Healthy Lunch Box Substitutes!

May 25, 2011

Submitted by: Anne Lynch, Membership Consultant, O2 Fitness Express Wakefield

With the development of video games, kids have stopped playing sports and just playing outside in general. This sedentary lifestyle along with the availability and simplicity of “convenience” foods has cause a virtual epidemic. Nobody wants to tell their child that they need to go on a “diet” but there are ways that you can help your child start eating healthier without making them feel self-conscious about their weight. Here are some suggestions for substituting healthy options for the traditional “Lunch Box Menu” that will prove that simple, healthy and delicious all go together! And don't think these lunches are just for kids!


Old Standby: Bologna Sandwich
New Favorite: Turkey Sandwich

Bologna is by-product heaven, providing more salt and cholesterol than anything of value. Try turkey instead, opting for roasted versus smoked. Roasted generally has less sodium, anywhere from 200 to 300 fewer grams per serving! And watch the bread: We’ve all heard that whole-wheat is best, but unless the label says “stone-ground wheat flour” or “whole-wheat flour,” it’s not the real deal. Anything with “enriched wheat flour” is more akin to white. Oroweat’s new Sandwich Thins fit the bill, and pack 5 grams of fiber per serving. If your child isn’t accustomed to wheat, start the shift slowly by initially using whole-grain white products, such as Wonder Whole Grain White.

Old Standby: Prepackaged Lunch meats with Crackers
New Favorite: Homemade Bento Box

Skip these finger-food fat bombs that are full of preservatives and create your own mix-and-match meal. Kids love small sizes, variety and the chance to assemble their food, so pick up a light and reusable container (such as one from Laptop Lunches or Zojirushi) and fill it with any assortment of homemade noshes: white Cheddar mac ’n' cheese with veggies mixed in, baked chicken nuggets, fresh fruit, carrots and celery with hummus spread or organic string cheese.

Old Standby: Leftover Pizza
New Favorite: Pasta Salad

Pizza is a perennial kid favorite, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a family pizza night. But having a slice at the next meal—or more—can be overkill. Pack a cold homemade pasta salad instead, made with whole-wheat rotini or fusilli pasta (which are compact and easier to eat than long noodles), sun-dried tomatoes, peas, chopped broccoli florets, grated Parmesan and a small amount of butter to bind the mixture.

Old Standby: Ham Pinwheels
New Favorite: BLT Wraps

Creamy, salty and fun to eat—who wouldn’t like munching on a pinwheel? Unfortunately, you’re not giving your kid good fuel for the fire. It sounds unhealthy, but a BLT-like rollup can actually be a better choice. Using a whole-wheat tortilla (such as La Tortilla Factory Smart & Delicious 100 Calorie Tortillas), wrap up low-salt bacon (we like Butterball’s Lower Sodium Turkey Bacon; each slice only has 80 mg of sodium versus 150 to 200 mg in traditional varieties) along with a small slice of cheese. Skip the lettuce—unless your child is a fan of romaine—and use thinly sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.

Old Standby: Peanut Butter & Jelly
New Favorite: Almond Butter & Dried Fruit

True, peanut butter is a tasty source of protein, but the mainstream versions aren’t worth it given the sugar and hydrogenated oils they contain. Plus, many school cafeterias now ban peanut products due to food allergies. To mimic the feel and taste of peanut butter, use an alternative spread, such as Barney Butter, an almond butter with no additives. You can layer this with (no-sugar-added) jam, but it’s equally delicious (and more unique) with a handful of Craisins on top.

Old Standby: Bean & Cheese Burrito
New Favorite: Turkey Chili

If your usual burrito is made with a nearly nutrition-less white-flour tortilla and gobs of cheese, the negatives far outweigh the positives. As an alternative, try turkey chili (kept warm in a nifty insulated container, like the FUNtainer line from Thermos). As long as you watch the sodium content, this Southwestern option offers lots of heart-healthy fiber and protein. So your child doesn’t feel deprived, kick it up with some shredded Cheddar and serve with whole-grain Wheat Thins or Annie’s Whole Wheat Cheddar Bunnies. If your child isn’t a chili fan, try a salad of drained corn, black beans, mild salsa, diced peppers, cheese cubes and crumbled low-sodium bacon.

Old Standby: Tuna/Egg Salad Sandwich (Mayo-Based)
New Favorite: Tuna/Egg Salad Pita Sandwich (Greek Yogurt–Based)

Tuna and eggs are both terrific lunch choices—it’s what they get mixed with that's the problem. Replace traditional mayonnaise—high in fat; low in nutrition—with low fat plain Greek yogurt. Full of protein and low in sugar, Greek yogurt is creamy and tangy; once tossed with chopped veggies and seasonings, it’s unlikely your child will know the difference. Serve it inside a whole-wheat pita, which is less messy than sandwich bread, or liven things up by substituting the bread with some whole-wheat pita chips instead.

Old Standby: Bagel with Cream Cheese & Jam
New Favorite: Low fat Cottage Cheese with Fruit

A loaded bagel can have its place in a child’s diet—but it certainly shouldn’t be a mainstay, especially if you’re using jam with added sugar and white-flour bagels. For a new creamy-sweet duo, try low fat cottage cheese mixed with raspberries, cantaloupe or pineapple. You can keep bread in the rotation by packing a wholesome mini-bagel (such as Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain Mini Bagels).

Old Standby: Cheese Sandwich
New Favorite: Hummus Sandwich

This American “classic,” made with cheese slices, mayo and white bread, needs to be retired. Cheese is by no means a bad thing—but processed cheese product is a different story altogether. While you could revamp this sandwich with mozzarella, avocado and tomato, why not test-drive hummus? Some hummus spreads (widely available at most grocery stores) can be high in fat, but overall, they're a better pick given the fiber and protein content. Boost the nutrition even more with a layer of diced red peppers or whatever vegetable your child prefers.

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