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Family health

Lunchbox makeover: Eat this, not that

Nutritionist Theresa Albert shares tips on navigating the better side of grocery-store aisles and creating more nutritious — but just as yummy — lunches.

Lunchbox makeover: Eat this, not that

Eat this, not that

Lunch box decisions, decisions...

We all do it: try to choose the lesser of two evils when faced with an array of decisions at the grocery store. The variables are endless, and time to decide is finite. All things considered, though, there is usually a winner. And with these tips, you'll know what it is before your child is screaming from the shopping cart for a box o' something fast! 

Click on for tips on navigating the better side of the middle road and creating more nutritious — but just as yummy — lunches.

Lunchbox makeover: Eat this, not thatPhoto: iStockphoto

Soy milk vs. almond milk

If you are avoiding dairy due to lactose intolerance or digestive discomfort, either rice or hemp milk can understudy. Soy has issues unless it specifically says organic, since it has likely been genetically modified (which may or may not be an issue for you, but may be an issue for the planet — we just don’t know how much of one yet). Soy beans are treated with hexane to isolate the protein, and hexane is known to be a neurotoxin. That said, most tests show that there are no hexane residues, and even almond milk may be at the same risk. Go organic and avoid the hexane in either case.

Generally, depending on the sugar in your brand, almond milk wins by a small margin even though it is lower in protein. As long as you aren’t relying on this beverage as a source of protein, almond milk is the slightly better choice.

Read more: 10 peanut-free lunch ideas>

Lunchbox makeover: Eat this, not thatPhotos: iStockphoto

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Pita bread vs. corn tortilla

We aren’t talking corn chips here, but rather, corn tortillas that haven’t been fried. Corn tortillas are higher in iron but lower in protein and fibre.

Corn tortillas are gluten free and yeast free, a bonus for those who find too much baker’s yeast causes bloating and discomfort. However, unless this is an issue for you, whole grain pita comes out ahead for its protein and fibre count.

Read more: Tortilla recipes>

Lunchbox makeover: Eat this, not thatPhotos: iStockphoto

Granola bars vs. fruit bars

Both granola bars and fruit bars are typically full of sugar and carbohydrates, so this is a difficult comparison that depends very much upon the brand. Fruit bars do contain real fruit, but the processing leaves few nutrients intact. 

If your granola bar of choice contains whole grains, has less than 200 or so calories and at least 5 grams of protein, choose it. Otherwise, leave both on the shelf.

Lunchbox makeover: Eat this, not thatPhotos: Sweet Potato Chronicles/iStockphoto

Pudding cups vs. applesauce

While there is 10% of a day’s worth of calcium in one cup of pudding, there is also a lot of filler in the form of sugar and cornstarch. Applesauce has about half of the calories, and is widely and cheaply available in an organic version.

While apples are peeled and processed, most applesauce cups still contain a gram or so of fibre. Go for the fruit, hands down.

Lunchbox makeover: Eat this, not thatPhotos: iStockphoto

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Raisins vs. Craisins

You would think that dark red cranberries would beat out boring old raisins but think again. Raisins contain more minerals and are minimally processed without added sugar.

Caution: Both stick to teeth and can cause dental cavities. But both are concentrated sources of carbohydrates and calories, so a little goes a long way.

Lunchbox makeover: Eat this, not thatPhotos: iStockphoto

Pretzels vs. crackers

Pretzels are baked white flour with two to three times more salt than the average cracker. Crackers, while they can be little secret empty fried carbohydrate bombs, can be a decent snack if chosen wisely. A serving of four baked whole grain crackers is equivalent to a piece of whole grain bread in fibre, calories and carbs, as long as you check your brand for minimal added seasonings, flavourings and processing. 

Unless, of course, you are on the streets of New York and one of those yummy soft treats with mustard is calling your name... Then, your only choice is to share your pretzel and enjoy the moment.

Read more: Flaxseed and sesame crackers>

Lunchbox makeover: Eat this, not thatPhotos: iStockphoto

More storebought snack tips

Snacks: 10 healthy store-bought options>
Check out these other ideas for healthy storebought snacks to feed your kids.

Lunchbox makeover: Eat this, not thatPhoto: iStockphoto

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