Peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese or tuna fish: no matter how you slice it, sandwiches are a staple in kids’ lunch boxes but what you pack may not always be the healthiest.
Many brown-bag sandwiches have processed meats, artificial ingredients and refined carbohydrates and lack fruits and vegetables kids need to satisfy their hunger, give them energy and help them grow.
In fact, a 2015 study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that compared to the current National School Lunch Program guidelines, lunches packed from home contained more sodium and fewer servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and milk. Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that school lunches from home had more calories, saturated fat and sugar and less protein, fiber, vitamin A and calcium.
The good news is that you don’t have to swear off sandwiches altogether. With some simple substitutions and nutritious ingredients, you can upgrade your kid’s lunch and build a healthy sandwich he’ll want to eat.
Choose Better Bread
Instead of white bread, rolls or wraps which lack fiber, are converted into sugar and spike your kid’s blood sugar, choose whole grain bread such as whole wheat, oat or rye.
Read labels carefully and choose brands that state “100% whole grains” or “100% whole wheat” and look for those with sprouted grains for extra fiber. Tortillas, pita bread or wraps can be a good option too but be mindful of portion sizes.
If your kid follows a gluten-free diet (which we do most of the time), I don’t recommend gluten-free bread since most are filled with tons of artificial ingredients and fillers.
Instead, try making your own gluten-free bread at home. I recently discovered this recipe for anti-inflammatory sandwich bread and it’s been a big hit in my house.
Add Fermented Foods
Probiotics can boost your kid’s gut health and strengthen his immunity but aside from yogurt and kefir, there are ways to get those healthy bugs in your kid’s sandwich.
Try to add naturally fermented pickles, sauerkraut or even kimchi, if your kid can handle the spicy taste.
Switch Up PB&J
Most brands of peanut butter have added sugars, vegetable oils and other nasty ingredients you can’t even pronounce. The same goes for jelly and fruit preserves which have loads of added sugar.
Read labels carefully and look for peanut butter or almond butter that contain nuts and oil only, like Justin’s. Rather than store-bought jelly, add slices of strawberries or mash up raspberries for a healthy sandwich with plenty of fiber.
Make Lettuce Wraps
Instead of bread, a lettuce wrap is an opportunity to add more vegetables, nutrition and fiber into your kid’s diet. Leftover chicken, salmon, chopped hard-boiled egg, tofu or tempeh all work great.
Rethink Lunch Meats
Instead of deli meats which are processed, full of sodium and saturated fat and made with artificial ingredients, roast your own meat at home and slice it thin for a healthy sandwich option. Or add a veggie burger or bean burger for a delicious, plant-based lunch.
Pack In Vegetables
To make a hearty, healthy sandwich with plenty of nutrition, fiber, taste and some crunch, add dark leafy greens, slices of cucumber, zucchini, radishes, peppers, jicama or shredded carrots.
Swap the Spread
Instead of mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup or salad dressings which can all be high in empty calories and sodium, spread a sandwich with hummus, Greek yogurt, bean dip, pesto or some avocado, which will help your kids feel satiated and give them the healthy fats they need.