Packing a Healthy School Lunch

This morning when I went to pack my daughter’s lunch for school, I found a few surprises that were purchased when my husband and daughter went to the grocery store last night.  I took a deep breath since I’ve only been talking about healthy choices for a lifetime and clearly things looked very different.  You’d think as a health coach your family would all get what you get, but I think they often just rely on you more.  If you’re a mom who tries hard to make things healthy, then you probably know what I mean.

So what did I find?

1.  Boar’s Head ham–usually Boar’s Head is a better choice when it comes to things like turkey, so it’s an honest mistake not to realize that their regular ham choices contain sodium nitrite, a salty preservative found in processed meat that is used in the curing process to delay the development of botulism, develop a cured meat flavor, maintain the meat’s pink color and spiced flavor, and improve the overall length of storage.

So what’s the problem?

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) who reviewed thousands of studies and continue to review ongoing research in this area, processed meats containing sodium nitrite, including hot dogs, bacon, and deli meats, are all linked to increased colorectal cancer.

Nitrites form nitrosamines, a known carcinogen when mixed with protein-rich foods like meats. Nitrosamines create cell damage in the body.

What’s a better choice?

Choose nitrite-free deli meats such as those from Applegate Farms. Boars Head can be a good choice if you know what you’re getting because their “deli meats and cheese contain no fillers, gluten, artificial flavors, colors or trans fat”, according to the company.  Most of their turkey products are nitrite-free.

Keep in mind that when you don’t have those preservatives in your deli meat, the trade-off is a shorter shelf life.  These companies generally recommend that you do not purchase more product than you can consume within three days.  If we haven’t eaten it by then, I just freeze it for future use.

2. Cheeze-It Snack Mix–have you seen the label on this box?  Let me just show you:


When you see a label this long, it’s usually a red flag.  I could spend a while going through all the problems with this one…things like msg, artificial colors and flavors, hydrogenated fats, etc.

I’m personally not a fan of eating processed foods like these since even the “healthier” versions, including gluten-free are processed and they act like sugar in your body.  They are empty calories, so it’s good to keep these to a minimum.


But let’s look at a better choice that most kids will love…


            • No Artificial Flavors, Synthetic Colors, or Synthetic Preservatives.
            • 6g Whole Grains Per Serving
            • Cheese from cows not treated with growth hormone rBST*
            • 100% Real Cheese

3. Activia Yogurt–when the second ingredient is sugar (items are listed in the order that they are found in largest quantity), it’s probably not a good idea to buy this. When you go on to read the label, you find lots of artificial ingredients.  Buying yogurt full of sugar & artificial ingredients sort of defeats the purpose of buying yogurt.

A better choice?

chobaniThe low-fat greek yogurts with no added sugar are probably the best option, then just add a little of your favorite sweetener or fruit.  Even those with fruit  do not list sugar as the second ingredient, so it’s still a better choice.

  • Milk from cows not treated with rBST.
  • No artificial sweeteners
  • No preservatives


You can keep things fun by involving your kids in the selection process. Pick out some healthier options (at Whole Foods, for example) and let them choose from them so they buy into their choices.

Get creative and fun with school lunches and your kids will be more apt to eat them!

lunchbox1  lunchbox2  lunchbox3

Check these other healthy lunchbox ideas out on Pinterest:











Bakery bread–

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