Eat Clean: Cut Sugar from Your Child’s Back-to-School Lunch

Gloria Tsang new3As the summer holidays begin to fade away and the new school year is about to begin, what to pack for school lunches and after-school snacks is once again on our minds. A trip to the supermarket will be bombarded with snacks with colorful cartoon characters marketed to kids – and their parents. Most of us realize that these products are quite likely high in sugar, but what should we pack instead that are still appealing to kids?

Top 5 high-sugar products that are most likely lurking in kids’ lunchboxes and their healthy alternatives:

  1. All-in-one lunch products: Convenience lunches (or pre-packaged lunches) may have sugar than you think: usually in breads, dressings, drinks, and dessert such as cookies. Instead, the easiest way to prepare a lunch without cooking an extra meal is to choose tortilla to make a lunch wrap with dinner leftovers as fillings. Alternately, I love making this Quinoa & Lentil Salad Wrap. I would prepare quinoa and lentils ahead on Sundays, and then store them in the fridge. This way I can enjoy these two nutritional powerhouses on weekdays without the extra cooking.
  2. “Kids” yogurt and yogurt drinks: Fruit-flavoured yogurt marketed to kids may contain sugar or sweeteners but no real fruit. Pack a small grown-up-style yogurt instead. For an extra protein boost, try a Greek yogurt. Choose unflavored if possible, and pack a separate mini-box of berries for kids to mix in if needed.
  3. Granola bars: Some granola bars feature whole grains and plenty of fiber, but others are essentially candy bars masquerading as health food. If the granola bars are supposed to be eaten as after-school snacks prior to a sport activity, it’s good to actually provide a bar with at least 5 grams of protein per serving. Better yet, make your own Soft and Chewy Lentil Granola Bars!
  4. Soda – and the fruit “drink”: Drinks are usually the main source of sugar. Skip the juice too, and pack water, milk, or non-dairy milk like almond milk or hemp milk. Alternately, you can pack a homemade smoothie, in which you can also provide your kids with extra protein and fiber boost. My favorite is this Citrus Berry Shake with Lentils!
  5. “Fruit” chews and roll-ups: These cartoon-packaged fruit chews and roll-ups are more candy than fruit. Avoid them at all cost. Make your own fruit leather, or pack fresh or dried fruit instead. Indeed, teach your kids that fruit is the best “fast food” dessert! Make a habit to provide fruit at every lunch. If time is a concern in the morning, fruits like grapes, mandarin oranges, berries, banana that requires minimal preparation are also easy for kids to peel and enjoy.

When trying to cut sugar from kids’ lunches, don’t assume products with “low-sugar” or “sugar-free” claims are always a good choice either – they may contain artificial sweeteners. Use the above tips to find healthier options that can help your kids get the nutrition they need and stay focused throughout the day – during school and after.