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Back-To-School Checklist: Healthy Lunches

BY: Christopher Mahar | Dec 11, 2018

When preparing to send your children back to school don't forget the most important supply of all: a healthy lunch. Here we have a complete week's worth of ideas for how to take brown-bag staples and transform them into super-powered learning fuel! Pack a healthy school lunch

Peanut Butter & Jelly

Classic: PB&J (white bread, Smucker's preserves, Jif peanut butter), Cheez-Its, chocolate chip cookies Healthier: PB&J (whole wheat bread, Smucker's low-sugar preserves, Smucker's natural peanut butter), Annie's Whole Wheat Bunnies, apple slices Whole wheat bread provides more fiber–linked to health benefits like lower risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers–than white bread. Natural peanut butter contains no added sugar, so that along with the low-sugar preserves cuts down on empty calories and also lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. Annie's Bunnies has less saturated fat and more whole grains than Cheez-Its. Apples contain less sugar and fat while providing more fiber and antioxidants than cookies. Healthiest: HTP&C (hummus, tomato, peppers, and cucumber, 100% whole wheat pita), 2% Greek yogurt, apple slices Swap your spreads! Hummus contains less total fat and calories than peanut butter, no matter how natural. Veggies provide antioxidants and vitamins. Yogurt replaces the protein lost from swapping out the peanut butter and is an excellent source of calcium.

Bologna

Classic: Bologna and cheese sandwich (white bread, Oscar Meyer bologna, American cheese), Lays potato chips, Gushers fruit snacks Healthier: Bologna and cheese sandwich (low-sodium Boars Head bologna, low-fat Boars Head cheddar cheese, whole wheat sandwich thins), baked Lays, 100% fruit leather The benefits of these swaps are right in the name. Processed meat can be high in salt, so getting a low-sodium brand is a good first move. Low-fat cheese and baked potato chips contain less saturated fat than what they are replacing. Whole wheat sandwich thins give you fewer carbs and more fiber than regular slices of white bread. Fruit leather that is 100% fruit and contains no preservatives again provides antioxidants and naturally occurring vitamins. Healthiest: “Bologna” and cheese wrap (Smart Deli vegetarian bologna, whole wheat high fiber wrap), veggie crudité (celery, carrots, cherry tomatoes), one cup of blueberries High consumption of processed meat is linked to cancer, so a veggie substitute is key for those who are trying to cut down on their risks.

Sloppy Joe

Classic: Sloppy Joe (hamburger meat, onion, green pepper, ketchup, Worchester sauce, brown sugar, white hamburger bun), Wise barbecue potato chips, banana pudding cup Healthier: Sloppy Joe (low-fat ground turkey Ambitious Kitchen recipe, whole wheat hamburger bun), Smart Pop popcorn chips, cup of melon chunks Keep the protein but lower the fat with ground turkey. Smart Pop chips add a whole grain without the fat, while melon provides potassium, vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals without the extra sugar and fat from the pudding. Healthiest: Vegetarian Sloppy Joe (pinto bean EatingWell recipe, whole wheat hamburger bun), cucumber salad, melon chunks Pinto beans preserve the protein but also add fiber that ground meat is missing. They also provide cardiovascular benefits and are just all-around good for you!

Lunchables

Classic: Lunchable Chicken Dunks (white meat chicken nuggets, ketchup, Oreos) Healthier: Perdue Harvestland Organic Chicken Tenders, ketchup, two 60% Ghiradelli's chocolate squares, baby carrots Perdue's offering has no MSG and fewer preservatives than the frighteningly shelf-stable Lunchables. Dark chocolate squares are a sweet treat that has fewer carbohydrates and sugars than Oreos, while also providing some antioxidant benefits. And the baby carrots are a reminder to always add a veggie! Healthiest: Applegate Naturals Chicken Nuggets, ketchup, Kashi Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Cookies, baby carrots Applegate's breading is lighter and their ingredients list is simpler than all other chicken nuggets I've seen, and they also have less than half of the sodium of Perdue's tenders. Kashi's cookies have a whole grain blend that provides a whopping four grams of fiber, and also has lower saturated fat than the chocolate squares.

Fish Sticks

Classic: Fish sticks, tartar sauce, canned peas, Jell-O cup Healthier: Tuna sandwich (chunk tuna, light mayo, celery, onion, whole wheat sandwich thins), rice crackers, grapes Ditch the refined grain breading for the health benefits of whole wheat bread. A tuna sandwich also offers lower fat and sodium than fried fish sticks. Rice crackers give a satisfying whole grain crunch without excessive fat. Healthiest: Tuna Nicoise salad (solid albacore tuna, hard-boiled egg, tomato, olive, choice of salad greens, vinaigrette), rice crackers, grapes Increase your vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants by having a salad base versus a bread base for your tuna. Have an idea for a healthy twist on a classic shool lunch? Let us know in the comments!