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Brown Bagging Lunch for Health's Sake

Many parents recognize the importance of making sure their children eat a good breakfast before heading off to school, but what about lunch? Whether packing a brown bag for a child or for an adult, picking the right foods can provide much-needed midday energy and nutrients.

Cathy Nonas, a registered dietician at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, talked with the Early Show about the importance of eating lunch and covered the basics of how to make a one.

How important is lunch in comparison to other meals of the day?

There is a long time between breakfast and dinner, so most people get very hungry. Lunch is an opportunity to increase your nutrition. Don't' try to starve yourself during the day. If you do, you're more likely to overeat at night and you won't sleep well.

Some European cultures eat the heaviest meal of the day at lunch and have a light dinner. What do you think of that?

I think it's more important to spread your meals out evenly. If you eat too much at lunch, then you're going to need a siesta. One study found that 22% of Americans eat lunch at fast-food restaurants, and many don't eat a nutritious lunch at all. Again, lunch is an opportunity to get the nutrition in that you need and it's important to try to make a conscious effort to do that.

What should the objective be when making a lunch for a child to take to school or to bring to work?

No matter who the lunch is for the objective should be to make sure it has high-fiber foods, some protein, vegetables, fruit, and water. If you use these as your criteria, you will find that you will have a healthier lunch, and it will satisfy you but it won't tire you out.

The focal point of a lunch is usually a sandwich. What should we keep in mind when making a healthy sandwich?

First use two slices of bread. Don't use big rolls, heroes, or bagels. Use whole-grain bread and reduce your filling. The sandwich that you buy at a delicatessen usually has twice as much meat as you need. Think of using half that amount when making a sandwich. For example, if you are making a turkey or roast beef sandwich, use half the amount of meat you would get when you buy a sandwich and add twice as many vegetables, such as cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and onions.

Whole-wheat-tortilla-wrapped sandwiches are a nice alternative to bread, but use the smaller tortillas. They shouldn't be more than 150 calories. The majority of wraps that you buy in a deli are too large and they equal three and four slices of bread.

Are there things we should leave out?

I don't believe in leaving out anything per se. But I do believe in managing the amount of food that you eat. If you are going to use high-fat foods such as mayonnaise, leave it on the side. The same goes for salad dressing. If you are going to have cheese, eat a small amount or low-fat cheese.

Is cheese good or bad in a sandwch?

I think it's good, but you have to portion control it. Otherwise, you will have too much fat and cholesterol in your lunch.

You have talked a lot about kids drinking water. How important is it for kids to have milk?

I think that milk is important, but it needs to be refrigerated. If they can get it at school, that's good. They should have milk in the morning and at night. Cheese and yogurt are other ways to get calcium.

Salad bars are popular these days, but people can go overboard. What do you recommend?

It's easy to go overboard at a salad bar. Whether you are making a salad at home or at a deli, use a lot of deep-colored leafy greens. The deeper colors are usually more chockful of antioxidants. Then add some color, such as red peppers, baby tomatoes, yellow peppers, and maybe a couple of mushrooms or radishes.

When you're at a salad bar, after you make your foundation with greens, add a few tablespoons of pasta salad or tuna othings that you really like. Put the dressing on the side.

How do you feel about have something sweet in a lunch box?

I think sweets are always a delicious addition. But, they should not be a replacement for nutritional foods such as vegetables or fruit. Sweets are always an extra. If you can afford that extra, great, meaning, if you can afford the extra calories or if you're not concerned about your cholesterol.
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