“Back-to-school sales start earlier and earlier every year,” my friend said last month, thumbing through a Target ad on her phone. She sounded discouraged, but even as a kid, I loved the start of the school year. Labor Day meant a solemn salute to summer before getting back to the comforting routine and structure of the classroom.
And one of the things I looked forward to most was the surprise of opening my lunchbox in the cafeteria! Packing an appetizing, healthy lunch for your kids is an easy way to improve their day, even if you don’t feel quite so enthusiastic about the early mornings and hectic pace of a new school year.
One of the quickest ways you can upgrade your child’s lunch is by making “lateral shifts.” That means swapping out traditional, less nutritious lunchbox items for healthy goodies that taste better and give your kids an advantage with their focus and energy.
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My favorite lunchbox lateral shifts include:
- Swap the bread for a gluten-free brown rice or Paleo wrap. With wraps, you get the pick-up-and-eat convenience of a sandwich without the sugar, gluten, or preservatives. If your kids are game, lettuce leaves can also be a stand-in for bread.
- Swap processed meats for clean, lean protein. Most deli meats come loaded with bulking ingredients like sugar and gluten, as well as preservatives like nitrites. Switch to sliced roasted chicken or turkey breast with no added fillers or preservatives. If your kids get burned out on animal protein, hummus served with lentil chips or in a wrap with veggies makes a great protein-rich lunch alternative. (Check out this recipe!)
- Swap the chips for nuts and seeds. Kids like crunchy stuff, but potato and tortilla chips are empty-calorie snacks that spike and crash their blood sugar. Slow-roasted or dehydrated almonds and other nuts and seeds make great alternatives that provide crunch along with nutrients, fiber, protein, and healthy fats.
- Swap granola bars for healthy trail mix. How did granola bars ever get such a good reputation? They’re basically candy bars masquerading as health food! Swap them for homemade trail mix. I love mixing slivered almonds and roasted pumpkin seeds with unsweetened coconut and cacao nibs, but there’s dozens of low-sugar impact options. Encourage your kids to help choose and make their trail mix, so they’re extra invested in the results.
- Swap sugary treats for apple or celery slices with almond butter. This combo provides a chewy, crunchy texture similar to processed foods without the extra sugar and additives. If you’re really time-crunched or want your kids to be able to help pack their own lunches, look for single-serving packets of almond butter.
- Swap juice boxes for fruit-flavored water. No matter how all-natural and organic that fruit juice pouch is, it’s still loaded with sugar that’s guaranteed to tank your child’s energy and attention span after lunch. In fact, a cup of apple juice has almost exactly the same amount of sugar as a cup of cola. Instead of juice, float a few slices of your child’s favorite fruit in a bottle of filtered water. By lunchtime, it will taste great, minus the added sweeteners.It’s not hard to see how giving your child the gift of good nutrition can have a major impact on their school day. And with these simple swaps, taking your lunchbox offerings to the next level doesn’t have to be a hassle!So what’s your favorite healthy treat for your kids’ lunches? I’d love to hear in the comments below.
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The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.