Easy Lunchbox Makeover

The school cafeteria has become a place filled with poor diet choices. From franchise fast food offerings to soda machine temptations, today’s kids are faced with a lot of unhealthy options at lunchtime. So, what can parents do? They can pack a better lunch! But many parents could use some help — the typical child’s lunch box is often filled with fat, sugar and salt, and lacking healthy fruit, protein and whole grains.

Healthy lunch boxes are an easy way to reinforce healthy eating in childhood, when eating habits are formed. Instilling good eating habits is more important than ever as child obesity rates have soared in recent years.

Lowering your child’s intake of fat, especially saturated fat, is an important part of making over the lunch box. The other key is balance. Having a decent protein-to-carbohydrate ratio will help them finish the day with energy to spare. Below are my top five tips for packing a healthier lunch box.

1. Wipe Out White Bread. Breads made with whole grains are better sources of fiber and keep your kids feeling full longer. They also have more of other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium. The good news is that it’s easy to find whole grain options at grocery stores for everything from bread to crackers to tortillas. ?
2. Be Choosier with Cheese. Cheese is the No. 1 source of saturated fat in our diets! Try swapping out high-fat cheese with a better-for-you option. Soy-based Veggie Slices taste like real cheese so kids won’t know the difference in their favorite sandwich (see recipe). The makers of Veggie also introduced Super Stix just this year, a new lactose-free Mozzarella flavor snack stick with no saturated fat or cholesterol that is a perfect packable for lunch boxes. ?
3. Don’t Skimp on Fruit. Swap fruit for sugary snacks that cause kids’ energy levels to nosedive mid-afternoon. Bananas are great for lunch boxes. They are convenient, a great source of potassium and come in their own carrying case. Pack it on the very top and wrap in a napkin for protection. Sliced apples, peeled oranges and grapes make great lunch box additions, as well. ?
4. Skip the Chips! Most kids feel their lunch box isn’t quite packed unless there are chips aboard. Parents know most store-bought chips are not the healthiest food around. Baked tortilla chips are a good option or even better are baked pita chips, which are easy to make at home. ?
5. Be Choosey about Beverages. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, drinking too much juice (yes, even 100 percent fruit juice) can contribute to everything from cavities to childhood obesity, not to mention the discomfort of gas and bloating! Get your child into the good habit of drinking water. Try freezing a bottle of water instead of the usual juice box and flavored drinks – and skip soda altogether. The bottle will keep the lunch box cold and will be thawed by lunchtime!

Packing a healthy lunch box is something parents can easily teach kids to do for themselves. Children who learn to pack a healthy lunch are the kids who learn to make responsible nutrition decisions as they grow up.
— From Leanne Ely, Certified Nutrition Consultant and author of the Saving Dinner book series

The Ultimate Tortilla Roll-Up
• 1 whole wheat tortilla
• 1 or 2 slices of Veggie Cheddar
soy-based cheese alternative
• 1 skinless baked chicken breast
(or tuna in water)
• 2 slices of tomato, chopped
• 1 romaine lettuce leaf, shredded
• 1 teaspoon vinaigrette (whatever you have on hand)
Lay the tortilla flat and place the Veggie Slices on the tortilla. In a small bowl, toss the lettuce and tomato with vinaigrette and set aside. Slice the chicken into pieces and lay evenly over the Veggie Slices. Spread the lettuce mixture evenly on top of the chicken. Roll up like you would a sleeping bag (tuck one side tight to begin). Wrap the sandwich securely in plastic wrap.

Chips Done Right!
There are a lot of pre-bagged pita chips at health stores, but it’s also easy to buy pita, or whole wheat tortillas, and make your own.

Simply slice into six even pieces and bake until brown in the oven. Your kids will get a chip fix and enjoy crunching on this satisfying snack. You can also get the kids involved in the cooking process.