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A Healthy Lunch is the New Breakfast

LIVESTRONG.COM is dedicated to empowering and inspiring people of all ages to live active, healthy lives. In light of that mission, the Editorial Team has partnered with ShimmerTeen.com to create content that promotes health and wellness for teens.

People always talk about breakfast being the most important meal of the day. But lunch isn't highlighted nearly as often. The truth is that if breakfast sets the tone for your day, lunch keeps you on track. You may want to use your midday break to finish your homework for an afternoon class or to hang with friends, but you should seriously consider grabbing a bite too.

A healthy lunch is just as important as breakfast.

You know what is feels like to be “hangry” — hungry and angry. And according to New York City-based health coach Maria Marlowe, that's just one of the risks you run if you don't eat. "It's not a good idea to skip lunch," she says, "because that will cause blood sugar to drop, making you irritable and cranky and making it harder for you to focus."

The lesson? Lunch is important for energy, mood and concentration and generally helping you power through the rest of your day, whether it's classes, sports practice or a late-night homework session.

[Read More: 6 Ways for Teens to Access Healthy Food]

There's more. Deprive yourself of lunch and "you'll likely be ravenous by the time you get home from school," Marlowe adds, "and end up bingeing on snacks or dinner and ultimately overeating." Having lunch can actually make it easier to control cravings and portion sizes later in the day, which can help you maintain a healthy weight. (Eating breakfast has a similar benefit. Moral of the story? Don't skip meals!)

To maximize midday nutrition make sure you get a good range of nutrients. The Healthy Eating Plate, developed by nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health, suggests this approach to dividing your plate (or lunch bag):

* Half fruits and vegetables.

* One-quarter protein, such as lean meats (like chicken or fish), eggs, beans or quinoa.

* One-quarter whole and "intact" (unprocessed) grains, such as brown rice or oats and other foods made from them, including whole-wheat pasta.

The Healthy Eating Plate method also encourages:

* Using healthy oils (in moderation), such as olive oil and canola oil, to marinate meats or make salad dressings.

* Limiting dairy to less than three servings a day.

* Limiting juice to no more than one small serving per day.

* Cutting out sugary drinks like soda, which contain empty calories and tons of added sugar.

[Read More: 7 Tips to Get Fit Without Going to the Gym] 

Note: The Healthy Eating Plate method is a great starting point, but people have varying nutritional needs based on factors like weight and food. An adult or health care professional can help you understand which foods and how much of them you should eat.

Whether you're packing your lunch, going to the cafeteria or going off campus, here are more tips for power lunches!

Get your share of whole, unprocessed foods. Think chicken and turkey and rice and veggies in their most natural form. They're packed with nutrients and don't have added chemicals, sugars or fats. 

Limit fatty cheeses and fried foods. Avoid the pizza or breaded or fried chicken. Opt for something grilled or roasted instead.

Skip the soda. Sodas are often loaded with added sugars and lack nutritional value. Grab water instead. It's a thirst quencher that's also good for your skin!

Opt for colorful sides. Colorful fruit and veggie options (like apples or carrots) will often have more nutritional value than their gray or whitish counterparts (like pasta, macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes with lots of added cream).

Pack a lunch. Bringing food you've prepared means you know exactly what's in it -- and in particular whether there is a lot of added fat or sugar! You can ask your parents to shop for healthy foods, or you can offer to go with them to the market and bring your ideal lunch from home.

Take advantage of school lunches. If you feel like it's hard to eat healthfully at home or your parents aren't on board with your nutrition and fitness goals, eating lunch at school provides an added opportunity to get the nutrients you need, especially if you choose the most nutritious options.

--Kimberly

Readers -- What did you have for lunch today? Do you ever find yourself getting "hangry" during the day? Do you have any tips or tricks for putting together a healthy lunch? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Kimberly Wolf, M.Ed., is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of ShimmerTeen.com, a new health, wellness and lifestyle destination just for teenage girls. Kimberly graduated from Brown University, where her senior thesis exploring the history and evolution of sexual-health content in girls' magazines earned honors in Women's Studies. She also holds a master's degree in human development and psychology from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she studied adolescent health and media. She is a national speaker and has been quoted on such websites as CNN.com, WebMD and Health.com. 

Follow ShimmerTeen on Twitter and Facebook


References
Build A Healthy Meal. ChooseMyPlate.gov. Web. 25 Mar. 2015. 

ChooseMyPlate United States Department of Agriculture, Web. 25 Mar. 2015.

Healthy Eating Plate & Healthy Eating Pyramid. The Nutrition Source. Harvard School of Public Health, n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

 

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