7 easy ways to make your child's lunchbox healthier

Here's how to boost kids' noontime nutrition

Last updated: September 10, 2015 06:00 AM

At back-to-school time and throughout the school year, parents face the daily lunchbox challenge: how to pack food that will tempt kids' appetites and still give them quality nutrition.

Unless you've got a confirmed salad-lover on your hands, you might find yoursel relying on the same old PB&J (if your child's school allows nut products at all) every day. But you dont have to, because our nutrition pros did a better-for-you redo of some lunchbox regulars.

1. Instead of white bread, try whole-grain white bread

100% whole-wheat bread is the best choice, but if your youngster refuses it, whole-grain white bread is worth considering. It looks and tastes about the same as regular white bread, but whole-grain white bread—a combo of regular white flour and whole-grain flour—can have more than double the fiber. Look for products that have whole grains first in the ingredients list.

2. Opt for whole-grain buns. 

You can also make sandwiches with 100% whole-grain hamburger buns. "These can be lighter and less dense than some whole-wheat breads," says Consumer Reports' senior product tester Amy Keating, R.D.

3. Instead of American cheese slices, try Swiss cheese slices

The fat and calories may be similar, but Swiss cheese has 80 percent less sodium per slice than American. Don't like the taste? Try cheddar and save about one-third of the sodium per slice.

Find out where cost-conscious American women do their grocery shopping.  And get some great snack strategies for your youngsters, too.  

4. Instead of salami or bologna, try sliced chicken or turkey breast

Ounce per ounce, you'll save more than half of the calories and get just a fraction of the fat. But watch the sodium in deli meats, and stick with a 2-ounce portion.

5. Try others tasty, healthy fillings.

For alternatives to lunch meat, chop grilled chicken breasts with veggies such as lettuce, spinach, shredded cabbage or carrots, and make wraps, top whole-wheat wraps with cheese and beans in a skillet (they're tasty  sliced into quesadillas and eaten cold the next day); create a sandwich with hummus or egg salad.

6. Use those leftovers.

If you made pasta and veggies for dinner the night before, heat a portion up and pack it in a Thermos. You can also fill it with soup or rice, beans, and cheese.  

7. Instead of chocolate-chip cookies, try a granola bar with chocolate chips

You can find bars with less fat and fewer calories than a typical chocolate-chip cookie. But to make sure you're getting the most whole grains and fiber, look for granola bars and whole oats as the first ingredient. Another option: unsweetened applesauce.  


Editor's Note:

A version of this article also appeared in the August/September 2014 issue of ShopSmart magazine.  

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