If you recall, last year we did a guest post for Sunny of And Love it Too on packing paleo lunches for school. We’ve included those ideas for you at the end as our daily suggestions. As a quick reminder, we also discussed the topic of healthy lunches quite extensively on the first episode of our podcast, The Paleo View. We also cover this topic in our book, Eat Like a Dinosaur.
Due to our personal experiences last year with lunch packing, when Sunny asked us this year to contribute to her annual round-up, we wanted our annual post to focus more on food “replacers” as an option for alternative choices. Otherwise known as, food that looks the same as what the other kids are eating.
As our oldest child moved up in grade school, the challenge of packing a “normal” looking lunch in order to avoid being “different” and teased became more complex. So, this post is full of ideas for dealing with the emotional emergency of Johnny says I’m weird and teases me because I don’t eat yogurt and chips.
Also, it’s a very real and overwhelming problem of converting to always homemade real food for so many people. Going from prepackaged foods like chips, yogurts, cheese sticks, and fruit cocktails and instead using whole ingredients and packing from the fridge instead of the pantry can be quite daunting in the rushed morning. Even worse, many people don’t know what to do in place of that old lunchroom standby, the sandwich. I thought it might be helpful to share some of our best tricks t0 replace those easy-on-hand products with better* versions.
Let me address the biggest hair-tearing quandary straight off. So many people tell me they can’t imagine packing a lunch without also packing a sandwich. Unfortunately, regular bread is the most gluteny, high-carb food product you can buy (not to mention that most grocery store breads are full of all kinds of crazy chemical preservatives. The gluten-free replacements aren’t much better: they’re usually based on other grains like rice or heavy starches like tapioca or potato, along with containing the same preservatives. Not only that, but they often have seed oils and bean products (like guar gum), and don’t even have the texture and mouthfeel of real bread anyway. What’s a parent with lunchmeat to do?
Enter a favorite of ours, Pure Wraps. Somehow, the folks at Improv’eat have figured out a way to make a tortilla using only coconut meat, coconut water, and salt. They’re like tortillas with a slightly stiff bite and are pretty delicious on top of it! Use it like you would any wrap! We like to use ham or turkey wrapped with avocado slices or use them for tuna salad.
Replace Pudding or Yogurt with Almond or Coconut Milk Yogurt
If you’re dairy-free like us, losing Bill Cosby’s favorite treat and the staple of yoga moms everywhere was very hard for us. I believe the human palate has a desire for different textures even more powerful than its desire for different “food groups” and yogurt and pudding hit that creamy spot and are very hard to replace without the whole lot of effort of cooking custard on the stove or fermenting your own yogurts over the course of several days.
Luckily, you can now find coconut milk and almond milk yogurts in most higher quality and health food stores (including Whole Foods), many grocery stores (like Wegman’s) and even on Amazon. The texture is practically identical to regular yogurts and there are the same variety of flavors Dannon and Yoplait will give you. They’re even free of evil soybeans! So when your kids become jealous of their friends’ strawberry yogurt, you can confidently send them to school with a strawberry coconut yogurt.
Nothing says empty calories and rancid seed oils more than Doritos and cheese puffs! Then again, nothing appeals the child’s palate more than a salty crunchy carb! Instead of potato chips, why not give them a crunchy food that also contains some mineral and vitamin content? Still not the best choice, but a really special treat your kids will love!
We are able to find a plain brand like this one in our regular grocery store, but try to plan ahead by ordering online and choosing brands that cook with safe fats & oils – these Avocado Oil Potato Chips and Banana Chips in Coconut Oil are always big favorites with our boys. They love using cool reusable baggies, which saves the environment and our money!
No, really! You’re already thinking that your kids won’t like seaweed, but these green wonders are actually really delicious! They’re salty, but contain all the mineral content you’d ideally want from a snack. Did you know that seaweed is one of the best sources for iodine, a key mineral in thyroid function, that we can find? We buy cases of SeaSnax and pack them several times a week.
Coconut and fruit and nuts are also much more nutrient dense sources for snacking, our boys LOVE making their own trail mix with their favorite nuts, dried fruit and coconut – or there are plenty pre-made options available at Trader Joe’s or Amazon.
Replace Fruit Cocktail with Apple Sauce Pouches
If you ever look at the side of a fruit cocktail cup and actually read the ingredients and nutritional content, you’ll find that this is not a healthy fruit source of vitamins and minerals, but rather an insidious sugar delivery system that amps up the sweetener, especially the corn syrup, content. So, instead, I pack him an all-natural unsweetened apple sauce squeeze pouch. It’s fun to suck up applesauce from a straw! Plus, a natural applesauce is much lower in sugar than indeterminate fruit pieces cased in syrup!
Replace Granola Bars with Larabars
Nothing, to me, is more overhyped as a health food than ye olde granola bar. When I was growing up, this was the healthy alternative to candy bars and moms were always using it as the default snack. Unfortunately, soon the default granola bar was the Chewy brand, practically a candy bar with HFCS and chocolate chips and marshmallows.
Even the healthy and natural versions have added sugar and, of course, grains. Larabar takes a different tact. All the ingredients in this delicious snack are dried fruit and nuts. All you do is mash together all these ingredients and you’ve got a real whole food snack to replace your granola! We have recipes to make your own Fruit & Nut bars in Eat Like a Dinosaur, but even we take shortcuts too!
Replace Cheese Sticks with Black Olives
In our preschool, the default snack that parents provide seems to always be cheese sticks. Unfortunately, I know that nothing good will come from my son eating that processed cheese stick. What are they really getting from cheese anyway? Mostly fat. So why not replace that fat source with heathy olive oil? The sacred olive fruit is a perfect snack and we eat them by the bowlful! Best of all? We can subscribe and save some cases of BPA-free cans!
*Please note, some of these options aren’t the best choices. However, when you’re converting to whole foods from processed, when you’re dealing with children’s emotions and the trauma of being teased, or simply about to give up all together if you can’t find shortcuts – these foods are much better choices than their alternatives.
Here is what our children’s lunches usually look like, when we’re able to plan and everyone’s feeling strong about their healthful looking lunches. You’ll note, half the battle is with the cool accessories, which we post on our site here!
I hope this post has been of use to you and you can now be less stressed about leaving behind your formerly standard packed lunch items; time doesn’t have to be a limiting factor from having a nutrient dense and wholesome kid-friendly lunch!