School Lunches: Healthier Supermarket Options (cont.)

Bumble Bee Ready-to-Eat Fat Free Tuna Salad with Crackers
(This is an individual kit including tuna salad and a package of crackers.)
Pluses: It's a fun way to eat tuna and add some healthy fish omega-3s.
Minuses: It's probably too small of a tuna salad serving for older children. The sodium level is pretty high (580 mg) considering the kit only contains 150 calories.
Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories, 9 g protein, 23 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 580 mg sodium.

Bumble Bee Easy Peel Sensations -- Lemon & Pepper Tuna Medley
Serving size: 5-ounce (easy open) cans.
Pluses: It's an easy way to add 21 grams of protein and some fish omega-3s to lunch.
Minuses: Some kids might not like the grown-up flavors of lemon and pepper mixed with tuna. You might need to pack something to each with the tuna, like whole-wheat crackers or a wheat roll.
Nutrition information per serving: 130 calories, 21 g protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 4 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans, 30 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber, 410 mg sodium.

Cheese Sticks (individually wrapped)
Serving size: Safeway Organics line comes in 1-ounce individually wrapped sticks.
Pluses: Each stick adds 20% of the recommended Daily Value for calcium and 7 grams of protein.
Minuses: You have to keep this cold until lunch. There's almost nothing worse than a sweaty cheese stick at lunch.
Nutrition information per serving: 1 Colby cheese stick = 110 calories, 7 g protein, 0 g carbohydrate, 9 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber, 170 mg sodium.

Eating Right (a Safeway brand) Instant Soups
(There are two flavors that contribute some fiber: Spicy Thai Noodle Soup and Tomato Basil Pasta Soup.)
Serving size: 1.4- to 1.6-ounce paper cups that you add very hot water to.
Pluses: This is a hot lunch entree that has nothing to do with two slices of bread. This product seems to contain few ingredients compared to other instant soup products. Both soups are low in fat and contain no saturated fat or trans fat. Each soup contributes at least 2 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. Minuses: Each serving has 480 to 600 milligrams sodium (depending on the flavor).
Nutrition information per serving: 140 to 150 calories, 6 to 7 g protein, 27 to 30 g carbohydrate, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 to 3 g fiber, 480 to 600 mg sodium.

What to Pack for Lunch: Drinks

The key to the liquid side of lunch is to pack beverages that either hydrate your student (water), or help hydrate while also contributing nutrients like protein, calcium, and vitamin D (low-fat milk) or nutrients like vitamin C and folic acid (100% orange juice).

If the noon beverage contributes calories but not nutrients (like soda and sugary fruit drinks), you might want to rethink this lunchbox choice. Recent studies suggest that liquid calories don't contribute to feeling full as much as solid-food calories do.

One new lunchbox drink option is mini water bottles. These come in cute little 8- and 11-ounce plastic bottles (like Aqua Pod brand). They're the perfect size to freeze and then stick in your child's lunchbox or bag to keep the other lunch items well chilled until lunchtime.

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

Published August 23, 2007.

SOURCES: Journal of the Dietetic Association, 2003; vol 103: 505-51. Bartholomew J.B. et al., Journal of the American Dietetic Association, February 2006; vol 106: pp 248-252.

©2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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