Whether you’ve got kids heading back to school this fall or you brownbag your lunch to work, making sure nutrition makes it in there is important for good health and energy to finish the school or work day.

Balancing lean protein with complex (not sweet) carbohydrates (and a little bit of fat) is key. High fiber foods such as whole grains, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables will satisfy your lunch cravings and sustain your energy all afternoon. A fresh fruit salad instead of dessert air-popped popcorn instead of greasy potato chips will keep you on a healthy track.

Invest in a quality thermos for the option of a hot lunch. Freshly made low sodium soups and stews are a great option but also consider whole wheat pasta with marinara sauce. Accompany it with a side salad and lunch is served. Next time you make a batch of vegetable chili, don’t forget to save some for lunch the next day.

When packing a cold lunch that contains perishable ingredients such as meats, dairy and cut fruits and vegetables don’t forget to include a good ice pack to avoid food-borne illness, especially when the weather is warm.

Here are some nutritious cold lunch ideas to start the back-to-school season with:

Salad with romaine and kale, grilled chicken or tuna
Parfait of low fat yogurt with granola and fruit
Hummus and whole wheat pita chips or vegetable sticks
Pasta salad with beans and a variety of vegetables and balsamic vinaigrette
Peanut butter on whole grain bread and a banana
Grilled chicken quesadilla with bell peppers and low fat cheese
Egg salad made with light mayonnaise on whole grain pita
Spinach salad with feta, chicken, strawberries and lemon juice with olive oil
Roasted turkey, avocado and sprouts sandwich
Grilled vegetable and hummus wrap

Try this recipe: Apple-Walnut Chicken Salad Sandwich

3 ounces cooked grilled boneless chicken breast ¼ cup chopped apple
¼ cup chopped walnuts 2 tablespoons light mayonnaise
Freshly ground black pepper to taste Whole wheat bread
Combine all ingredients (except bread) in small bowl. Spread on bread. Add lettuce leaves, sliced tomato and low fat cheese if