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Expert: Kids lunches should have 5 food groups
Sara Sheridan, a school nutrition coordinator say kids should 'eat the rainbow.'
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The making of the 'Meatball sandwhich.' - photo by Erin O. Smith

Sometimes it takes a village just to get the kids out the door in the morning, much less wrangle the time it takes to prepare a perfectly balanced meal for their lunches.

“It’s a challenge to come up with creative lunches without spending an arm and a leg,” said Ashley Reece, mom of 5-year-old Peyton and a lecturer at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus.

Reece mostly buys food for kindergartner Peyton’s lunches from supermarkets such as Aldi, Kroger and Wal-Mart.

“They are cheapest for a non-coupon clipper,” Reece said, who mentioned she uses the “Savings Catcher” app on her phone at Wal-Mart. “You scan your receipts and they price match and give you the difference on a Wal-Mart gift card.”

Peyton’s lunches feature yogurt, apples, a turkey sandwich or wrap and either Goldfish or popcorn.

“Sometimes I replace the sandwich or wrap with a homemade version of Lunchables with meat, cheese and crackers,” Reece said.

Sara Sheridan, a school nutrition coordinator for Hall County Schools, advises parents “to include all five food groups at lunch.” The five food groups are vegetables/legumes/beans, fruit, grains, meats/protein sources and dairy.

“It is important to establish healthy eating habits in children ... when they are young,” Sheridan said. “We often tell kids to ‘eat the rainbow.’”

Some kids don’t like eating their vegetables or fruits, though, which Sheridan knows how to get around.

“Kid-friendly options include nut butters, cheese sticks, dairy and non-dairy milk products and eggs,” Sheridan said.

For some moms, packing a lunch at home isn’t an option due to costs, the time it takes to make it or other concerns.

But not all healthy foods are expensive if you know which aisles to look in, Sheridan said.

“Buying fruits and vegetables that are in-season is one way to reduce costs of fresh produce,” Sheridan said.

Frozen versions can also be a cheaper alternative, she said. Eggs, beans, milk and peanut butter are good sources of protein that can replace more expensive meats.

“Lean meats are trickier to find at cheaper prices, but buying in bulk can reduce costs,” Sheridan said.

School lunches are always an option as well.

For Hall County schools, breakfast includes an entree, two fruits and a milk for $1 at elementary schools and $1.25 at upper schools.

Lunch consists of an entree, three to four vegetables, two fruits and a milk for $1.70 at elementary schools and $1.80 at upper schools. Entrees, at least in Hall County schools, are “whole-grain rich and are lower in fat and sodium than their retail counterparts.”

For full menus, visit

“We offer a variety of healthy options for Hall County students every day,” Sheridan said.

Another website great for learning how to pack a good, healthy lunch is, Sheridan said.

“MyPlate is a great visual for kids to show what a healthy lunch looks like,” she said.