Healthy options for school lunches don't have to break your budg - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Healthy options for school lunches don't have to break your budget

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(Western Mass News photo) (Western Mass News photo)

Filling lunch boxes with healthy options can get pricey when shopping for specialty foods. 

However, getting the best quality doesn't mean you have to break the bank.

"I have to look at everything, so that can be tricky," said Kate Shapiro of Holyoke.

Families are gearing up for another year in school, but throwing together a lunch box packed with healthy options can be tough.

"School lunches are often a stress for families," said Nancy Anderson, a pediatric dietitian at Baystate Children's Hospital/

Parents want the best quality food for their families.  Grocery stores offer limitless options, so it's hard to decide what to add to your basket and what to skip. 

"Lots of parents ask 'But fruits and vegetables are so expensive and I'm hearing now that i need to have 'organic' everything' or 'My child is going to get exposed to so many pesticides and that's going to hurt them'," Anderson added.

Anderson noted that that simply isn't true, but there are certain foods that are worth buying organic...

"We call them the dirty dozen," Anderson said.

Peaches, spinach, and apples - while these are packed with nutrients - are also the most commonly contaminated fruits and vegetables.

"If you have extra money in your budget to buy anything organic, only choose organic from the dirty dozen list," Anderson explained.

Anderson said not waste your money on buying organic produce she calls 'the clean 15.'  Asparagus and mangos all make the grade when it comes to being the least contaminated. 

"She loves avocados and you can get non-organic and those are just as good," Shapiro added.

Avocados are the cleanest of the bunch.  Only one percent of avocados showed any detectable pesticides.

"Choose fresh, local, and in season." Anderson added.

After hitting the produce section, there are a few other products you can cheap out on.

"Organic breads are probably not necessary," Anderson said.

With milk, you can go either way. 

"Organic milk does have a better fatty-acid blend for brain development, but organic milk, as well as conventional milk, are both very safe and neither have any antibiotic residue, Anderson added.

Now, when it comes to juice boxes, Anderson noted, "no child needs juice as long as they're eating fruits and vegetables each day."

Instead. a water bottle can do double duty.

"Fill a water bottle halfway with water and put it in the freezer.  In the morning, top it off with water, put it in the lunch pack, and it stays cold and serves as an ice pack," Anderson explained.

Whether you go organic or not, the most important thing is to fit in as many food groups as you can. 

"If you get at least three out of the four food groups in a lunch, you're doing pretty well," Anderson noted.

Copyright 2016 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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