Are you looking for ways to make your kids’ school lunches healthier? I’ve been sharing healthy school lunch ideas for over a decade, made with fresh, real ingredients. Packing balanced lunches can be simple, and today, I’m going to show you easy swaps to make healthier lunches kids will love.
Healthy Lunch Swaps
Sometimes, my kids ask for a highly-processed food or snack from the store, and I’ll work to make an easy, healthier alternative at home, so they never miss out on their favorites. Here are a few of our most popular healthy alternatives for the school lunchbox.
Each of these recipes is a super-easy homemade version of a kid-favorite boxed food. Instead of saying “no” next time the kids are begging you for something at the store tell them, “I’ve got a better idea!”
- Copycat Lunchables
- DIY Uncrustables
- Nacho Lunchables
- Pizza Lunchables
- Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups
- Homemade Doritos
- Copycat McDonald’s Nuggets
- Fruit Cup Recipe
And that is just to name a few!
If you need help in the lunch-packing department, you are in the right place. Helping others pack fresh lunches is all I do.
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Got your recipe boo? Perfect, now let’s look at a few other ways to pack healthier lunches.
10 Ways to Make Lunches Healthier
1. Fruit-flavored water versus juices
While it is true that juices have some vitamins, most of them have as much sugar as soda. Most are also not made with real juice but from concentrate and sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.
Try packing fruit-flavored water as a healthier option. A few slices of lemon, lime, or berries will make a glass of cold water even more refreshing! If you really want the water to taste like the fruit, squeeze it first to release some of the juices.
2. Real fruit versus fruit cups
While there are some options on the market better than others for prepackaged fruit cups, nothing beats packing it fresh. By packing fresh fruit, you will avoid added sugars, acids, and in most cases, HFCS. Take a few moments to slice your own fresh fruit or pack frozen fruit in the lunch box. By lunch, it will be perfectly chilled but not frozen.
3. A single cookie versus those 100-calorie packs
What’s wrong with a homemade cookie made with real ingredients? My chocolate chip cookie recipe has real ingredients, stays fresh in the lunch box, and my kids love it. Those 100-calorie packs, while low in calories, are high in unidentifiable ingredients.
4. Homemade lunches versus packaged boxed lunches
Making your own is simple and much cheaper than resorting the pre-packaged lunches. Purchase whole-wheat crackers, real cheese, and fresh deli ham or turkey, and package in your favorite lunch container and you’ll have your own “momable”.
5. Make your own snacks
I remember when I was a kid, and fruit roll-ups were the new, tasty treat to have for snack and lunches. They were fun and delicious—certainly NOT nutritious. Whipping up homemade fruit roll ups takes hardly any effort, and the oven does most of the work. Using fruit gives you natural sweetness. Another inexpensive and kid-favorite snack you can make at home? Spinach Balls. Don’t let the name scare you away. This recipe is so cheesy and delicious!
6. Leftovers versus unhealthy cafeteria food
My philosophy is cook once, eat twice! If you’re having pasta for dinner, knowingly make a little extra for lunches the next day. You can do the same with items on the grill, soups, etc. A $10 to $14 thermos container will be your favorite lunchbox accessory.
7. Homemade pizzas versus greasy cafeteria pizza
Pizza is one of the iconic go-to meals. I love it, my husband loves it, and of course my kids do too! You can use a whole-wheat English muffin, Naan bread, or bagel for lunch! Add sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice. I love pizza because it’s easy to sneak veggies under the cheese, and it’s delicious at room temperature. You can also make easy tortilla pizzas for the lunchbox!
8. Whole-wheat versus white bread sandwiches
What is the difference between whole-wheat and white bread? Thirty good-for-you nutrients! If you have a picky eater, use white bread on one side of the sandwich and wheat on the other. Tell them one is “sunny-side-up.” Make sure you check the labels, and look for breads that contain the words “whole wheat” and other whole grains such as oats as the first ingredient in the list.
9. Almond butter versus caramel dipping sauce
My kids love to dip their apple slices in caramel. Who am I kidding; I love it too! Ditch the sugar, and opt for a healthier dip, such as almond butter. By eating almonds or almond butter, you get vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, and phosphorus. Almonds are a good fiber source and also contain protein. Delicious with fruit and even by the spoonful! Can’t get your kids to eat “nut” butter? Try my homemade Nutella (psst! It’s “nut” free!)
10. Greek yogurt versus fake pudding
Greek yogurt has a rich, satisfying texture. You can even flavor it with real cocoa powder, honey, or fresh fruit! Greek yogurt typically packs half the sodium and sugar of other regular nonfat yogurts. It’s not only high in protein, it’s also low in carbohydrates, making it an excellent choice for the entire family. Better option: 3-Ingredient Peanut Butter Pudding.
If getting started feels overwhelming, focus on just making one simple swap at a time. It will help you and your kids transition. And remember, there’s no judgement, regardless of what you send in the lunchbox. Rome was not built in a day, so be easy on yourself on the path to healthier lunches.