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Healthy Packed Lunches for your Children

Kat Barefield

Living in today’s food environment where junk is everywhere, accessible 24/7 and is often cheaper than healthier alternatives is one of the biggest challenges as a parent. Kids eating habits are formed early in life, and without intention and planning they’ll fall victim to what’s “normal” in society. Just look at what’s offered in gyms across the country where sporting events are held. It’s the ultimate irony – hot dogs, chips, candy and soda are being sold as kids exercise and compete. What message is that sending? As a mother of a college basketball player and youth basketball player, I say it’s the wrong one.

But as Gandhi says, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” So here I am, sharing with you how you can go against the grain and help our youth make smarter choices, grow strong and ultimately reach their full potential.

Tip 1:

Collaborate with your kids and pack a yummy AND healthy lunch. That means taking them grocery shopping and guiding their choices as well as them helping pack the lunch. Kids are more willing to eat the foods they help choose and prepare. Here’s one of my faves:

Turkey Wrap

  • Whole wheat/whole grain tortilla (whole grains have vital nutrients)

  • Sliced turkey (protein)

  • Harvarti or swiss cheese (dairy has calcium for bone health)

  • Avocado (healthy source of fat)

  • Lettuce and spinach (color veggies packed with nutrients)

Tip 2:

Add colorful fruits and veggies. Cut them up like finger foods and include yummy dips like hummus, nut butter or ranch. (A little fat isn’t fattening unless you’re overeating. Kids often need extra calories for growth and activity).

  • Sliced apples and peanut butter

  • Baby carrots, sliced cucumbers (my daughter’s fave) and hummus

  • Strawberries and sometimes Nutella (occasionally adding this teaches moderation)

Tip 3:

Instead of chips, add snack foods that are crunchy and packed with nutrients.

  • Almonds and dried fruit (sweet and salty)

  • Popcorn (whole grain)

  • Apple

  • Whole grain crackers and hummus

  • Granola bar and cheese

Tip 4:

Have your kids pick out a reusable water bottle.  Most kids do NOT need juice, soda or Gatorade. The added sugars in these beverages put your child at risk for cavities and excess weight gain. Plus, it’s good for the environment to avoid plastic water bottles.

  • Experiment with flavoring water with fruits and veggies. Do this with your kids so they take ownership.

    • Cucumber and mint is delish.

    • So is water flavored with strawberries and blueberries or sliced oranges.


Finally, be sure to demonstrate making these choices yourself. It’s not about being perfect, so please let that go. If you’re making healthy choices most of the time and enjoying treats some of the time, your kids will likely follow your lead. It may not be right away, but eventually they will. And our kids desperately need good leadership to become their best.

By: Kat Barefield, MS, RDN, CPT, CES, PES

Registered Dietitian Nutrition

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