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Health Team

5 tips for healthier school lunchboxes

Posted August 29

For many families, going back to school means back to lunch boxes.

Many parents might fill their child's lunch box with what they know the kids will eat, which may not be the healthiest options. But a few simple changes could boost nutrition at lunch time.

The typical child's lunchbox might have a juice pack, chips, white bread with cold cuts and a few cookies. WakeMed Dietitian Parul Kharod said thinking ahead can make for a better meal.

"Planning and prepping ahead of time always helps," Kharod said.

Kharod recommends five healthy changes:

The beverage

No sodas, sports drinks or even juice.

"Even pediatricians are recommending that kids don't drink juice because that is a whole lot of sugar," Kharod said.

Replace it with a bottle of water, and encourage kids to refill it often.

"We need water (because) 75 percent of our body is made up of water," Kharod said.

Replace the chips

Chips are normally loaded with fat and sodium. So, Kharod says to swap them for crunchy veggies, instead.

"Instead of chips, crunchy vegetables—baby carrots, celery, cucumber," Kharod said. "It's recommended that we eat up to five servings of fruits and vegetables through the day, and it's hard to get them if we don't include them at every meal."

Drop the cookies

If kids want something sweet, think fruit.

"Sliced apples, washed and bagged," Kharod said. "Grapes, berries, you know, whatever fruit is in season."

It's also a good place for a dairy item, like cheese or Greek yogurt with berries mixed in.

"You need to be careful because a lot of yogurts have a lot of added sugar," Kharod said.

Ditch white bread

"Look into more multi-grain, whole grains, sprout and grain type of bread," Kharod said.

Parents can replace the bread with a whole wheat tortilla or pita pocket.

Swap processed meats

Processed meats carry a lot of fat and sodium. Opt for leaner meats, instead.

"So, maybe making changes using leaner sliced chicken or turkey, or it can be a veggie option with hummus or beans," Kharod said.

Kharod warns, though, these changes may not succeed if they're not the daily lifestyle for the whole family.

Other tips

Making these changes involves careful grocery shopping and reading labels.

For parents choosing pretzels and crackers over chips, look at the amount of sodium. Both options can come with lots of extra salt, so WRAL Health Team's Dr. Allen Mask said to read the labels to find lower-sodium options.

The same goes for nuts and seeds.Get children accustomed to lower salt versions that still satisfy the crunch they want.

Kharod doesn't recommend cutting out kids' favorites, like cookies and candy, altogether. She recommends calling them "sometimes" foods.

So, don't ban chips, but get children accustomed to the baked variety and lower sodium versions.

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