Healthy lunch box

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High school is busy. We run from class to after-school activities and then home to do our homework. We know eating nutritious food is important, but who has time to sift through hard-to-find nutritional information?

The truth is, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Or time-consuming. Or boring. Healthy eating can be fun and easy. Below, we asked high school students what they usually eat. Then our nutrition experts weighed in on how to make those meals more nutritious, without sacrificing taste—whether eating at school, a café, a fast-food restaurant, or just grabbing a snack.

The cafeteria 

“General tips to keep in mind when navigating school cafeterias are to choose grilled over fried and chicken and turkey over beef, and to go light on the dressing, condiments, and cheese.”
—Dr. Karen Moses, registered dietitian and director of health promotion at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona

Instead of this • “Same thing every day: large milk, two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and mini corn dogs.” —Benjamin, Winnetka, Illinois Try this • Deli sandwich with whole grain bread, turkey, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, Swiss cheese, and balsamic vinegar dressing • Apple Here’s why “Having two PB&Js every day with the corn dogs bumps up the trans fats, so swap it out for a more nutrient-dense meal.” —Gary Miller, PhD, MS, professor of nutrition and exercise physiology, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina The deli sandwich provides lean protein, plenty of veggies, and complex carbohydrates.

Snacks

Grabbing a snack between classes can help you stay energized and sharp throughout the day. Healthy snacking can also prevent you from overeating at your next meal, which means you can focus on your history lesson and not your growling stomach.

Instead of this • Bag of potato chips • 20-oz. bottle of cola Try this • An apple • A LÄRABAR® • Water Here’s why “Stick to [a snack] option that is visibly one serving, like [a piece of] fruit and a nut bar, which offers fiber and protein.” —Jenna Volpe, RD, registered dietitian specializing in weight management and eating disorders, Quincy, MassachusettsFast food

Most of us know that fast food isn’t the best choice for our health, but if you can’t live without it, there are healthier options at most fast-food restaurants. “I usually get fast and easy food, like a spicy chicken sandwich,” says Leslie, a student in Pixley, California.

Instead of this • McDonald’s® Quarter Pounder with Cheese • Small fries • Small Coke® Try this • McDonald’s® Artisan Grilled Chicken Sandwich • Side salad or side of apple slices • Iced tea Here’s why “These options are the least likely to contain trans fats.” —Jenna Volpe, RD, registered dietitian specializing in weight management and eating disorders, Quincy, MassachusettsCafé

When it comes to eating out, the options are endless. “Choose the smallest meal, drink, and dessert that will fill you up (even a kid’s meal will do).”
Dr. Karen Moses

Instead of this • Panera® Steak and White Cheddar Panini • Side of chips • Medium lemonade Try this • Panera® Steak and Arugula Sandwich • An apple • A water Here’s why “The panini from Panera® has a much higher portion of carbohydrates in the bread than the sandwich. Swapping an apple for chips and water for lemonade will also give you more nutrients with less added sugar.” —Gary Miller, PhD, MS, professor of nutrition and exercise physiology, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

6 key tips for making your meals optimally nutritious

  1. Choose grilled instead of fried.
  2. Eat chicken, turkey, fish, and/or soy more often than beef and pork.
  3. Go for fruit and veggies on the side instead of fries or chips.
  4. Choose unsweetened tea, flavored or plain water, and milk instead of sugary drinks.
  5. Ask for salad dressings, sauces, mayo, dips, and creamy toppings on the side.
  6. Use cheese sparingly.
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Article sources

Karen  Moses, EDD, RD, CHES, director of health promotion, Arizona State University, Arizona.

Gary D. Miller, PhD, associate professor, Wake Forest University, North Carolina.

Jenna Volpe, RD, registered dietitian specializing in weight management and eating disorders, Massachusetts.

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Story, M., Kaphingst, K., Robinson-O’Brien, R., & Glanz, K. (2008). Creating healthy

food and eating environments: Policy and environmental approaches. Annual Review Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.annualreviews.org /doi/pdf/ 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.29.020907.090926

Subway. (2014). Menu & nutrition. Retrieved from https://www.subway.com/menu/default.aspx

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Taco Bell Corporation. (2015). Full nutrition information: All items. Retrieved from https://www.tacobell.com/nutrition/information