Are your healthy school lunch ideas really that nutritious? Test your healthy lunch IQ and see if you know which foods are the best choices for your child's midday meal (and yours). Pretzels or nuts, granola bars or cookies -- are you making the right picks for your family? Find out which foods deserve a coveted spot in your crew's lunch box rotation.
A decade or so ago, relatively low-cal pretzels may have come out the winner, but these days nutritionists know that nuts are tops. Katie Morford, R.D., author of Best Lunch Box Ever (Chronicle Books, 2013) explains: "Pretzels may satisfy a snack craving, but they don't nourish kids as well as nuts do. Unlike pretzels, nuts can be a good source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein, and healthy fats. They also take longer to digest than pretzels, which means they're likely to keep kids filled up longer as well."
Kids can eat nuts whole, as nut butter spread on a sandwich, or blended into other foods like this Nutty Yogurt Dip.
Which is healthier: tortilla chips or potato chips?
Tortilla chips come out on top, but with a caveat. Pediatric dietitian Natalia Stasenko, R.D., explains: "Both options are quite similar, actually, if they are fried. But I would go for tortilla chips, especially if they are baked. Choose chips with no hydrogenated fats and as few ingredients as possible." So buy baked chips, or make your own. It couldn't be easier.
Which is healthier: raisins or apples?
Photograph By Doug Merriam, Idea by Cristi Messersmith of Bentonbetterlunches.com
Both fruits will satisfy a sweet tooth, but apples are a better bet, Morford says: "Apples make a filling and hydrating snack with fewer calories and less sugar by weight than raisins, as well as less potential for promoting cavities."
Break out of your lunchtime rut with these easy, healthy ideas.
Which is healthier: eggs or lunch meat?
This is an easy one, Stasenko says. "Although deli meat is a good source of protein, I would opt for eggs much more frequently because of the cold cuts' naturally occurring or added nitrates and high sodium. A ham sandwich once or twice a week is probably okay, but eggs are a more natural food with very high levels of beneficial fats, vitamins D, A and B12." Luckily, eggs are incredibly versatile as well. Hard-boil them or make these tasty mini egg muffins.
Which is healthier: fat-free yogurt or reduced-fat yogurt?
Go with reduced-fat yogurt. Surprised? Everyone needs healthy fats in their diet, and as Stasenko says, reduced-fat yogurt tastes better, making it more likely that your kids will actually ingest all that good protein and calcium. "And because reduced-fat yogurts are more palatable, they typically need less added sugar to compensate for lack of fat. Besides, fat-free yogurts often have thickeners such as starch or carrageenan added to improve texture. The exception is fat-free Greek yogurt, which is naturally more thick and creamy."
Which is healthier: gluten-free bread or whole-grain bread?
Unless your child has celiac disease or is sensitive to gluten, a gluten-free bread won't be doing him any favors. "Unfortunately, a lot of gluten-free breads on the market are heavy in starch and light in whole grains," Morford explains. "A wheat-based loaf labeled 'whole-grain,' on the other hand, indicates, at the very least, bread with the bran and germ intact, and all the fiber and nutrients they bring to the table."
Which is healthier: tofu or cheese sticks?
The winner is: tofu. Cheese is higher in protein and calcium, but it has virtually no iron, a challenging nutrient for kids to eat enough of. A serving of tofu contains almost a third of a child's daily requirement. Stasenko adds: "Tofu is also much lower in saturated fat than cheese, and in addition to iron, it's a great source of protein and calcium."
This is almost a trick question, since both peanut butter and almond butter are excellent lunchtime staples. Morford says, "If forced to choose, I'd go for the almond butter. It edges out peanut butter because it has more than double the vitamin E and fiber and is much higher in calcium. Plus, almond butter is less likely to be a problem from an allergy standpoint than peanut butter."
Which is healthier: store-bought granola bar or homemade oatmeal raisin cookie?
Homemade Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
Homemade Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
Next time you're buying granola bars, take a peek at the nutrition label. With little to no fiber and lots of sugar, many are just cookies in disguise. Morford agrees. "I'd prefer to see a child have the satisfaction of a wholesome, homemade cookie that is less processed with fewer ingredients than something you get from a box."
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