With back to school kicking off around the country, a healthy lunch may, or may not, be on your supply list. With a few kids of my own, I’m all too familiar with sending them off to school each day with a lunchbox that satisfies my desire for nutrition and their desire for delicious.
In this video series, I explain how you can pack a healthy lunch that does the same for you and your kids, including beverages, sandwiches, fruits and vegetables and even snacks that everyone will love!
Sandwiches: The Main Goodness of the Packed Lunch
Check inside any packed lunch and, most often, you will see a sandwich. A sandwich fits the criteria of a packed lunch well – it’s portable, compact and filling. The ingredients that you choose to create your sandwich can make your meal healthy and satisfying or cause blood sugar spikes and dips. Here are some great options to keep in mind:
- Choose a whole wheat or whole grain bread. Read the label and choose a brand that does not contain high fructose corn syrup.
- Peanut butter is a wonderful source of protein for a packed lunch. It’s shelf stable and doesn’t require any refrigeration, but many brands contain hydrogenated oils and extra sugars. Choose a brand that contains just peanuts and salt.
- Choose a jelly that is reduced sugar, or a whole fruit spread.
- Lunchables are popular choices but they are full of fat, high in calories and salt and can cause the dreaded “2 p.m. sugar crash.” Make your own version with whole grain crackers, reduced fat cheese slices and freshly sliced turkey or chicken breast.
- In addition to peanut butter and jelly, many kids enjoy tuna fish – although many brands contain mayonnaise, oils and extra ingredients that aren’t necessary. Look for a brand that is just tuna packed in water. Pack whole wheat crackers or bread, tomato slices, pickles and lettuce and your child can create a gourmet lunch.
Lunch Box Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are great choices to add to a packed lunch. Be careful, though, that you are indeed choosing fruit and not fruit snacks – a misnomer for a food that often contains no fruit but is chock full of sugar and preservatives. Even a plastic cup of fruit may not be the healthy choice that you think it is. Instead, pick a whole piece of fruit – apples and bananas stand up to lunch box abuse especially well. Other fruits, like pears, may discolor, but a quick dip in lemon juice can forestall the color change. Many children enjoy fruit salad, especially with a small container of yogurt dip. Carrot sticks are often popular, as as zucchini and squash sticks, and many children enjoy dipping the vegetable sticks into hummus or ranch dip.
Lunch Box Sides
Chips can be a landmine of fat and calorie dynamite. Instead of fried potato chips, why not choose a healthier baked chip, Goldfish, or maybe air-popped popcorn. Don’t be fooled by choices like Veggie or Pirate Booty, which do not contain vegetables but instead are empty calories.
Yogurts are often great choices to have in a healthy lunch, but watch out! They can be full of sugar or artificial colors and flavors. Instead, reach for a tube of organic yogurt – if frozen overnight, it will still be slushy and cold at lunch time.
Lunch Box Beverages
Soda is often requested, but should never be packed in a child’s lunch, as it is full of sugar and often caffeine – and diet versions aren’t any better with the enormous amounts of artificial sweeteners. Try a 100% juice packed in a thermos, a sparkling juice (juice and sparkling water with no sweeteners) or an organic milk box. Often, a simple water bottle is all that is necessary.