Ask Marilyn: Kids lunch meals?

Q: How bad, nutritionally, are pre-packed kid’s lunch meals with mini pizzas, tacos, etc? And is apple juice the healthiest drink to give them?


A: It’s no surprise that many of the pre-packed lunches are relatively high in fat and sodium but as teens and children need a lot of energy the biggest problem may not be the pre-packed lunch but what goes with the lunch. Rounding out a meal with extra sweets and sugar-laden drinks containing little or no juice leaves a meal nutritionally lacking, whether it’s pre-packaged or one you’ve packed yourself. If you prefer pre-packaged meals, look for those with very little of the less nutritious fillers and supplement them with your own nutrient rich fresh fruits, raw vegetables, or both. On the other hand, packing a healthy lunch with wholegrain sandwiches, salad and boiled eggs takes only a few minutes (and less money) if you add the ingredients to your weekly shopping list. You might question whether it’s worth paying more for a nutritionally incomplete, pre-packed meal.


Apple juice is a nutritious drink that can supply some of the health-promoting phytochemicals found in apples. But there’s no reason to use it as the main beverage every lunch or snack time the way many parents do. The idea that apple juice is somehow easier than citrus juice on children’s stomachs is quite untrue.  Regardless of what juice is used, child nutrition experts warn that doling out multiple glasses of juice between meals can leave a toddler too full to get adequate nutrition at meals. Water is the often forgotten drink and would be good to get our children used to drinking just plain water.  Some snack-time or lunchtime juice is fine, but getting children in the habit of drinking water, or perhaps diluted fruit juice, to satisfy thirst between meals will bring them many short- and long-term benefits.

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