Build a Healthy Lunchbox!

July 19, 2011

Article written by Clinical Nutritionist Sara Vance with ReBalance Life, find her on Facebook.

  • Do you struggle with packing healthy items that your kids will eat?
  • Do your kids get bored with the usual lunchbox fare?
  • Want to get ideas for incorporating more fruit & veggies into the lunch?
  • Worry that your kids are not staying hydrated enough at school?

Worry no more!  Its almost Back to School time – so here are some tips and product ideas to make packing a healthy lunch easy and fun!

A working mom myself, I know how hard it is to juggle it all.  These products and tips can help us think outside “the box” and make packing a healthy lunch easy and delicious – and fun!  If you can bring your kid into the kitchen to pack it – they will be more likely to eat it.

Veggies & Fruit

Fill Up Half the Lunchbox!

The USDA recently replaced the Food Pyramid with MyPlate, which shows that half of all of our meals should be fruits and veggies.  Most people could benefit from eating more plant based foods – MyPlate gets us thinking about increasing our fruits & veggies!   The good news is there are so many great products out there now – that make fruit & veggies easy, yummy & fun for lunchboxes:

  • Pouches make fruit packable and lunchbox friendly.  Try Go Go Squeez – freeze them the night before, and they can serve as a cold pack for the lunch, and are thawed by lunchtime.  I also like Fruit & Veggie Mash-Ups from Revolution Foods because they have veggies and fruit.  Make sure to check the ingredients list – not all brands are 100% fruit, some might contain sugar, or even artificial coloring.  Reading labels is a good habit to get into.
  • Funky Monkey Freeze dried fruit – great for when you haven’t been to the store and are out of fresh fruit! Love the fun name!
  • Kaia Foods Kale chips – they even have a BBQ flavor – kale is one of the most nutritious vegetables out there, and these chips are delicious and nutritious.  Although convenient and delicious, these may not be for the bargain shopper.  But kale chips are pretty easy to make at home, try this simple recipe.  You can always add your own twist – with seasonings and spices.
  • Apple “Bites” – from Disney’s Family Fun are designed for Halloween, but I think they are fun anytime.  You cut apples into a mouth shape – and then poke almond slivers in for teeth.  My son loves to make & eat these – they are a delicious combination.  And don’t forget to include them in your Halloween parties this year!  Squeeze a little lemon on sliced apples and that will help to keep them from browning.
  • Fun Shaped Fruits & veggies – using a fondant cutter, I like to cut fruit & veggies into fun shapes – or make melon balls.  It doesn’t take long to do, and kids like to eat foods that look fun & interesting – all their friends will love them.

Kids Love to Dip!

Another great way to incorporate more fruit & veggies is to send in dips!  Laptop Lunch containers (or bento buddies) are perfect for sending dips, because they have a really cute dip container!  Also great for sending salads too – put the dressing in the mini bento buddy so the salad does not get all soggy.

  • Hummus is a great choice because it is high in protein, low in fat, good source of fiber and loaded with nutrients.  You can make your own hummus, or I like Sabra hummus – it is very smooth. Send the hummus with some crackers and a rainbow of veggies: red pepper strips, snap peas, and carrots. My kids like Kashi’s new pita crisps, because they taste great, and I like them because they are an excellent source of fiber  (5 grams).  Another brand I love are Mary’s Gone Crackers, they have 450 mg of Omega 3s per serving, and are totally gluten free. My daughter’s favorite are Nut Thins – made with almonds, so they have a little more protein, and they are also gluten-free.
  • Homemade Ranch dip – another alternative to hummus. Take plain greek yogurt – add in a dash of garlic and onion powder, fresh or dried herbs, a squeeze of lemon and salt and pepper – tastes like ranch – but lower fat, calories and there is no MSG.  Or try this homemade vegan ranch dressing recipe.

Remember – if you are sending anything perishable, make sure to include a cold pack, or you can freeze some items the night before, learn more from this Today Show segment.

Buh Bye Boring Sandwich.

So many kids just get bored of the same old sandwich, so why not surprise them with:

  • “Sushi roll” sandwiches!  Grab a Sonoma wrap (delicious whole grain, low carb wrap, and even have a gluten free option), put in some Applegate Farms meats (hormone and nitrate free), some Dole broccoli slaw, avocado, thinly sliced red pepper, roll up and cut into “sushi”!  Your kids will love it!  You could do different fillings – try tuna salad one day, and a nut butter with apple slices the next.
  • “A go Nuttzo sandwich!” is a fun & nutritious alternative to the same old peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  So many schools now are peanut free, Nuttzo offers a peanut-free multi-nut butter that has almonds, chia, brazil nuts, and more!  Smear some Nuttzo on your Ezekiel sprouted whole grain or gluten free bread, put plenty of slices of banana, drizzle just a little Nature’s Agave, you have a yummy peanut-free sandwich.  Go Nuttzo sandwiches are super high in omega 3s to keep kids focused in school, and agave nectar is low glycemic so it won’t get kids bouncing off the walls. Put Nuttzo in the dip container and send apples and celery for a healthy snack another day.

The Chip Rule of “Thumb”

Kids like a little “crunch in their lunch” so it is no wonder that chips are a favorite.  My chip rule of “thumb” is if they turn your thumbs orange, or are flavor “blasted” – we can make a better choice! We don’t even think about chips having artificial coloring, and forget about those ‘flavor blasted’ ones – that just is extra artificial flavoring!  I like these options better:

  • Popchips – are yummy, fun and healthier. They are popped (not fried) – so they have less fat, no artificial colors or artificial flavors.
  • Food Should Taste Good: short ingredients list, no artificial coloring or flavoring and unique – sweet potato and hemp to name a couple!
  • Simply 7 chips – no potatoes are used in these unique chips – they are made out of lentils or garbanzo beans (hummus).  No artificial coloring, flavors, or trans fat.  All gluten free.
  • Annie Chun’s seaweed snacks are another way to get some crunch – without any chips at all.  My daughter (a picky eater) loves these seaweed snacks – even the wasabi flavor!  Seaweed has lots of minerals, vitamins to give kids the boost they need at school.

Don’t Drink Your Sugar!

I am not a fan of juice boxes – I think kids already get too much sugar each day in the foods they eat, they don’t need to drink it.  But it is important for kids to stay hydrated at school, especially if they head right to sports afterschool.  Here are some cool alternatives that are super-hydrating:

  • Coconut water is a wonderful beverage – it has electrolytes and a small amount of naturally occuring sugar.  One Coconut water even has these new ones for kids that come in lunchbox sizes in 4 flavors that kids love. If your child has sports after school – coconut water will help to “prehydrate” them with essential electrolytes!
  • Another cool new hydration tool is Nuun, which are electrolyte-enhanced drink tablets.  Send a Nuun tablet with the water bottle – and voila!  Their boring old water turns into a hydration tool!  They come in a variety of natural flavors, with none of the sugar, artificial colors or flavors that typical sports drinks have.
  • Milk or a dairy alternative is another good drink to send in lunchboxes.  I always recommend choosing organic for your dairy, Horizon Organic makes milk boxes that are shelf stable, so they won’t go bad if they don’t stay ice cold. Horizon has recently re-formulated their flavored varieties to have 26% less sugar, and 50% less fat.  Unlike most strawberry flavored milks, Horizon does not use artificial colors or flavors. I still recommend the plain unsweetened variety for everyday, but an occasional chocolate milk is nice for a special treat.  For kids that are dairy-free, So Delicious® Dairy Free now offers lunchbox sized coconut milk for kids in chocolate, vanilla, and my favorite – plain unsweetened.  Coconut milk is my favorite dairy alternative.  Sending a milk box or a dairy alternative is a great step towards building healthy bones, as many kids (especially teenagers) are not getting enough calcium each day.  Read Build Strong Bones in Kids to learn more about calcium and other nutrients kids need to build healthy bones.
  • Another calcium source to pack in lunchboxes are Tuberz yogurt sticks from Horizon Organic – these are great to stick in the freezer, they will thaw by lunchtime, but will still be nice and cold.  Made from organic milk, these don’t have the artificial colors or flavors that other brands have. Putting frozen items into a lunchbox helps to keep everything else cold and fresh too.

To Dessert or Not Dessert, That is The Question.

So what about a little something sweet for dessert, you ask?  Is that allowed?   Yes – I like to follow the 90/10 rule that the Obama’s follow, if 90% of the diet is healthy, then 10% can be treats.  Here are some fun yet healthier alternatives that are treats – but without going overboard with tons of sugar or fat; and no artificial coloring:

  • Stretch Island fruit – they also have a new one called FruitaBu!  My kids and I both love these – they want to have the “fun” treats that they see their friends with, but mom wants them to be healthy – this is the perfect solution – they are the fun long ones that kids love – without the artificial colors and flavors.
  • Bear Naked‘s double chocolate cookie is made out of whole grains – the first ingredient is whole oats (not sugar like most cookies).
  • Kashi’s Oatmeal chocolate is another good option.  They have 4 grams of fiber, and only 8 grams of sugar.
  • Or make these Brainy Brownies from the Sneaky Chef.  They are high in omega 3s, and have blueberries and have spinach in them – yes – spinach!!  They will love them and will not know you sneaked in some healthy stuff like spinach.  Omega 3s boosts brain power and helps with focus.

Go Green!

Most people like to buy a fresh new lunchbox every year – why not “Go Green” this year?  The Go Green Lunchbox is not only ECO-friendly, but it really can make lunch fun again for your kids.  No more plastic wrap needed – it has lots of fun compartments, and a little white board to write notes!  Your kids will be so excited to open their lunchbox everyday to see the message.  Top rack dishwasher safe, so clean-up is a snap!  I suggest getting 2 liners – so one can be in the dishwasher, while the other ones is heading off to school.

If you already have a lunchbox for your child and want to make that more eco-friendly, get some bento buddies to fit inside.  I especially like the mini-container the bento kits offer – perfect for dips.  You can also buy the whole Laptop Lunches system.  Check out this video to see what Laptop Lunches has to offer:

I know there are a lot of other great lunchbox ideas out there.  Would love to hear from you…what are your favorite products and recipes for the lunchbox?

For vegan lunchbox ideas, check out these vegan kid-friendly  lunchbox ideas.

Leave your comments below, or let us know at

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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