Pack crunchy, dippable veggies: Buck the trend. More than half of elementary students' lunches contain potato chips. Still more get cheese puffs, tortilla chips, and other greasy, salty, build-bad-habits stuff. Keep the crunch and boost their brain power by packing a fun and natural alternative, such as a forest of bite-sized broccoli florets, a fleet of red-pepper-strip canoes, a stack of baby-carrot 'logs,' or a pile of cherry tomato "boulders" sized for easy eating. Add a fun dip, such as a few tablespoons of hummus; herbed or plain low-fat, no-sugar-added yogurt; or salsa.
Healthy chicken nuggets: Lunch meats are loaded with saturated fat and sodium, so don't buy them. Instead, try chicken fingers. Just follow these simple steps:
- Season strips of boneless, skinless chicken breast with a little ground cumin and garlic powder
- Dredge in whole wheat flour.
- Dredge in beaten egg whites.
- Ground up whole-wheat panko bread crumbs.
- Bake 'til done, or saute in canola oil.
A naturally sweet yogurt: Fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts (and those with mix-in candies and crunchies) are loaded with added sugar, as are some ready-to-go fruit cups you see in the lunch-box aisle of the grocery store. Instead, pack low-fat or fat-free yogurt (plain or flavored, no sugar added) with a container of fresh berries, orange sections, or apple chunks for dunking. Or, choose fruit cups packed in juice (instead of in heavy syrup).
Apple thins: With a tiny bit of fruit and fiber, many "fruit snacks" are mostly a stick-to-their-teeth mix of additives and sweeteners. Instead, make your own apple chips. Toss thin slices of Fuji apples with a mix of 1 cup lemon juice and 1/4 cup water. Drain, then arrange in one layer on a nonstick baking sheet and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake for 2 1/2 hours at 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chocolate and fruit: Cut back on added sugars (found in many cookies, candies and cake), but not on flavor. Toss a couple of dark chocolate kisses in with an orange (peeled, for easy eating), apple slices, or a couple of strawberries.