Healthy Lunch Tips
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Healthy Lunch Tips

Expert tips for packing a lunch that meets all your child's nutrition needs.

It can be tough to put together a lunch that is nutritious and that your child will eat. Here are some tips for getting a passing grade in nutrition. Passing muster may be as simple as sending a sandwich in a wheat pita pocket instead of on white bread or cutting down on the cookies. While it is acceptable to err slightly in some categories, try not to exceed the recommended amounts of fat and sodium, as these nutrients have been associated with health problems in adulthood. Here are some other strategies.

Failed fat?

Many luncheon meats, as well as cheese, chips, cookies, and mayonnaise can push up fat counts. Try ham or turkey rather than bologna, and reduced fat mayo or a "lite" cheese and pretzels instead of chips. As for cookies, setting a limit is best. Goal: 9.5-16 grams

Saturated with sodium?

Sodium may be the trickiest nutrient to control since it's abundant in so many lunch foods. Try packing foods that are less processed. Fresh turkey breast, for example, is lower in sodium than the packaged version. Goal: 600 milligrams

Concerned about calcium?

Think dairy -- milk, cheese, and yogurt. In fact, don't just think it, pack it! Too much calcium is okay but too little is not. Goal: 200-250 milligrams

Perplexed about protein?

Protein packs a punch and can carry your child through the long school day. If your child's lunch is shy of protein, try substituting a different sandwich filling or offering a serving of milk, yogurt or cheese. Goal: 10-15 grams

Too many calories?

You may have packed too much dessert or snack food. Or you have a hungry, growing child. The calories allotted for lunch are based on eating three meals and one snack a day. Aim to balance your child's nutrition needs with his growing appetite. Goal: 300-500 calories

Not enough vitamin C?

When it comes to vitamin C, like calcium, too much is okay but too little is not. To up the C count, add a citrus fruit, melon, grapes, or a C-fortified juice box. Goal: 15 milligrams

Robbed of carbohydrates?

If your child is not a sandwich eater, pack breadsticks, crackers, pretzels, or ready-to-eat breakfast cereal to raise the carb count and keep her going. Goal: 45-75 grams

Flunked fiber?

The best source of fiber is whole wheat bread. Whole wheat pita works too. Another way to boost fiber is by adding fruits and veggies to your child's lunch box. To see how one piece of your bread stacks up fiber-wise, check this list.

White bread: 1 gram Wheat bread: 2 grams Bagel: 2 grams Flour tortilla: 2 grams White pita pocket: 1 gram Whole wheat pita pocket: 5 grams Small sandwich roll: 2 grams

Goal: 3.5-6 grams