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Watsonville, CA 95077

Pack This, NOT That for Healthy Kids Lunches Icon: Print this recipePrint This

Girl with healthy lunch box

In general, I’m not a fan of telling what people what they shouldn’t eat simply because it doesn’t work. I think you hear plenty enough of that sort of thing. But when it comes to kids, I don’t think it hurts for you and them to know the difference between what should be a lunchbox regular or an occasional decadent treat.

NOT That


It’s the real deal. Whether fresh, frozen canned or dried, 100% real fruit supplies much needed carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and plant nutrients to fuel young brains and active bodies. Strawberries, for example, contain a mere 50 calories per cup and are loaded with nutrients like vitamin C to help fight colds and speed repair of scraped knees and other playground injuries.

Faves: Got picky kids?? Surveys show that some of kid’s faves include strawberries, grapes, bananas and apples.

Packing tips:
Be sure kids don't have to mess around with washing or cutting up the fruit you pack. They'll be more likly to eat it if it's ready to go. Wash the fruit, pat it dry and cut up into bite-sized pieces. Please in a sealed container next to an icepack so it's nice and cold when lunchtime rolls around.

Fruit snacks:
Let’s set the record straight. Those little gummy snacks are nothing but glorified bits of candy. They’ve never been fruit and never will be 100% fruit. Don’t fool yourself into thinking they are the real deal; at best, they contain fruit juice concentrate and added sugars, minus the fiber.

Fruit drinks:
How do you want your soda? Carbonated or not carbonated? That’s basically what fruit drinks are - flat soda without the goodness of 100% fruit juice. Per ounce, they have just as many calories as soda.

Low fat milk or chocolate milk:

Either is a great choice as both supply calcium, protein and a host of other important nutrients as well as helping fluid needs.  Look for milk that comes in aseptic packs. Refrigerate overnight so they are nice and cold when you pack them.

Chocolately drinks:

They look like chocolate milk, they kinda taste like chocolate milk but are really just sugary drinks in disguise. If the main ingredients are sugar, and not wholesome milk, leave it out of your child’s lunchbox.

Whole grain bread:
You know the drill - look for the “whole” next to the grain description. “Enriched,” “Durum” and other fancy terms does not tell you if you are serving your child a whole grain product. Besides fiber, there are a boatload of plant nutrients that benefit health in whole grain products that you won’t find in not whole grain varieties. Good news! You can find whole grain white wheat breads that are soft and most kids (and adults) won’t know the difference!

White bread: 

The term “white bread” really is passé because, as I mentioned, there are whole grain white breads out there. Besides lacking in fiber, the nutrients added back in from the processing of the grain helps but lacks dozens of plant nutrients only found in whole grains that may help fight heart disease, cancer, diabetes and may even play a roll in keeping hunger at bay.

Low sodium lean meats and cheeses:

Lunch meats and cheeses can really add a lot of saturated fat and especially unwanted sodium to the diet. Many companies are now offering lean versions that are reduced in sodium and fat. Choose reduced fat and sodium cheese that contain nearly 1/2 the amount of sodium and saturated fat compared to standard cheese slices.

High sodium lunch meat and full-fat cheese:
Between salt, sodium nitrate, sodium phosphates, monosodium glutamate and host of other sodium ingredients, many standard lunch meats clock in at over 500mg of sodium per serving. Yikes! Excess sodium is bad for growing bones and may contribute to high blood pressure and kidney stones. And, added saturated fat does not help growing arteries. Many full fat cheeses have nearly 50% of the saturated fat requirement for the day.

The secret here is to serve kids veggies that are fun, tasty and ready to chomp.

Faves: Celery and carrot sticks, pepper and cucumber slices, broccoli and cauliflower florets, cherry tomatoes and even sliced jicama are favored among kids. Serve an accompanying low fat ranch dressing, salsa, hummus or honey balsamic vinaigrette dressing really makes the veggies more appealing.

Packing tips: Be sure to sprinkle a bit of lemon juice on top of the cut veggies to keep them bright and fresh in appearance. This also helps keep the odor down from sulphur-containing veggies like broccoli and cauliflower.

Vegetable chips:

Truth be told, they aren’t really that bad as most on the market are relatively moderate in sodium, low in saturated fat and average around 150 calories per serving. But most vegetables we eat are less than 25 calories for an entire cup and virtually no sodium. Veggie chips instead of standard chips is a better choice if the goal is serving a healthier chip.

Categories: Dietitian Advice

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