Planning and Shopping for a Week's Worth of Healthy Lunches

By: EatingWell Editors
Teaching kids to eat healthfully starts with smart shopping.
Watch: 3 Fast, Kid-Friendly Snacks
Teaching kids to eat healthfully starts with smart shopping. Fortunately, supermarkets are recognizing Americans’ interest in healthy eating, and there are plenty of healthy—and good-tasting—foods in almost every aisle of your favorite market. Getting the kids involved in navigating the store aisles to find the healthy stuff can not only be fun, it will help them to develop healthy eating patterns for life.
EatingWell’s handy shopping guide is the first stop to better nutrition, better value, and maybe even to putting a little healthy fun in your weekly shopping trip.

Produce section:

Go for variety. Buying the fruit and vegetables your children like assures that they’ll eat plenty of them but what about trying the ones they’ve never even heard of? How about jicama, papaya, tomatillos, mango or even artichokes? It’s always a good idea to look for what’s in season: it will be fresher and may even pack in some extra nutrients. Prewashed and peeled veggies, such as mini carrots or celery sticks, make great snacks. Apples, pears, peaches, oranges and bananas are lunchbox-ready, but any fruit is easy to pack—simply cut it up and put it into little single-serving containers.

Cereal aisle:

It’s no secret that prime real estate in the cereal aisle is at children’s eye level, so they can easily spot the sugary cereals and beg Mom and Dad to buy them. Try to resist— there are plenty of healthier options that still satisfy a sweet tooth. Be sure to look for whole- grain cereals high in fiber—5 grams or more—or cereals that have less than 9 grams of sugar per serving.

Juice aisle:

Only buy 100% juice and avoid other beverages that include such ingredients as “high-fructose corn syrup,” “artificial color” and “artificial flavor.”

Soda aisle:

Keep walking…But, if your kid loves the fizz and carbonation, grab some flavored seltzer waters—they have 0 calories and 0 sugar. Or make your own spritzer by adding a splash of 100% fruit juice to selzer.

Dairy section:

Choose low-fat dairy options over whole milk and full-fat varieties; they usually have all the same nutrients and benefits without all the fat. Individual packs of cottage cheese and yogurt make great snacks, as do low-fat string cheese and individually wrapped cheese squares. Yogurts can be high in added sugar, so be sure to read the label and pick those with little added sugar. Take advantage of lunchtime as a great opportunity to give your kids natural sources of calcium.

Snack-food aisle:

This can be a tough aisle with all the options out there: a zillion potato chips, pizza-flavored tortilla chips and sugar-laden cookies and bars—with new ones filling the shelves every day. Weeding out the good from the bad is a challenge but here are some tips to get you started:
Go for baked instead of fried potato chips or corn chips.
Limit portion size—a 1-ounce portion is plenty.
Avoid trans fats—you’ll find it on the nutrition label.
Chose whole-wheat pretzels or crackers over non-whole-grain varieties.
Grab some all-natural granola bars as well; look for ones that contain whole grains, nuts, seeds and pieces of dried fruit.

Frozen section:

Bags of frozen fruit and vegetables can come in handy when you’re out of fresh produce. Pack a small container of frozen berries alongside a cup of yogurt for a quick mix-in. Frozen veggies in a quick stir-fry at dinner can be packed for an easy lunch the next day.

Must-Have Kid-Friendly Kitchen

Counter top

Keep a variety of washed fruits on the counter for quick snack options: Bananas—look for miniature bananas, they’re the perfect size!
Apples
Clementines or mandarin oranges
Blueberries
Strawberries
Plums
Pears
Peaches/Nectarines

Pantry

Nuts—All nuts are healthy but nuts in their shell have the added benefits of giving the eater something to do to help prevent mindless eating; try unshelled peanuts or pistachios. Other nuts, such as almonds, pecans, cashews, are all healthy options that deliver 160-170 calories per ounce. Dried and toasted soy nuts are another option.
Dried fruit—raisins, apricots, figs, blueberries, pineapple, craisins
Trail mix—either homemade or store bought
Cereal—It’s not just for breakfast…add it to homemade trail mix or just put it in a small container to snack on; granola or whole-grain varieties are best.
Whole-grain snack crackers
Granola bars made from whole grains and without high-fructose corn syrup
Fruit leather made from 100% fruit; it’s not the same as eating the real thing, but it’s darn close. How can you be sure it’s fruit leather? Pureed fruit should appear as the first ingredient.
Whole-wheat bread and wraps
Baked snack chips and pretzels, preferably whole-grain varieties
Veggie Chips/Sticks—They crunch like potato chips, but are made from vegetables like squash, spinach and tomatoes.

Refrigerator

Drinks
Low-fat (1-2%) milk or soymilk
100% fruit and vegetable juice (look for low-sodium varieties of vegetable juice)
Flavored seltzer water
Dairy
Cups of low-fat fruit yogurt and cottage cheese
Drinkable yogurt smoothies
Fat-free puddings
Low-fat string cheese
Individually wrapped squares and wheels of low-fat cheese
Vegetables
Sliced bell peppers
Grape tomatoes
Celery and baby carrots
Low-fat dressings or dip for veggies
Bagged, premade salads
Fruit
Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries
Sliced fruit—pineapple, melons, mangoes or apples
Grapes
Protein
Sliced roasted turkey or chicken breast
Hard-boiled eggs
Hummus
Other
Jelly/jams/preserves with no added high-fructose corn syrup
Premade vegetable sushi
Jarred salsa

Freezer

Frozen fruit—bags of berries or any other cut-up fruit
Low-fat pizza rolls
Individual cups of ice cream
100% fruit popsicles
Weekend Collaboration: Working with your kids to pack snacks they’ll actually eat.
Involving children in the process of making food gives them ownership over what they put in their mouths and can lead to healthier food choices in the long run. Make snacks with them in advance that can be stored and packed in their lunches another day. Try making some of our fun and easy recipes with your kids today.