5 Swaps to Make Your Kid's Bag Lunch Healthier

 How healthy are the lunches you pack for your kids?

I mean, we know the school lunch programs have to live up to certain nutrition standards -- and complain when they don't — so shouldn't lunch brought from home be just as nutritionally balanced? 

A research study published in 2014 the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that roughly one-quarter of school lunches brought from home met 3 of 5 national standards for proper nutrition. So that means that 75 percent of school kids might be eating less than nutritious lunches brought from home.

I know one thing that you're up against — will your kids eat a healthier lunch? I think they probably will, but it can take time for a picky eater to get used to drastic changes.

But you probably don't need a total overhaul on your kids' lunches — just try a few simple swaps to make lunch healthier.

Swap #1: Whole Grain Bread Instead of White Bread

Peanut butter

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Sandwiches are one of the most popular bag lunch items because they're easy to make, easy to carry, and they taste good. If you're currently making sandwiches with white bread, it's time for a change — go with whole grain bread to boost your kids' fiber intake (they most likely need more).

There is a variety of whole grain bread to choose from -- sliced whole wheat bread, crusty whole grain baguettes, whole wheat or corn tortillas and whole grain rolls are all good choices (look for 100 percent whole grain or 100 percent whole wheat on the label).

If your kids really hate regular whole grain bread, look for whole white wheat bread. It's as nutritious as regular whole grain bread, but it's lighter in color and texture. Maybe a good way to introduce picky eaters to whole grains.

Swap #2: Baked Crackers Instead of Greasy Potato or Corn Chips

Crackers are better than greasy chips in a kid's lunch.
Cultura RM / Mieke Dalle / Getty Images

Crunchy things go nicely with a sandwich, don't they? Raw veggies like baby carrots or celery sticks with a little veggie dip are probably the healthiest way to go, but if your child isn't ready for that big change, try some baked whole grain crackers or baked pita chips. Take a look a the snack aisle at your grocery store -- or better yet, in the natural foods section. You'll find baked crackers and chips made from regular potatoes, sweet potatoes and an assortment of vegetables. But keep an eye on the labels because some brands are high in sodium.

Swap #3: Grilled or Baked Chicken Breast Instead of Lunch Meat


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

 The typically processed lunch meat that goes into a sandwich is loaded with sodium, various artificial ingredients, and saturated fats. Make a healthier choice and add some lean protein to your kids' lunches with some grilled chicken breast meat.

Either as a standalone entree (heat it in the school microwave) or as the primary ingredient of a sandwich. It's easy to find boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the grocery store. Just bake them in the oven, and they're ready to go. 

Or, if you're serving chicken (or turkey) for dinner, save some of the leftover meat for the next day's bag lunch.

Swap #4: Fresh Fruit Instead of a Cupcake


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Most kids (and adults) miss the mark on fruit and vegetable intake and lunch is the perfect time to fix that. Dump the doughnut or the pastry and pack fruit as dessert instead.

Sweet and healthy fresh fruits include seedless grapes, Clementines, strawberries or raspberries. Keep them in a sturdy plastic container so they don't get squished. Raisins are good too — maybe make your own trail mix with raisins, nuts, seeds and your kids' favorite whole grain cereal. It can be eaten as dessert at lunch time or nibbled as a mid-morning snack.

Another good dessert idea? Single-serving cups of yogurt.

Swap #5: Water Instead of Sugary Soft Drinks

Water is better than water for a kid's lunch.
Ingolf Hatz / Getty Images

Sugary sodas and other soft drinks are usually just high in calories with little to no additional nutritional value. Water has no calories. But if your kid doesn't like plain water, you can jazz it up with sliced fresh fruit — lemon, lime, watermelon, orange, strawberries. Adventuresome kids might like the addition of mint leaves or basil.

If it's the fizz your child craves, then pack a bottle of sparkling water with a little fruit flavor. Read the labels carefully, though, because some 'fruit waters' are sweetened with sugar. 

Other healthy beverages include milk, soy or almond milk, and 100 percent fruit juice.

Making any of these swamps can improve your kids' lunches -- be sure to pack foods correctly and perishable foods need to be kept at the right temperature until lunch time.

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