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Natural swaps for unhealthy lunches

Jennifer Chidester

From fresh fruit to organic snacks and foods free of artificial dyes — a look at common lunch box staples and foods you can swap to pack healthier choices!

Reinvent PB & J

PB & bananas

With a few substitutions, you can pack this classic lunch box staple without guilt! Reinvent your PB & J with healthier options:

  • Instead of the white variety or bread packed with corn syrup, try whole grain, whole wheat bread or English muffins.
  • While organic preserves are great, nothing beats fresh fruit. Line your sandwich with fresh berries or bananas. Swirl some honey on top for a little kick of natural sweetness.
  • Try peanut butter alternatives. Almond butter is loaded with nutrients and packed with protein. One tablespoon of almond butter actually has as much protein as a serving of meat! Apple butter is lower in fat, calories and salt, compared to nut butters. Justin’s makes really fun, spreadable butters — like all-natural chocolate hazelnut butter — that you can pack in your kid’s lunch so they can build their own sandwich, or even spread it on fresh apples.

Swap out processed fruit snacks

Fruit snacks

When it comes to snack foods, sometimes you need a translator to interpret the label. Many popular packaged fruit snacks are loaded with sugar, artificial food coloring and processed sweeteners. While whole fruit is always your best bet and should definitely be a daily lunch box staple, there are also some packaged options that you can sprinkle in as a swap for processed fruit snacks:

  • Whole strawberries are a great healthy lunch box snack-swap because they’re naturally sweet, low in calories — only 50 calories per cup — and are full of heart-healthy nutrients.
  • Organic yogurt squeezes are convenient to pack and contain no high-fructose corn syrup, fake flavors or artificial colors.
  • Toaster pastries that are made with organic ingredients, real fruit and whole grains are a great substitute for processed fruit snacks or cookies.

Sneak in veggies

Peppers and hummus

When it comes to getting veggies in your little one’s lunch bag, sometimes you need to get creative… even downright sneaky. Go beyond a leaf of lettuce with these ideas:

  • Instead of carrot or celery sticks, try slicing sweet peppers and serving them with a side of dunk-worthy hummus. Add a few pretzel crisps so they can make crunchy sweet pepper sandwiches.
  • Sandwich stash: Stash baby spinach in between slices of cheese and turkey.
  • Peel and dice cucumbers, then serve them with crumbled feta cheese.

Substitute juice boxes

Healthy drinks

Just like fresh fruit, it’s always better to go natural with drinks and pack plenty of water. If you’re going to pack juice or flavored drinks, these tips might help:

  • Read labels carefully. While many popular juice boxes tout things like 100-percent vitamin C, what you might not see is they actually have very little juice. Make sure you grab drinks made from 100-percent fruit juice.
  • Look for organic drink options since they typically have less sugar than juice boxes, no high-fructose corn syrup, or artificial colors or flavors. Try Honest Tea’s lunch box-worthy drinks, like their organic versions of fruit punch or lemonade.
Image credit: Jennifer Chidester

More about healthy eating

Encouraging a dye-free classroom
Eat, move, nurture: Raising healthy kids
Why your kids should use a bento lunch box this year

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