Simple swaps for healthier lunches

Michele Borboa, MS

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A healthy school lunch is crucial for keeping your children performing at their peak in the classroom and on the playground or sports field. A balanced midday meal comprised of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and good for you fats, fuels your kiddos with key nutrients that will help them stay focused, energized and satisfied. If your children's usual school lunches are lacking in nutrition, here are some simple food swaps to give them a healthy lunch advantage.

Healthy school lunch

Just juice

Juice boxes are instant kid magnets – who doesn't want to drink out of an eye-catching little juice box with a tiny straw? However, many juices are nothing more than sugar, water and artificial coloring. Ditch the sugar water and pack your kiddos' lunches with 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices.

Real fruits and vegetables first

Fruit snacks may be conveniently packaged in small snack packs, but it doesn't take that much more effort to include real fruits and vegetables in your children's lunches. Fill snack bags with pitted cherries, apple slices, baby carrots, edamame or other fresh produce. Dried fruit and vegetables also are easy to pack and offer concentrated nutrients and flavors.

Whole grains rule

Swapping the white bread or white flour tortillas for whole grain varieties will give your children's midday meal more texture, taste, and a healthy load of fiber, protein and other nutrients. Instead of pairing chicken, beef or fish dishes with a side of white rice or pasta, substitute brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, whole wheat couscous or whole wheat pasta.

Delicious dairy

Dairy and many dairy alternatives are a satisfying source of nutrition. Keep your kids off the cola and give them dairy milk or soy milk, instead. Include a small container of plain yogurt mixed with honey, agave, and fresh fruit instead of high-sugar smoothies in a bottle. Swap out high calorie candy and trail mix for a cheese stick and baked crackers. Lighten up on the mayo and layer wraps and sandwiches with a thin slice of cheese.

Munchie musts

Snacks and desserts can easily be part of a healthy school lunch. Go for baked crackers and chips instead of the fried varieties. Steer clear of store bought trail mix, which is often loaded with sodium, sugar and fat, and make your own with raw nuts, seeds and dried fruit (throw a few dark chocolate chips in for fun). Include small cups of low-sugar gelatin and pudding. You can even sneak in cut vegetables with a side of low-fat ranch or other low-fat dressing.

More healthy lunch ideas

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Michele Borboa, MS
Michele Borboa, MS is a contributing editor for specializing in health, fitness, and all things food. She is a veteran health and fitness professional, personal chef, and mom in Bozeman, Montana. She is also the author of the time-saving cookbook Make-Ahead Meals Made Healthy (Fair Winds Press, July 2011). You can contact Michele at or give her a tweet at