Healthy Lunch: Low-Sugar Options for Your Child’s Lunch Box

By Jen Hillan
Little boy reaching for strawberries by kitchen sink

When packing your child’s lunch, it’s often a challenge to find a balance between what’s healthy and what they will actually eat. Here are some kid-friendly ideas to help you pack a healthy low-sugar lunch for your child that will help them get the nutrients they need.

Offer at least one fruit and one vegetable.

Studies show kids usually don’t get enough of them. Offer whole fruits, rather than any kind of roll-up or gummy snack (which have a lot of added sugar but very little fruit). To make it interesting, cut fruits into fun shapes! Canned or dried fruits are good choices too, but check the ingredient lists for added sugars. Pair veggies with a healthy dip like hummus, nut butter or homemade ranch dressing (made with plain Greek yogurt and seasonings).

Tired of packing the usual PB & J?

Try meat and cheese roll-ups, leftover veggie pizza, egg salad in a whole-wheat pita, peanut butter and raisins on graham crackers, or grilled chicken wrapped in a tortilla. Make your own “Lunchable” with deli meat, fresh mozzarella pearls, fruit slices, and whole-grain crackers or tortilla chips.

Get out the Thermos!

It will keep cold food cold for up to seven hours and hot foods hot for up to five hours. Try making a smoothie with plain low-fat Greek yogurt, a frozen banana, ice cubes, water, nut butter, cinnamon and vanilla. Or fill the Thermos with soup, chili, or leftovers such as rice and beans or spaghetti

Sodas, fruit juice, fruit drinks and even sports drinks can be high in added sugar.

Offer low-fat milk or a milk alternative to give your child important nutrients without added sugars. For a healthier “sweet” drink, make a light chocolate milk with just a small amount of chocolate syrup or combine water with fruit slices.

As much as possible, let your child help with grocery shopping and in preparing his own lunch. He’ll be more likely to eat it if he had a hand in choosing it!

Added sugar vs natural sugar

Natural sugars come in two forms – lactose (found in milk) and fructose (found in fruit). These foods give us important nutrients such as protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. The fiber and protein found in some of these foods take longer to digest, which means you’ll feel fuller longer and have a less dramatic increase in blood sugar levels.

Added sugars come in many forms and have many names. They give us extra calories (1 teaspoon is about 15 calories) that we don’t need and no nutritional benefits. Whether the added sugar is high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar or honey, too much can lead to weight gain and raised blood sugar levels.

The Nutrition Facts Label lists the total amount of sugar in a food, but it does not list how much is from added sugar and how much is from natural sugar. It’s important to read the ingredient list to find all sources of added sugar when packing a healthy low-sugar lunch for your child.

For a complete list of added sugars, visit

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