Nutrition Corner: Pack lunches using USDA guidelines

September 9th, 2015 3:15 pm

Packing lunches can be a real chore for a tired mom or dad. If your child attends a public school, the National School Lunch guidelines help cafeteria employees to plan lunches that are served at school. The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 100,000 public and non-profit private schools. School lunch is a great option to making lunches. However if you chose to pack lunch for school, use the same guidelines.

The guidelines now serve more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables along with low-fat or non-fat milk; and less sodium and fat than previous years. Also, there is a limit on the number of calories in a lunch. Here are the guidelines:

The limit for Grades K-5 is 550-650 calories, grades 6-8, is 600-700 calories and grades 9-12, is 750-850 calories. Check your lunch out using the food label. How many calories are in the lunch that you are packing?

One percent and skim milk will be served with school lunch.

Trans fats have either been eliminated or minimized.

Grains served must be whole grain rich which means that it must contain 51% whole grain and the remaining ingredients are enriched.

If you choose to pack a lunch here is what it should look like for an elementary student:

• For the protein, choose at least one of the following: 1 oz. of meat, which may be turkey, 4 oz. of yogurt, and one hardboiled egg, ½ cup of baked beans or garbanzo beans.

• Include ½ cup of fruit and ¾ cup of vegetables.

• The vegetable should be from the dark green, red/orange, beans and peas groups, but mostly from the dark green. Those would be broccoli, spinach, dark green leafy lettuce, and kale or romaine lettuce.

• Include one serving from whole grain-rich foods, meaning that it must contain at least 51 percent whole grain and the remaining grain in the product must be enriched.

• And, the lunch for cannot exceed 650 calories.

If you pack lunch, use these guidelines to compare yours with theirs. Healthy lunches and snacks are important for students to learn and do well in school. Here are some great smart snack ideas to pack along with a healthy lunch for your child.

Light popcorn, granola bar, fruit cup, sliced cucumbers and peppers, or make this healthy trail mix.

Sweet and Salty Trail Mix

1 1/2 cups oat circles cereal

1 1/2 cups corn squares cereal

1/2 cup whole almonds (chopped)

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup small pretzels

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl store in air tight container or re-sealable plastic bag.

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at