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Healthful lunch at school is important

When choosing what to eat for lunch, making a healthy choice is really important. Here's why: Eating a variety of healthy foods gives you energy, helps you grow the way you should and can even keep you from getting sick.

Think of your school lunch as the fuel you put in your tank. If you choose the wrong kind of fuel, you might run out of energy before the day is over.

The typical school lunch is still high in fat, according to a recent study. That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy your lunch, it just means you might want to give the cafeteria menu a closer look. Knowing what's for lunch beforehand will let you know whether you want to eat it.

A packed lunch isn't automatically healthier than one you buy at school. But a packed lunch, if you do it right, does have a clear advantage. When you pack your lunch, you can be sure it includes your favorite healthy foods. It's not a one-size-fits-all lunch. Whether you pack or buy your lunch, follow these guidelines.

Choose fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are like hitting the jackpot when it comes to nutrition. They make your plate more colorful and they're packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. It's a good idea to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, so try to fit in one or two at lunch.

Know the facts about fat. We need some fat in our diet to stay healthy.

Fat is found in butter, oils, cheese, nuts and meats. Some higher-fat lunch foods include french fries, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets.

Eat these foods less often and in smaller portions. Foods that are lower in fat are usually baked or grilled.

Let whole grains reign. "Grains" include breads, cereals, rice and pasta. But as we learn more about good nutrition, it's clear that whole grains are better than refined grains.

What's the difference? Brown rice is a whole grain. It contains the complete grain, but white rice does not.

Slurp sensibly. Drinks count, too! Milk has been a favorite lunchtime drink for a long time. If you don't like milk, choose water. Avoid juice drinks and sodas.

Balance your lunch with meals that include a mix of food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, some meat or protein foods, and dairy foods such as milk and cheese.

Steer clear of packaged snacks. Many schools make salty snacks, candy and soda available in the cafeteria or in vending machines. It's OK to have these foods once in a while, but they shouldn't be on your lunch menu.

Mix it up. Keep your taste buds from getting bored and try something new. Eating lots of different kinds of food gives your body a variety of nutrients.

Quit the clean plate club. Because lunch can be a busy time, you might not stop to think whether you're getting full.

Try to listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel full, it's OK to stop eating.

Web posted on Thursday, August 11, 2011

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