And what a difference for their waistlines and overall well-being! Sadly, a typical American child’s lunch – say, an Oscar Mayer’s “Lunchables” box, a granola bar, a bag of Cheetos, and chocolate milk – can tally up a whopping 1,000 calories, 1,700 milligrams of sodium (the equivalent of 11 bags of potato chips), and 45 grams of fat. Yes, 45! That’s as much fat as 17 pats of butter.
Pritikin brown bag lunches (see below) have a fraction of the sodium, calories, sugar, refined carbs, and fat, plus loads of goodness in the form of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and more.
Healthy lunches may even improve a child’s brain power. A 2010 study published in the Journal of American Public Health, for example, found thatchildren in an obesity prevention program that included healthy food had significantly higher math scores than children not in the program.1
1. PB & J
An old favorite, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, gets much healthier if you use 100% whole-wheat bread (it’s got to say “whole wheat” in the ingredient list, not just “wheat”). Choose low-sodium varieties, too.
You might even find that your child prefers the nutty, firm texture of whole-grain breads to spongy white breads, which often get smashed paper-thin in their lunch box.
Use 100% pure fruit preserves. If your child is a banana lover, slice up a banana instead. Arrange your slices right on top of the peanut butter.
2. Quick and Easy Corn on the Cob
Do your little ones love corn on the cob? Wonderful! Instead of corn chips, packed with salt, grease, and other junk ingredients, cook up a little fresh corn on the cob in the morning.
Simply wrap a husked corn in a damp paper towel and microwave about three minutes, turning halfway during cooking. Add another minute for each additional cob. Wrap in foil, and your children will enjoy chewy, filling, and nutrition-rich corn at snacktime or lunch.
3. Mexican Morning
Children enjoy eating their own creations. On mornings when you have some extra time, line up a colorful buffet of Mexican-style foods so that your kids can make their own healthy, delish lunch. Start with whole-wheat pitas. Good stuffers include:
- Pinto beans
- Black beans
- Cubed skinless chicken breast
- Brown rice (Make a big pot at the beginning of the week and store in the refrigerator, or simply microwave ready-in-90-seconds bowls now available in many markets.)
- Shredded lettuce
- Sliced tomatoes
- Diced onion
4. Rabbit Bags
In a zip lock bag, put raw carrots, orange wedges, and apple slices. The oranges give everything nice flavor and aroma and help keep the apple slices from turning too brown.
No time to slice up veggies? Available in many markets are single-serving bags of sweet baby carrots – peeled, washed, and ready to toss in your child’s lunch box. How easy!
To ease a reluctant child into veggie snacks, pack a healthy dip – a little container of hummus, bean dip, or salsa.
5. Fun Fruit
Surprise your kids with Grape Freezes. Wash seedless grapes and pat dry. Place them in the freezer and chill until hard. Toss them in little airtight containers. By lunchtime, they’ll be cold, sweet, and crunchy, just like a popsicle.
When you’re out of fresh fruit, use fruit cups packed in 100% real fruit juice or water with easy-to-open lids.
6. Thinking Outside the Sandwich Bag
Just like grown-ups, kids like variety. Soup or chili made the night before often tastes even better the next day. To keep your child’s entree warm, use an insulated wide-mouth thermos.
7. Pasta Salad Party
Start with shredded roasted chicken or turkey breast from last night’s dinner. Add small whole-wheat pasta shells (easy to eat with a spoon), chopped celery and other cut-up veggies your children like, nonfat mayo, and black pepper. To keep cold, pack in an insulated lunch box with a plastic blue ice.
8. Market Magic
No time to pack a lunch? No worries! On the way to school, make a quick trip to the supermarket. Many now have deli counters with choices like low-salt, fresh-roasted turkey breast.
Stop off, too, at the produce section for another nice convenience: single-serving plastic containers of pre-cut, ready-to-eat fruit like watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew, and vegetables like carrots, celery, grape tomatoes, and bell peppers.
“Healthy brown bag lunch ideas can help us put the breaks on our current childhood obesity epidemic,” sums up Pritikin dietitian Kimberly Gomer. “And here at Pritikin, we’ve found that nutritious foods really can become tasty, fun foods that kids enjoy.”