A growing number of schools are requiring students to pack a lunch. Sure, chips, snack cakes and soda taste great and earn you a five-star rating from your little one. But, the added sugar and salt are taking a toll on your child’s health and creating poor habits that may impact their food choices later in life.
“Children who learn to enjoy healthier foods today are more likely to eat better as adults,” said Taylor Till, registered dietitian with Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health. “You may be surprised to learn how much your child enjoys fresh, healthy foods,” Till explained. “It’s really easy to add healthier options to your little one’s lunch box in place of processed foods full of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.”
A little planning and preparation are all that’s needed, Till said. Make Sunday “prep-day.” Create lunch plans for the week, assemble what’s needed and keep track of your child’s favorites. That will make future meal planning quicker and easier. Consider packing a lunch for yourself instead of grabbing something from the vending machine or a fast-food restaurant.
Stuck on where to begin? Here are some tips to get you started:
- Swap the jelly in your PB&J with smashed berries. Jelly is loaded with sugar. Use a fork to smash fresh raspberries, blueberries or strawberries for a healthier sandwich. If the school is peanut-free, try sunflower seed butter instead, or make sandwiches with protein-rich hummus.
- Replace chips with crunchy veggies sticks. Deep-fried chips are laden with unhealthy fats and salt. Go for carrot or celery sticks. Swap processed cheese spread with hummus or a flew slices of real cheese.
- Ditch juice boxes for infused water. Juice boxes are super convenient but are full of empty calories. Fill a reusable water bottle instead, or better yet, one with an infuser basket. Keep things tasty and fun with infused water or add your child’s favorite from things like fresh orange slices, berries or mint leaves.
Other easy swaps:
Granola Bars to Homemade Energy Balls
If you’re reaching for granola bars thinking they’re a better choice than chocolate bars or other sweet treats, think again. Many store-bought granola bars have just as much sugar as a chocolate bar, though they’re disguised as a healthier option. Instead whip up a batch of homemade granola bars or energy balls to keep in the freezer and tuck into your lunch box each day. You’ll know exactly what’s in them and will have full control over the ingredients.
Fruit Cups to Whole Fruit
Those syrupy fruit cups with cubes of pear, peach, and that one incandescent cherry are cute and all, but they’re a far cry from healthy. Instead stick with whole fruit. You can make your own fruit cups by chopping up apples, melons, pears, grapes…whatever is in-season and handy for you. Toss in a little lemon juice to prevent browning and send them on their way!
Sweetened Yogurt to DIY Fruit on the Bottom Yogurt
Like fruit cups, sweetened yogurt cups are usually packed with sugar, as well as various thickeners and gelling agents. It’s easy to whip up DIY yogurt cups. Layer some fruit or mashed berries on the bottom (or some of that chia jam!) and spoon plain, unsweetened yogurt over the top.
White Bread to Whole to Sprouted Grain Bread
This one may seem obvious, but if you’re making sandwiches on white bread, consider swapping for something with whole grains. Read your labels! Many “brown” breads don’t contain much more fiber than white bread does. Opt for something with sprouted grains or at least 50 percent whole wheat in order to bump up the fiber content.
Cookie Packs to Homemade Oatmeal Cookies
Those little, 100-calorie cookie packs are cute and all, but you can’t beat homemade when it comes to nutrition. Whip up a batch of homemade cookies with oatmeal, flax seeds, or whatever healthy add-ins your family loves. A single homemade cookie will trump the cookie packs every time.
Boxed Pizza to Pita Pizzas
If your boxed pizza rhymes with crunchables, consider homemade. Make little pita pizzas using whole wheat pitas as the base, sneaking some veggies in, and whatever other toppings your kid is into. Slice it up and throw it in the lunch box and your kid will thank you!