The Center for Science in the Public Interest suggests 10 easy tips to give your child's lunchbox a nutrition makeover:
■ Encourage your child to choose 1 percent or fat-free milk. Milk is by far the largest source of saturated fat in children's diets. Choosing 1 percent or fat-free milk instead of whole or 2 percent milk is an important strategy for keeping children's hearts healthy and arteries clear.
■ Leave cheese off sandwiches, unless it's low-fat or fat-free cheese. Although cheese provides calcium, it is the second leading source of artery-clogging saturated fat in kids' diets. Healthier sources of calcium include lower-fat cheese, fat-free and 1 percent milk, low-fat yogurt and calcium-fortified orange juice.
■ Switch from ham, bologna, salami, pastrami or corned beef, and other fatty luncheon meats to low-fat alternatives, such as turkey.
■ Include at least one serving of fruit in every lunch. Try buying a few new types of fruit each week to let your child discover new favorites and to give her more choices. In addition to apples, oranges or bananas, try pears, sliced melon, grapes or pineapple (fresh or canned in its own juice), or cups of applesauce. Try serving fruit in different ways — whole, cut into slices, cubed or with a yogurt dipping sauce.
■ Sneak vegetables such as lettuce or slices of cucumber, tomato, green pepper, roasted peppers, zucchini or sweet onion onto sandwiches. Eating fruits and vegetables reduces your child's chances of heart disease, cancer, blindness and stroke later in life. Putting veggies on a sandwich is one way to get more into your child's diet.
■ Use whole-grain bread instead of white bread for sandwiches. Choose breads that list "whole wheat" as the first ingredient. If the main flour listed on the label is "wheat" or "unbleached wheat flour," the product is not whole grain. Most multigrain, rye, oatmeal and pumpernickel breads in the United States are not whole grain.
■ Limit cookies, snack cakes, doughnuts, brownies and other sweet baked goods. Sweet baked goods are the second leading source of sugar and the fourth leading source of saturated fat in Americans' diets. Low-fat baked goods can help cut heart- damaging saturated fat from your child's diet, but even fat-free sweets can crowd out fruit or other healthier foods.
■ Pack baked chips, pretzels, Cheerios, bread sticks or low-fat crackers instead of potato, corn, tortilla or other chips made with oil or Olean. Avoid fat-free Max chips and Procter & Gamble's Fat Free Pringles. They are made with Olean (olestra), a fat substitute that can cause abdominal cramping and diarrhea, and can rob your body of carotenoids and other phytochemicals that might lower the risk of cancer. Also, beware of Bugles, which are fried in heavily saturated coconut oil. One ounce has as much artery-clogging fat as a McDonald's Quarter Pounder.
■ If you pack juice, make sure it's 100 percent juice. All fruit drinks are required to list the percentage of juice on the label. Watch out for juice drinks like Sunny Delight, Hi-C, Fruitopia and Capri Sun. With no more than 10 percent juice, they're soft drinks masquerading as juice.
■ Don't send Lunchables. Oscar Mayer's Lunchables come with a treat and a drink, and they get two-thirds of their calories from fat and sugar. Making your own healthful alternative is as easy as packing low-fat crackers, low-fat lunch meat, a piece of fruit and a box of 100 percent juice in your child's lunch box (at the very least, use the lower-fat Lunchables).