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Go Ask Mom

Bagged Lunch: Keep kids full with these healthy lunches

Posted August 18, 2015

School lunch generic

Most parents and kids are familiar with this bagged school lunch: Peanut butter and jelly on white bread, an apple and a granola bar.

But this popular school lunch combo is severely lacking in nutritional elements that actually will keep hunger pangs at bay for school kids, said Jenny Favret, a registered dietitian and nutritionist with Duke Children's Duke Healthy Lifestyles Program. The program works with families to help build healthy lifestyles and minimize weight-related risk factors.

"It's not that any one of those components is bad, but, collectively, you're looking at a very high carbohydrates, potentially processed carbohydrates, meal," Favret said.

To improve on that lunch and give it a more lasting effect, Favret recommends switching out some items and substituting them with vegetables and foods that offer more protein and fat. For instance, stick with that PB&J and apple, but don't add more starch with a granola bar. Add a cheese stick and some cucumber slices, instead.

Favret said that as you pack school lunches for your kids, focus on making sure there's a good mix of protein, fats, fiber and whole grain carbohydrates.

While processed food is fine occasionally, Favret recommends parents steer clear of anything with high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oil, which is commonly found in crackers and many other processed items. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has found that partially hydrogenated oils are not fit for consumption. Food manufacturers must remove them from all products within three years.

"In the meantime, we have to be our own detective," Favret said. "We have to make sure we don’t put anything with that substance in our kids’ lunch."

I've packed enough school lunches in my day to know that it's easy to get into a rut. But Favret reminds us all that there are plenty of options out there.

Protein doesn't need to just come from deli meats or peanut butter. You could send cooked chicken breast from the night before, a black bean salad, nuts, a boiled egg or hummus. Cheese, nuts, eggs, avocados and Greek yogurt (not the fat free variety) are among the good sources of fat.

Unprocessed, whole grain carbohydrates are the goal when it comes to crackers, breads, cookies and cakes. Triscuits, Favret mentioned, are a great option for kids who like their crackers. (Just be on the lookout, Favret said, for treats and snack foods that claim to include whole grains, but really just add them as an afterthought and marketing gimmick).

"The lunches that are just all carbohydrates, the child is going to be hungry again much more quickly," Favret said.

Bull City Fit, a community-based wellness program that the Duke program created, shared these healthy school lunch examples that offer the right combination of protein, fat, carbs and fiber:

Tuna salad, veggies and fruit

Container of tuna salad made with Greek yogurt or with real mayonnaise (not fat free)
A few whole grain crackers that do not contain partially hydrogenated oil
Sliced cucumbers and carrots sprinkled with an herb blend
Piece of fruit

Sandwich, veggies and fruit

Sandwich on whole grain bread made with last night’s left over chicken and with several veggies for crunch such as lettuce, onion, sliced peppers and spinach
Grape tomatoes with a few olives mixed in
Piece of fruit

Finger food lunch

Assorted finger food proteins such as boiled egg, cheese cubes or string cheese, and sliced turkey
Raw veggies with hummus
A few blue corn or whole grain tortilla chips that don't contain partially hydrogenated oil
A handful of grapes

Salad and yogurt

Fill a container with salad. Top with one or more proteins such as chicken, drained tuna, chopped eggs, shredded cheese, kidney or garbanzo beans, and sunflower seeds. Include a full fat salad dressing, which tastes better and helps with the absorption of antioxidants in the salad veggies.
A few croutons that don't (you guessed it) contain partially hydrogenated oil
Greek yogurt

Check back this week for tips from Favret on healthy snacks once the kids get home from school.

14 Comments

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  • Jenny Favret Aug 21, 2015
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    I just wanted to clarify the confusion around trans fats. You are correct that there are naturally occurring trans fats in the milk of ruminant animals (such as cows). This type of trans fat has NOT been shown to have any adverse health effects. This is NOT the case however for the artificially produced trans fats, otherwise known as partially hydrogenated oils, which end up in our packaged snacks, cookies, frozen waffles, etc. It is simply incorrect to make a comparison between these 2, very different chemical compounds. Based on solid evidence that artificially produced trans fats cause whole body inflammation, elevated LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lowered HDL ("good") cholesterol, the FDA has acted responsibly by requiring companies to remove this harmful substance from their products. For now, it is of course a matter of personal choice whether or not to continue purchasing products which contain partially hydrogenated oils. My intent was simply to inform... not to alarm.

  • Kristin Byrne Aug 20, 2015
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    Thanks! Got some last night. He loved it!

  • Sam Adams Aug 19, 2015
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    I am so confused by this article because on two occasions this year my son's lunch was confiscated for being too healthy and then made him eat a lunch from the cafeteria. I could not get a straight answer from the Principal when I questioned him on this. He made it sound like my son's lunch was too fresh and healthy and that it would make other kids feel bad about their lunches. Apparently, my wife makes lunches that are too healthy???? I don't even know how that is possible. So now we have been sending him with these lunches that are not nearly as good just so he does not get into trouble.

    This comment is not at all directed at Mrs. Hall or what she is reporting. I am finding in WCSS it seems no one has the same answer for anything.

  • Erika Phipps Aug 19, 2015
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    I shouldn't have mentioned adding honey to my greek yogurt, babies under 12 months should NEVER eat honey, so shame on me! And do bear in mind greek has a little less calcium, but more protein, than regular yogurt.

  • Erika Phipps Aug 19, 2015
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    You are absolutely right about HFCS not occurring in nature and I apologize for implying that. However the FDA source for this articles says: "Trans fat wouldn't be completely gone, Mayne notes, because it also occurs naturally in meat and dairy products. It is also present at very low levels in other edible oils, where it is unavoidably produced during the manufacturing process. In addition, companies can petition FDA for specific uses of certain partially hydrogenated oils."
    I made it clear I know the unhealthy aspects of both, and don't feed them to my family when possible. What I don't like is making transfats and HFCS sound like poison, that's irresponsible. They're bad for you in excess, yes, but so is red meat, white flour etc. Young parents don't need to be frightened that any amount of these things will harm their kids. Unless their DOCTOR tells them otherwise, a little bit of HFCS and transfats won't kill anybody!

  • Jennifer Russ Aug 19, 2015
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    Fa ge Total is full fat and comes unflavored.
    Funny, WRAL won't let me spell the name of the yogurt correctly. It was flagged as an inappropriate word! I'm sure you can figure it out, though.

  • Jennifer Russ Aug 19, 2015
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  • Kristin Byrne Aug 19, 2015
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    I might have to look into that. Thanks!

    I make as much of his food as I can now, so I don't think it'll be too hard adding something else. Someone gave me the Baby Bullet as a shower gift, and I have definitely put it to good use!

  • Jennifer Russ Aug 19, 2015
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    Erika Phipps,. I'd disagree with the notion that the author is exaggerating the negative effects of HFCS and trans fats. Trans fats are no longer on the FDA's list of substances Generally Recognized as Safe. HFCS is a contributing factor in the development of heart disease, diabetes and fatty liver...which can lead to liver failure. HFCS is a processed food and is not found naturally in any food. Trans fats are chemically altered oils that are a major contributor to heart disease.
    As a dietitian and diabetes educator I'd encourage you to check out sugarscience.org. It's a great website with tons of evidenced based information touting just how damaging HFCS is.

  • Erika Phipps Aug 19, 2015
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    Make your own, it's easier than you think. You can buy plain yogurt (preferably w/ fat) and drain it thru cheesecloth or old white t-shirts for 4-10 hours, in the fridge. (And if you had to get fat-free add a tad of olive or walnut oil with the honey or fruit etc). Or do like this cheapskate gramma and buy a yogurt maker and do it that way. I have a 2qt Yogourmet maker (I have 2 grandsons) and sometimes buy starter (Amazon.com!) or remember to save some from a batch. You're very busy with a baby, but it gets easier each time, and you're in charge of "quality control"! There are yogurt makers that make less, in little jars. It keeps a long time, and no gelatin (which is a no-no for this family of vegetarians) or other weird stuff. :-)

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