Every mom or dad who makes lunches for kids knows the goals: avoid total jettisoning of lunch into trash by picky eater; hope she or he doesn't trade healthy apple for can of soda; nudge the menu past the old standbys before complete boredom sets in on Day 123 (kids need lunches, on average, 180 times a year). Yes, packing a healthy lunch your kids will actually want to eat can feel like pulling teeth.
Our clever lunch box formulas will please even the pickiest of eaters, no added sugar or excess sodium required. Each one is built around a key nutrition principle: Mix a lean protein with whole grains and fresh garden goods, then add a sensible treat.
2 of 8Photo: Randy Mayor
Pizzadilla + Carrots and Ranch + Applesauce
Kids will love this fun pizza-quesadilla mashup, which we've paired with crunchy baby carrots (instead of chips). Our healthier ranch dressing—made with buttermilk, Greek yogurt, and a touch of mayo—doubles as a dip for both the pizzadilla and veggies. Unsweetened applesauce provides a sweet fix without added sugar.
Here's a clever way to lighten the classic all-mayo chicken salad sandwich—By subbing half of the mayo for Greek yogurt, we were able to slash serious calories and saturated fat. Smoked almonds and dried cranberries guarantee plenty of flavor. An apple satisfies your crunchy cravings, and chocolate kisses are perfectly-portioned sweets.
Deli sandwiches may be tasty, but they're often loaded with sodium. Keep your numbers in check by recreating the handheld staple at home. Look for deli meat brands with "lower sodium" or "no salt added" on the labeling, and go light on the cheese. Next, balance out your box by minimizing salt in other sides (try unsalted nuts). Fruit is a win-win ingredient no matter how you look at it—stack it on skewers for a fun, kid-friendly presentation.
Sandwich: 2 oz. lower-sodium roast beef, lettuce, 2 slices tomato, 1/2-oz. slice white cheddar, 2 teaspoons light mayo on whole-grain bread
When building any sandwich, whole grain bread always trumps white bread in the nutrition department. Our healthier spin on the much-loved classic sandwich subs in one mini whole-wheat bagel. On the side, you get plenty of crunch from whole grain chips (such as Sun Chips) and a naturally-sweet fix from the banana.
1 tablespoon peanut butter, 2 teaspoons jam on 1 mini whole-wheat bagel
1 oz. whole-grain chips (about 16)
1 small banana
Stats: 467 calories, 2.6g sat fat, 413mg sodium
6 of 8Photo: Randy Mayor
Mixed Greens with Chicken + Popcorn + Orange
A bed of mixed greens is the perfect canvas for a plethora of healthy ingredients. Here, rotisserie chicken, sliced almonds, and a hard-boiled egg make for a powerful protein trio. Save on calories and fat by opting for a simple oil-and-vinegar vinaigrette. On the side, snack on a generous portion of popcorn (skip the butter) and tangy-sweet orange slices.
Our Mediterranean-inspired couscous salad makes 6 servings, so you can easily prep it for quick, healthy lunches all week long. Portion each serving into wide-mouth canning jars ahead of time, so you can grab one on the way out the door in the morning. Satisfying sides such as hummus and pita chips and grapes pack in plenty of fiber to keep you full through the afternoon.
Our healthier take on the classic club sandwich cuts fat, calories, and sodium, but doesn't sacrifice a bit on flavor. We go from stacked to rolled by trading traditional white bread for a whole-wheat wrap. Guacamole is a tasty stand-in that feels just as indulgent as mayo. Slice the wrap into medallions and skewer on toothpicks for less mess at lunchtime.
Wrap: 1 oz. oven roasted turkey breast, 1/2 oz. low sodium ham, 1 slice crumbled center cut bacon, 1 tablespoon guacamole on half a whole wheat wrap (such as Flatout)
Tomato mozzarella skewer (cut one lower sodium part-skim mozzarella stick into fourths and skewer with cherry tomatoes alternately)