Lunchbox Nutrition: How healthy is your child’s pre-packaged food?


TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – With a new school year underway, thousands of parents are once again packing lunches every day for their children. 

Pre-packaged food can be an efficient, affordable way to fill your child’s lunchbox – but these manufactured snacks often have an unhealthy reputation. However, according to Monique Richard, a registered dietitian nutritionist in the Tri-Cities, not all prepackaged foods are created equal. 

“Not always ‘packaged’ equates to ‘unhealthy,’ but certainly you have to know what to look for,” Richard said.

News Channel 11 asked Richard for her take on several popular lunchbox items:


“So when I look at the ingredients, you can see there’s a laundry list of multiple things that don’t need to really be in there. The peanut butter itself is probably high in sugar. Peanut butter is just mushed peanuts, which is what I tell people all the time – it shouldn’t have any sugar in it. So if you can do a whole wheat peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you’re already doing better.”


“So this is natural sugar from the apple, fructose and glucose. So definitely it can be an option as far as a serving of fruit. Certainly, whole fruit is always going to be better because you’re going to have the fiber from the skin.”


“Snack Pack pudding cups are not the worst thing that you can do, but definitely again, making them is going to be a healthier option. When I look at the nutrition facts label, and I look at the added sugars, that’s about three and a half teaspoons of sugar in one cup.”


“When I look at the ingredients, they are made from Mother Nature, so I love it. But again, it goes back to convenience. Apples are very convenient. They fit in your hand and you’re on your way out the door, with less packaging.”


“It’s manufactured fruit into a gummy, into a dessert. So a great treat, great for Halloween, and not great for a lot of oral health issues. There are definitely better options with whole fruit. But every now and then, everybody likes a gummy.”


“Lunchables – I get asked a lot about these! It’s manufactured cheese, meat product, and the cookie product. When I look at the back I’m blown away at the number of ingredients with each of these little pods, and not a lot of nutrition. As a whole, we’re just getting way too much sodium. You could make something like this in recyclable Tupperware containers or mason jars. Just higher quality integrity.”

Richard says you can save money and pack a healthier lunch by looking at cost per unit and buying in bulk.

“A lot of these packages, they’re very expensive when you break down [cost] per item. And so if you’re really looking at a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a jar of jelly, make several sandwiches versus [buying] a package of four of something.”

Richard says involving your kids in the making of a simple, healthy lunch is the best way to go.

“Don’t get overwhelmed, it can be very overwhelming,” she said. “You’re trying to do everything for yourself and your kids. It does take a little bit of time, but once you get it, it’s going to be easy and you’re setting them up for success for the rest of their lives.”

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