7 Healthy Hacks for Homemade School Lunches

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By Tom Christensen, County of San Diego Communications Office
Aug. 6, 2019

You’re rushing off to work in the morning and still have to find time to make a doctor’s appointment, sign permission slips for a field trip and drop the children off at school.

Oh, and find time to pack the kids’ lunches?

You might think the easy option is to grab a pre-packaged lunch or whip together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and toss it in with a bag of chips and a snack cake.

But we’ve got some tips from the County Health and Human Services Agency’s nutrition manager Naomi Billups that will help you make lunches that are nutritious – and quick and easy.

Here are seven healthy hacks for school lunches that will help you pack a lunch with food your children will eat but avoids unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium.

Healthy Hack #1: Avoid Sugary Drinks

Instead of packing a juice box or soda, try cutting up a few slices of fruit and adding them to water in a reusable bottle. If you use frozen fruit, it will even act as a natural ice cube. It’s recommended that school-age children drink between six and eight 8 oz. servings of water a day.

Healthy Hack #2: Give ‘em Variety

Maybe you skip packing a sandwich all together some days and instead pack a variety of healthy snacks such as low-fat cheese cubes or string cheese, nuts, granola, veggie sticks with a low-fat dip or reusable sandwich bag of fresh fruit (you can squeeze a little bit of lemon or lime on fruit slices to keep them from browning).

Healthy Hack #3: Time to Freshen Up

Packing a fruit cup or fruit snack is not the worst thing you can do but swapping that out for a whole piece of fruit or cut up bags of fruit slices is a much better option. You’ll avoid any chance that fruit cup contains heavy syrup (aka sugar) or preservatives. A whole apple, peach or banana, cut up cucumbers or colorful peppers or a bag of blueberries or strawberries ensure a powerful punch of vitamins and nutrients at lunchtime.

Healthy Hack #4: Make Food Fun

Get out the cookie cutters! Cutting food into shapes can make them fun to eat for younger children. If you’re introducing a new food to their lunch, first send a sample size portion and encourage them to try it out.

Healthy Hack #5: Swap the Spread

Swap out the mayonnaise in sandwiches for something healthier. Find out what your child likes and substitute it for the mayo. You can use low-fat yogurt, sour cream, avocado, mustard or even hummus. If your child likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, you can swap out the jelly for fresh fruit. Cut up the fruit and mash it with a fork before spreading on the sandwich and eliminate the sugars and reduce the calories of using jam or jelly.

Healthy Hack #6: Imitation and Imagination

If your child has a favorite store-bought item they really like, there’s usually a way to make a homemade version that healthier and usually cheaper. If they like the lunch packs that come with crackers, cheese and some lunch meat, for example, you can fill your own bento box or snack container with divided sections of whole wheat crackers, cut up peanut butter and banana sandwich squares and low-fat cheese with some fruit for dessert.

Healthy Hack #7: Wrap it Up

Instead of using traditional white bread on a sandwich, use a whole grain tortilla and wrap it up. Whole grain tortillas are higher in fiber and usually lower in calories. You can also try one of the many flavored tortillas such as spinach or sun-dried tomato to give it a colorful appeal and pack in even more nutrients.

Tom Christensen is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office.


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