoid processed dairy items, like American cheese, queso blanco, and queso fresco. 

Overview of Dairy Options for Lunch:

  • Milk
  • Cheeses
  • Yogurt

Your Dentist in Johns Creek, GA 

If you want to lead a healthy lifestyle, a nutritious diet should take a leading role in your life. You should also attend annual physical checkups, as well as six-month dental cleanings and checkups. As a dentist in Johns Creek, GA, Dr. Forester serves patients of all ages, providing contemporary dental care and a compassionate chairside manner. Call Lifetime Smiles of Johns Creek today at (770) 232-1830 to reserve an appointment.