5 Things to Never Put in Your Child’s Lunchbox

By: Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist

The first day of school is here or quickly approaching for many kids across the US!  It’s hard to believe my 8 year old starts 3rd grade next week and my 3 year old has already begun pre-school.  Back to school comes with hectic schedules, sports and plenty of homework.  To keep your child (and yourself!) healthy, focused and able to perform at their best, it’s important to consider carefully what you’re eating and drinking plus the timing of meals and snacks.  

Besides packing pencils, pens, folders, notebooks, tissues and cleaning wipes, you’re probably thinking about what to pack in your child’s lunch.  Sometimes school lunch isn’t the best choice so being ready to send your child off with a healthy mid-day meal can help them feel well and do well in school.  While there are plenty of healthy lunch options you can pack that can energize your student all day long, here’s a list of what NOT to pack.

1.) Lunchables
Although some of these pre-packed boxes now come with cubes of fruit, don’t let the label fool you.  While it may seem simple and convenient, these boxes full of processed foods are ripe with some of the Top 5 Food Ingredients You Should Never Eat, much less give to your precious kids.  Rather than chemical laden, high sodium, energy zapping, nutrient deplete lunch, send them with a hearty meal of leftovers instead.  Send your healthy leftover meal in a thermos to keep it warm.  It’s still simple and easy to send leftovers since they’re ready to go in your fridge from the night before. 

2.) Marshmallow Fluff
This New England classic from the post-World War I era is still around despite being loaded with sugar – Corn Syrup and Sugar Syrup are the first two ingredients!  The strawberry and raspberry flavors are loaded with chemical red dye and artificial flavors. Instead of topping a nut butter sandwich with what’s essentially processed frosting, try using fresh fruit slices like banana or blueberry instead.  Seek out low sugar, natural jam made from fresh fruits at your local market or make your own at home.  If you can’t send peanut or almond butter to school, Sunbutter is a wonderful alternative and tastes great topped with some banana.

3.) Processed Lunch Meatswith Sodium Nitrate
Processed meats like bacon, bologna, ham and salami are cured with salt for preservation.  The nitrate in this salt helps give meats their color and flavor.  Research suggests a link between an overall dietary pattern which contains frequency consumption of processed meats and increased risk for certain cancers like prostate and colorectal.  Packaged or deli turkey often contains sodium nitrate too.  You can find organic, synthetic nitrate-free lean options like turkey but you’ll still want to limit how often you pack this lunch option.  Although they lack added sodium nitrate, there is still some present, derived from the sea salt and celery powder used in the curing process.

4.) Beverages with Artificial Sweeteners
Low calorie drinks flavored with artificial sweeteners like acesulfame-K, sucralose and others are abundant and often promoted as a healthy choice because of the reduction in sugar and calories.  But, these ingredients can negatively influence some children’s focus and overall health and wellness and the fact that they taste super sweet can distort food choices and according to research, may still affect blood sugar, blood pressure and health. Of course plain water is an excellent option for a lunch time beverage, but for more flavor, try infused or naturally flavored water like Hint instead.  Here are some easy tips for making tasty infused water – look for a water bottle with an infuser insert or simply add your favorite fruits and veggies to a water pitcher and let chill overnight, then add to your child’s water bottle.

5.) Chips with MSG, Added Colors and Preservatives.
Special treats in your kid’s lunchbox can be a welcome and fun addition.  But let’s look for choices that taste great and fit with your desire to keep your child healthy.  Here are some fun ideas:

I find that the key to a healthy lunch box is planning ahead.  Make a healthy shopping list, be sure to get to the store and pack up lunches the night before to help your family get out the door on time in the morning.  

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Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist

Stacy is a Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and an Integrative Nutritionist. She consults for various companies, focusing on health, wellness and innovative strategies to help increase individual’s fruit and vegetable intake. Stacy is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Health Fitness Specialist; she holds a BS degree in Dietetics from Indiana University, completed her dietetic internship at Massachusetts General Hospital, and earned a Masters in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Senior Clinical Nutritionist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School teaching affiliates, in Boston, MA, with more than 20 years of experience. Stacy created and now serves as project manager and lead writer for nutrition services content on the Dana Farber website and the affiliated, nationally recognized nutrition app. Stacy is regularly featured on TV, radio, print and social media on behalf of Dana Farber and other organizations. Together with her husband, Dr. Russell Kennedy PsyD, they have a private practice, Wellness Guides, LLC. Stacy is an adjunct professor in Wellness and Health Coaching at William James College, currently teaching a graduate course in Health Coaching. Stacy is featured in the award winning documentary films, “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” and “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2,” and serves on the Reboot with Joe Medical Advisory Board. Stacy lives in Wellesley with her husband, two sons and three dogs. She enjoys cooking, yoga, hiking and spending time with friends and family. Stacy is also one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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