4 Lunch Mistakes to Avoid (and What to Serve Instead)


Packing lunches for children is always a challenge. However, it is important that parents look out for items that sound healthy, but are not healthy at all. By making a few substitutions and changes, parents are able to create healthy and interesting lunches that children of all ages can enjoy. Below are some foods to avoid and what to use instead.

Fruit Snacks

Fruit snacks are loaded with sugar and dyes. Because they are sticky, they can also remain on the teeth and cause tooth decay.

What to use instead: Actual fresh fruit provides the sweetness with additional fiber and nutrients. Dehydrated fruit, such as raisins, is another option that can be a little more shelf-stable if there are no refrigeration options.

Juice or Soda

Juices and sodas are more culprits in bringing in additional sugar. Additionally, these drinks can provide a large amount of unneeded calories. In particular, juice boxes also create a lot of waste.  Remember, most children only need about three or four teaspoons of added sugar a day. Even juices marked as “100% juice” end up stripping fiber and other beneficial nutrients from the fruit.

What to use instead: Consider packing filtered water or milk in a stainless steel canteen. Diluting juice with water, or adding just a splash of juice to mostly water, creates a drink that has flavor and sweetness without extra sugar and calories. You can also consider juicing whole fruits, which keeps more of the nutrients and fiber of the whole fruit.

Pre-packaged Meals

These kinds of meals seem convenient, but they are packed with sodium and artificial ingredients.  Furthermore, they can be expensive without supplying much nutrition. Like the juice boxes, these also create a massive amount of waste.

What to use instead: Using leftovers of a family dinner is one way to meet these needs. You can also dress up leftovers in new ways. For example, if you have spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, you can use the meatballs in a meatball sub the next day.

Processed Deli Meats

Much like the pre-packaged meals, these also contain loads of sodium and artificial preservatives. These chemicals have been linked to a number of diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

What to use instead: Cutting up meat at home or choosing preservative-free meat at the deli is a small change that create a much healthier lunch. If you are using meat you prepared at home, think about grilling or baking meat instead of frying.

Other Lunch Ideas to Remember

  • Think about what and how your children eat at home. Chances are, if they do not like something at home, then they will not eat it at school.

  • If there are certain things your children like, you can try similar things. For example, a child who likes crackers might also enjoy naan or pita bread.

  • Get your children involved in picking out things for lunches. Being involved in the process makes them feel more at ease with food and can allow for parent-child bonding.

  • By cooking extra at home, you can control the ingredients. For example, you can use less sugar or add pureed vegetables in a dish for your own nutritional needs.

  • Think about your children store their lunches. If there are cubbies, but no refrigeration, make sure you freeze a water bottle or bag of fruit to keep food cold.


Packing healthy snacks and food for your children seems like a daunting task. However, making a few substitutions and slight changes to existing recipes can keep a lunch not only healthy, but interesting to your children.

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