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Upgrade Your Lunch

3. Grown-Up Kid’s Lunch

For her lunch upgrade, Maggie Ward, MS, RD, LDN, and mom to a 4-year-old, did a retooling of classic macaroni and cheese. “Kids can eat ‘grown-up food’ and should,” says Ward, who is nutrition director at the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass. “Unfortunately, as a result of kid-focused food advertising, children are the heaviest consumers of packaged, refined, less nutrient-dense food.” Her mac and cheese is updated with brown rice noodles, chicken and veggies — so it’s a meal adults can love too.

Before: This popular brand of brightly colored mac and cheese looks fun to eat, but it’s full of artificial colors and flavors. Most commercial brands are also made with refined, bleached wheat that is low in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and may cause digestive, behavior and skin problems in a growing number of gluten-intolerant individuals.

After: Brown-rice noodles form the foundation of Ward’s healthy mac-and-cheese makeover.  “Brown rice is a lower-allergen option for a lot of us who overconsume wheat,” she says. For protein, which helps balance blood sugar, she adds organic rotisserie chicken. Broccoli cut into bite-size florets (so kids will be more inclined to eat them) completes the show. (If you’re too harried to make a homemade cheese sauce, try Annie’s-brand Gluten-Free Deluxe Rice Pasta and Cheddar.)

Before: “Kids are consuming too many liquid calories, and it’s fueling the obesity epidemic,” says Ward. This fruit punch is a nasty example — chock-full of artificial flavors, colors and 24 grams of sugar, the equivalent of 6 teaspoons.

After: Ditch the sugary juice and stick with filtered water, says Ward. To slowly wean kids off of juice, start by cutting their juice with water. And, if you’re packing your child’s lunch, Ward advises, avoid plastic (for both health and environmental reasons) and stick with a BPA-free stainless-steel thermos instead.

Before: The applesauce in this meal is the only real fruit or veggie in sight, but it, too, is high in sugar. Residual pesticides may also be a concern. If you serve applesauce, make sure it’s “100 percent pure, no-sugar-added, and organic,” says Ward. In a meal already heavy on sugars and refined grains (which quickly turn to sugar in the body), cookies or graham crackers are the last things this lunch needs, says Ward. “They are high in refined flour, HFCS and trans fats, all of which increase inflammation in the body,” she notes.

After: Rightsizing the mac-and-cheese portion leaves more room on the plate for nutritious legumes and fruit, such as edamame and mixed berries. Soy is a good source of protein, says Ward, but it’s best to eat soy in fermented or minimally processed forms (like edamame, which, as a finger food, also has great kid appeal). Berries are a tasty lower-sugar alternative to fruits like red grapes and bananas, and are very high in phytonutrients and fiber — which most kids could use a lot more of.

Related:
8 Meat-Free Sandwich Ideas
Brown Bag Lunch Wraps
School Lunches the Easy, Green and Healthy Way

Read more: All recipes, Eating for Health, Entrees, Food, Soups & Salads, , , , ,

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28 comments

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4:35AM PDT on Sep 4, 2011

Its a great article, we all need ideas to jazz up lunches so we can eat a bigger range of foods and keep things enticing

6:57PM PDT on Jul 26, 2011

Don't need to!

7:34AM PDT on Jul 17, 2011

This is definitely an upgrade! They all look so yummy.

10:19AM PDT on Jul 11, 2011

thanks

6:39PM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

Fun ideas. Thanks.

5:54AM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

ty

5:13AM PDT on Jul 10, 2011

Eating out makes this more challenging.

3:33PM PDT on Jul 9, 2011

Great tips. The correct nutrition is essential for a healthy life.

11:34AM PDT on Jul 9, 2011

For those of us who are living gluten free, there are spelt wraps, too! I also make my own spring rolls with the tapioca "paper" from my Asian store. Filled with fresh veggies and dipped in the sauce I make (1/2 and 1/2 garlic/chili with the spring roll sauce and a dash of soy) is a wonderful treat. Since it's so easy and fast to make, I do this OFTEN!!

8:32AM PDT on Jul 9, 2011

I pack my lunch for work every day. Wraps are a favorite as they are quick and easy to prepare. I start with an organic sprouted wheat tortilla (Alvarado Street fajita wraps are a favorite), spread on homemade or store-bought hummus, sliced kalamata olives and whatever veggies I have on-hand (shredded carrots, cucumbers, red and green cabbage, lettuce, tomato and avocado). Tofu wraps are also tasty. Spread the tortilla with Vegenaise and Dijon mustard, add baked flavored tofu cut in strips, then top with fresh veggies and wrap up. It's a delicious lunch that I never tire of!

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