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  • Writer's pictureMary Brophy

School lunchbox: here are the healthiest swaps

Here are my top 5 healthy swaps for wholesome and balanced school lunches (I promise even sleepy or rushed parents can pull these off:-)

Providing my girls with a balanced and healthy lunch is super important as it is vital to their well-being, ability to learn, and to keep up their energy throughout a busy day.

As I did in the past, I know many parents struggle with the daily task of choosing healthy lunch options that their children will enjoy. So what school lunchbox swaps can you make? Changes that are both healthy and quick?

1. Swap white bread for healthier whole-grain bread

Why is whole-grain bread the healthier choice? White bread is made from processed flour which has been milled to remove the bran and germ of the grain. This means that much of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals have been removed. Also:

  • whole-grain bread contains high amounts of fiber (up to 5 or more grams of fiber per serving);

  • it provides your child with needed protein, iron, and B vitamins;

  • it will prevent your child from getting hungry again too quickly after lunch and coming home ravenous.

Is your child bored with their whole-grain sandwich in their school lunchbox? Is your child coming home with uneaten sandwiches in their school lunchbox? Try switching it up with sourdough, sprouted-grain bread, or a whole-grain wrap.

2. Swap juice for pure water

The best way to keep your child hydrated is with water. Water is critical to their health and necessary for many vital processes in your child’s body.

The benefits of swapping juice for water are:

  • reduced risk of dental cavities;

  • prevents unnecessary weight gain;

  • less empty calories in their lunch;

  • your child will more likely eat their whole lunch.

Does your child find water boring or refuse it altogether? Try these tips below to make their water more appealing:

  • fruit-infused water with orange slices, frozen strawberries, lemon, raspberries, mint, and cucumber;

  • chilled herbal tea, for children over 2 years old, with fruit-flavored, rooibos, chamomile, or peppermint. Don’t forget to double-check it’s caffeine-free;

  • serve your child’s drink with a fun and reusable straw to motivate them to drink more.

Curious about how much added sugar is in children’s drinks? Learn more here.

3. Swap sugary fruit yogurt for plain yogurt

Yogurt can provide your child with much-needed protein, calcium, and probiotics. Fruit-flavored and sweetened yogurt is deceptively high in sugars and resembles junk food more than a healthy lunchbox snack.

What is the healthiest yogurt? Greek yogurt? Quark? Skyr? Non-dairy? With this many options, it can be confusing to choose. Here’s a checklist I use when buying yogurt:

  • the label will have very few ingredients (no added sugars, artificial flavors, dyes, or preservatives). It should include milk (or non-dairy milk plus calcium), bacterial cultures, and not much else;

  • yogurts that contain less than 1.1 gram of saturated fat and less than 6 grams of sugar;

  • preferably organic.

Here’s a good tip: mix in your own fresh fruit. Not only does it taste better, but your child will also get all the added benefits of vitamins from fresh ingredients. Try chopped strawberries, stone fruits (plums, peaches, apricots), or mashed raspberries.

4. Swap empty calorie filling for healthy sandwich ingredients

It can be quite easy to reach for the usual sandwich fillings such as chocolate sprinkles, jam, deli meats, and even Nutella. Reading the back of the label you might be shocked by the amount of sugar and preservatives they contain. Don’t despair. There are plenty of healthy and tasty sandwich toppings your child will enjoy.

Here’s a list of my favorites combinations:

  • hummus and cucumber (high in fiber and plant-based protein);

  • curried egg or tuna salad with lettuce or dill and a little yogurt;

  • low-fat cheese with grass-fed butter;

  • peanut or nut butter (pure nuts, no added salt, palm oil, or sugars). Try it with thinly sliced apples and cinnamon for fun. Be sure to check with your child’s teacher that there are no allergies in the class.

Better yet, substitute the sandwich for a vegetable muffin full of tasty tender vegetables such as carrots, courgettes, and peas. No work involved here! This is guaranteed to make your kid’s school lunchbox healthy and yummy!

5. Swap junk food for healthy treats

Providing your child with a nutritious lunch does not mean that their school lunchbox has to be boring.

When I want my children to have a little sweet treat, I swap something healthy for candies, chips and cookies. Here are my go-to treats:

  • dried fruits (raisins, prune and dates) and unsalted nuts (almonds and cashews);

  • fruit skewers;

  • homemade granola bars or cocoa date balls.

Sometimes I surprise them with a Moqqi veggie snack in their lunchbox and they love it! Moqqi veggie snacks have more than 40% vegetables and are high in fiber. Not only are these snacks nutritious and delicious, but also they require no preparation. Just pop one into your child’s lunchbox and in 1–2 hours it is defrosted and ready to enjoy.

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