Five simple, nutritious lunch box swaps

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 6, 2012

(BPT) – – For students, going to school isn’t just about understanding reading, writing and arithmetic; it’s also about learning the importance of good nutrition. Healthy eating takes center stage in the lunch room, so when your children open their lunch boxes, are they hitting a healthy home run, or striking out?  

“Now is the perfect time to rethink what you’re purchasing and packing in your child’s lunch box so that you can start new, healthier eating habits, which can be continued throughout the year,” says Danielle Omar, registered dietitian and author of the “Busy Woman’s Guide To Stress-Free Grocery Shopping.” “Making small changes can have a big impact, especially at lunch when kids need good-for-you foods that provide nutrients like fiber and vitamins to properly refuel for the rest of their day.”

For parents, it can be difficult to know which foods to pack and which to eliminate. Omar offers five lunch box swaps that are easy, healthy and affordable. Consider these simple swaps when packing a child’s lunch:

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1. Milk boxes replace juice boxes

A diet rich in calcium and protein is vital for active and growing children. That’s why I recommend swapping sugar-laden fruit juice drinks for milk, which is more nutritious. Moms can even find milk that comes in single-serve boxes for a convenient lunch box alternative to juice drinks. Horizon Organic offers several single-serve options including low-fat original, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry flavors. Organic milk is also produced without the use of antibiotics, persistent pesticides or added growth hormones.

2. Whole-grain bread replaces white bread

Kids need at least 17 grams of fiber per day, according to the government’s most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That’s why moms should swap white bread, which is heavily refined and lacks many essential nutrients, for whole-grain bread, which will help give kids the fiber they need. I like Sandwich and Bagel Flatz from Rudi’s Organic Bakery because they’re a nutritious, easy-to-pack option with 3 to 5 grams of fiber and 23 to 25 grams of whole grains per serving. 

3. Apple slices replace fruit snacks

Apple slices are easy to cut up and place in a lunch box, and they help ensure that your child gets closer to their recommended one to two servings of fruit each day, as advised by the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In contrast, fruit snacks are often full of sugar (including high fructose corn syrup) and artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Moms can also consider choosing organic apples over their conventional counterparts since, according to The Organic Center, apples tend to have one of the highest pesticide risks. If you’re strapped for time, Earthbound Farms offers pre-sliced organic apples – a simple lunchtime solution.

4. Veggies replace chips

Chips are often paired with sandwiches or wraps. A better alternative: veggies. While it can be tricky to get kids to eat their vegetables, there are many options that can get the thumbs-up from even the pickiest children. Consider trying cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, snap peas and cucumbers. A fun and delicious option is ants-on-a-log – which is celery topped with peanut butter and raisins.

5. Lean proteins replace some deli meats

A well-balanced lunch should include at least one source of protein, which will help give your child the energy they need in and out of the classroom. However, instead of deli meats like ham or salami, which often have higher levels of fat and sodium, consider leaner proteins like turkey or sliced chicken. When selecting meats, consider looking for organic varieties like Applegate Farms, which aren’t exposed to antibiotics or added growth hormones. If you prefer to give your kids protein from non-meat sources, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, or soy products like edamame are great lunch box alternatives.  

For more nutrition or back to school food tips from Horizon, you can visit