10 Healthy Swaps to Make for Packed Lunches

By Katie Trant | Last Updated: August 18, 2017

10 Healthy Swaps to Make for Packed Lunches

Lunch box time is almost upon us (or maybe it already is, depending on where you live!) so it’s time to think about what you’ll be packing each day. There are so many pre-made treats that are easy to grab and throw in to the lunch box each day, but many of them are laden with hidden sugar, salt, and unhealthy fat. But fear not, it’s easy enough to pack a healthy lunch box each day with these simple swaps.

Peanut Butter & Jelly –> Peanut Butter & Smashed Berries

Honestly, I love a good peanut butter sandwich. And peanut butter is packed with protein, so it’s a great option for vegetarian kids. But the jelly is usually loaded with sugar, so we’re going to swap it out for some smashed berries instead. Simply use a fork to smash up some raspberries or blueberries, and you’re good to go. Alternately you could make a quick and easy low-sugar chia jam that would last a couple of weeks in the fridge.

If your school is peanut-free consider switching to sunflower seed butter instead, or make sandwiches with hummus as another protein-rich alternative.

Crackers –> Brown Rice Cakes

Many crackers are deep-fried and packed with unhealthy fats and salt. And if your kid is asking for those cracker packs with that scary shelf-stable “cheese” spread, it’s time to make a swap. Go for brown rice cakes or seed crackers instead. To replace the cheese spread pack a little tub of homemade hummus alongside, or a few slices of real cheese.

Juice Boxes –> Infused Water

Juice boxes are super convenient but are full of empty calories. It’s best to skip the juice altogether and pack a water bottle instead. To keep things fun and flavourful try making up infused waters. Your kid can get involved with choosing the flavors, adding orange slices, berries, and mint to the water. Make it up the night before for good flavor, or grab one of those water bottles with a built-in infuser basket.

Granola Bars –> Homemade Energy Balls

If you’re reaching for granola bars thinking they’re a better choice than chocolate bars or other sweet treats, think again. Many store-bought granola bars have just as much sugar as a chocolate bar, though they’re disguised as a healthier option. Instead whip up a batch of homemade granola bars or energy balls to keep in the freezer and tuck into your lunch box each day. You’ll know exactly what’s in them and will have full control over the ingredients.

Fruit Cups –> Whole Fruit

Those syrupy fruit cups with cubes of pear, peach, and that one incandescent cherry are cute and all, but they’re a far cry from healthy. Instead stick with whole fruit. You can make your own fruit cups by chopping up apples, melons, pears, grapes… whatever is in-season and handy for you. Toss in a little lemon juice to prevent browning and send them on their way!

Sweetened Yogurt –> DIY Fruit On the Bottom Yogurt

Like fruit cups, sweetened yogurt cups are usually packed with sugar, as well as various thickeners and gelling agents. It’s easy to whip up DIY yogurt cups. Layer some fruit or mashed berries on the bottom (or some of that chia jam!) and spoon plain, unsweetened yogurt over the top.

White Bread –> Whole / Sprouted Grain Bread

This one may seem obvious, but if you’re making sandwiches on white bread, consider swapping for something with whole grains. Read your labels! Many “brown” breads don’t contain much more fiber than white bread does. Opt for something with sprouted grains or at least 50% whole wheat in order to bump up the fiber content.

Cookie Packs –> Homemade Oatmeal Cookies

Those little 100 calorie cookie packs are cute and all, but you can’t beat homemade when it comes to nutrition. Whip up a batch of homemade cookies with oatmeal, flax seeds, or whatever healthy add-ins your family loves. A single homemade cookie will trump the cookie packs every time.

Boxed Pizza –> Pita Pizzas

If your boxed pizza rhymes with smunchables, consider homemade. I love making little pita pizzas using whole wheat pitas as the base, sneaking some veggies in, and whatever other toppings your kid is into. Slice it up and throw it in the lunch box, your kid will thank you!

Cafeteria Bought –> Homemade

At the end of the day, just about anything you make at home is going to be tastier and more nutritious than a cafeteria bought lunch. Maybe you don’t have time for packed lunches every day, but even just a few days a week can make a big difference nutritionally. So get out there and pack those lunches!

Lunchbox photo via Shutterstock.

About Katie Trant

Katie is a university-trained nutritionist and professional writer based in Stockholm, Sweden. She is a vegetarian of more than two decades, and is passionate about real food. Her blog The Muffin Myth is all about approachable nutrition.

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