Written By: Gloria Tsang, RD
Last Updated on:
It’s back to school time – which means it’s time to start thinking about school lunches again. You might be tempted to take the easy route and grab an assortment of pre-packaged lunches like Lunchables, or assemble a collection of the many other “kid-friendly” packaged foods marketed to school-aged children and their parents. Unfortunately, many of those packaged foods are loaded with sugar – and not just in the desserts. Sugar is becoming an increasingly common ingredient in foods targeted at kids, and it’s lurking in places you might not suspect.
5 Easy Ways to Cut Sugar from Your Child’s Lunchbox
1. Skip All-in-One Lunch Products
Convenience lunches (like Lunchables or Lunchmates) may include sugar in breads, dressings, and drinks, as well as the dessert or candies (never mind all the additives these lunches can contain). Pack a quick and easy sandwich using dinner leftovers instead.
2. Avoid “Kids” Yogurt and Yogurt Tubes
Fruit-flavored yogurt marketed to kids may contain sugar or sweeteners but no real fruit. A quick check on the ingredient list of the Yoplait Go-Gurt blueberry yogurt tubes shows multiple additives including Blue #1 and Red #40, but no real blueberries. A small grown-up-style yogurt is often a better choice. You can use our yogurt comparison tool to find out exactly what’s in your favorite yogurt brands, and how they stack up in terms of sugar.
3. Skip the Fruit Chews and Fruit Roll-ups
Fruit chews and roll-ups might seem like a convenient alternative to keeping fresh fruit on hand if you don’t get to go grocery shopping as often as you’d like, but the truth is that these “fruit snacks” are more like candy than fruit. Try making your own fruit leather or pack fresh, dried, or canned (in juice) fruit instead.
To make your own fruit leather, puree about three cups of fruit, spread very thinly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and cook in a low oven (150F to 200F) for 8 to 10 hours.
4. Check the Label on the Granola Bar
Some granola bars feature whole grains and plenty of fiber, but others are essentially candy bars masquerading as health food. Check the label – you might be surprised to see an outrageously long ingredient list that includes multiple forms of sugar. Choose one with fewer ingredients and less sugar, or, better yet, make your own. If you need to purchase commercial granola bars, choose one with at least 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.
5. Skip the Soda – and the Fruit “Drink”
Drinks are a huge source of sugar. Soda is the worst offender, but fruit “drink” is a close second. Sold in individual cartons, many people might not even notice that they are essentially buying sugary water when they think they are buying “juice boxes.” Even 100 percent fruit juice contains about 6 teaspoons of sugar from natural sources. For more balanced nutrition, choose unflavored milk or lightly sweetened non-dairy milk to add some protein power, or simply pack water.
The Bottom Line
When trying to cut sugar from kids’ lunches, don’t assume products with “low-sugar” or “sugar-free” claims are a good choice – they may contain artificial sweeteners. Use the tips here to find healthier options that can help your kids get the nutrition they need and stay focused throughout the school day.
Gloria Tsang is the author of 5 books and the founder of HealthCastle.com, the largest online nutrition network run by registered dietitians. Her work has appeared in major national publications, and she is a regularly featured nutrition expert for media outlets across the country. The Huffington Post named her one of its Top 20 Nutrition Experts on Twitter. Gloria’s articles have appeared on various media such as Reuters, NBC & ABC affiliates, The Chicago Sun-Times, Reader’s Digest Canada, iVillage and USA Today.