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Think outside the lunchbox

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It happens every morning across South Jersey. Parents pack a delicious lunch for their children and – without realizing it – send them to school bogged down with sugar, fat and salt. No one is to blame. Kids beg for pre-packaged lunches, sugary yogurt and salt-saturated deli meats they see on TV. Virtua registered dietitians can help you navigate the pitfalls of childhood lunchtimes.

Here are their concerns about kids’ lunches and how to fix them:

    Skip pre-packaged lunches
    Virtua registered dietitian Ligia Brochi-Scaffidi says: “Some pre-packaged lunches have more than 1,000 mg of sodium and 30 grams of fat, close to a child’s total daily-recommended allowance in one meal.

    The Fix: Make your own pre-packaged lunch with home-cooked sliced roast beef or turkey breast, and cut up veggies and fruit for good nutrition and color.

    Get whole grain goodness
    Multigrain sounds healthy, but it only means the bread is made from many grains. It could still be stripped of the most important part of the grain, the germ.

    The Fix: The healthiest bread is made with 100% whole grain and it should be the first ingredient listed on the label.

    Watch for sugary yogurt
    While good for your child’s digestion, many flavored yogurts have 26 grams of sugar or more.

    The Fix: Read labels carefully. Or, serve plain yogurt and add fresh fruit or a touch of honey.

    Get poppin’
    Buttery movie popcorn can have as many calories as a whole meal.

    The Fix: A cup of low-fat, air-popped popcorn only has 32 calories. Toss on cinnamon or a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese for a fun flavor.

    Beef it up

    A packaged turkey burger swims in sodium and is only slightly lower in fat than a lean ground-beef burger.

    The Fix: Beef is a great source of iron. So for an occasional burger, choose 93% or higher lean beef from the butcher.

    Be careful with energy bars
    According to Virtua registered dietitian Maureen Dowling: “Energy bars can sabotage healthy eating because of their high sugar content.”

    The Fix: Pick bars with less than 15 grams of sugar and at least 3 grams of fiber and protein.