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Balanced school lunches on a balanced budget

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Christina Ferroli and Patricia Sanders are dietary experts who work with the Purdue Extension office. Now that school is back in session, they’re reminding us that everyone can have a balanced meal on a balanced budget.

They start with balancing what’s on a kid’s plate or in a lunch bag. It’s made easy with what`s called “My Plate,” which is divided into five sections and based on the latest dietary guidelines.

You can see the example on the Purdue extension website.

“The plate is really more vegetables and fruit, and has just a small amount of protein, which is about the size of the palm of your hand. And don’t forget the dairy group. That’s one group we tend to leave out,” said Ferroli.

Some of the best lunches are actually dinner items. Dieticians say, don’t overlook leftovers.

“For your kids’ lunch, you can take care of several food groups using dinner leftovers, like chicken or beef in a wrap. You can also spread humus on the wrap and throw in a few colorful vegetables,” said Ferroli.

“We want a lot of color because if your food doesn’t have color, it doesn’t have nutrition. So put leftover chicken in a wrap, spread it with a sweet tasting hummus, put in some cucumber slices and roll it all up in a whole wheat wrap,” said Sanders.

“You can easily take the food wraps anywhere by rolling them in washable wraps that I found at a supermarket. Basically, the plastic wraps look like circular table placemats,” said Sanders.

Most of these school lunch ideas total less than $2; you can accomplish that by buying things while they’re on sale and when they’re seasonal.

“You can also purchase fruits and vegetables in different varieties. You can get them fresh, canned or frozen. And you control it. You control your budget and you can shop wherever you want,” said Sanders.

Making your own smoothies is one idea not often thought of for school lunches. It’s fairly easy, and kids can take them to school in a thermos.

“Just blend up a banana, put in oatmeal, chocolate milk, or any kind of milk that’s healthy and throw in some veggies,” said Sanders.

Complete recipes and ideas are available from the Purdue Extension.

And don’t think nutritious means tasteless! Banana’s sliced up with sweet sunflower butter or peanut butter on them can be delicious, especially with a little cinnamon on top.

Experts say sweets are fine in moderation, especially if they are not laden with sugar.

“All sugars are nutritionally equivalent. So whether it’s table sugar or high fructose corn syrup or honey, you’re getting the same calories, and you’re getting the same way they break down in the body,” said registered dietician Jessica Fishman Levinson.

Levinson is the co-author of We Can Cook. The book details many ways to provide healthy and tasty snacks and meals for your kids.

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