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Family health

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternatives

Packing healthy lunches doesn't have to be time consuming. Here are some easy ways to avoid the school lunch pitfalls.

By Rosie Schwartz, RD
The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternatives

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternatives

Smart lunches

Smart lunch selections supply a range of nutrients for growth and development while avoiding those that contribute to a host of ills including obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes – all on the upsurge in younger and younger age groups.

Here are some of the worst lunchbox offenders. Steer clear of these picks.

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto: 1MoreCreative/iStockphoto

The offender: Meal kits

Three mini-weiners with three mini-buns (refined flour) along with mustard, ketchup, a milkshake and potato chips are examples of what you can find in these high-sugar and/or high-sodium "meal kids" containing processed meat. Sodium counts can climb to almost a staggering 1000 milligrams. As well, more and more research is pointing to the potential adverse effects of processed meat over time. It’s linked to an increased risk of diabetes and colon cancer.

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto by Sean Dreilinger/Flickr

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The alternative: Bento box

The better option would be a reusable bento box containing a selection of foods from at least three out of four food groups.

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto by Wendy Copley/Flickr

The offender: Chocolate-nut spread sandwich

If your youngster’s school is nut-free, then you don’t have to worry about banning these chocolate-nuts spreads as a lunchtime entrée. Many contain minimal amounts of protein and instead offer more sugar and fat than anything else.

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto by Alexis Lamster/Flickr

The alternative: Cheese and crackers

The better option would be cubes of cheese, a few ounces of leftover chicken or even a hard-boiled egg along with whole-grain crackers or pitas.

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto by Chris Luczkow/Flickr

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The offender: Fruit drinks

While the makers of some fruit drinks may now tout that their beverages contain less sugar than the previous versions or are packed with vitamin C, these beverages offers very little real juice — not that kids need juice in any case.

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto by Tim Baker/Flickr

The alternative: Water

Even for kids, the better option is low-fat milk or water.

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto by MMarsolais/Flickr

The offender: Sugar-laden dried fruit products

Dried fruit is popular among kids as it definitely tastes like a sweet treat. But avoid those where the ingredient list reveals much more than fruit. If the first ingredient is sugar, skip it.

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto by penguincakes/Flickr

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The alternative: Plain dried fruit

Plain dried fruit such as dried apricots and apples or fruit leather with no added sugar are the more sensible solutions.

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto by Thomas Mueller/Flickr

The offender: Chocolate-covered granola bars

When you think of granola bars, you’re not alone if you picture wholesome oats. But when you read the ingredient list on certain offerings, while you may spy oats on the label, in some cases they’re way down — even after items like hydrogenated vegetable oil.

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto by Sarah R/Flickr

The alternative: Oat granola bars

Always choose granola bars with oats at the top of the ingredient list. You can even make your own, to ensure you know what your child is eating.

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto by Sifu Renka/Flickr

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The offender: Salt-laden savoury snack mixes

Some snack mixes tout that they’re baked or free of trans fat, but when you check out the nutrition facts box, you may be in for a surprise. While they may contain healthy fats, they may also supply more than half a child’s sodium requirement in just one serving.

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto by nathanmac87/Flickr

The alternative: Homemade snack mix

The better option is homemade whole-grain cereal snack mix, whole grain pretzels or air- or oil-popped popcorn for older kids (as it’s a choking hazard for young children).

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternativesPhoto by Werner Moser/Flickr

More healthy choices

The six worst offenders for school lunches...and their healthy alternatives
This article was originally published on May 11, 2012

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