Back to school not only means back to the books, it means back to the bad lunches.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Why? Anything from decreased physical activity to unhealthy eating habits could be to blame. Eating patterns that begin in elementary and middle school may encourage poor eating habits into adulthood. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that childhood obesity starts in the home, and introducing healthy foods should be a top priority for parents.

Before even considering which food items to pack, it is important to think carefully about beverages. The Harvard School of Public Health states that the consumption of sugary beverages, such as soda, is a contributing factor in the rise in obesity. The standard size of a soda bottle has increased immensely since the 1950s, when it only measured 6.5 ounces. Today, the average soda bottle measures 20 ounces. A study published in Pediatrics observed a change in BMI after having subjects decrease sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.

I spoke with Gaby Wilday, founder of No Fuss Lunch, about the importance of a healthy school lunch. No Fuss Lunch is a lunch delivery program that has become a catalyst for healthier school-served lunches across the Tri-state area. Children need foods that drive their performance and don’t leave them feeling sluggish or unmotivated. For a nutritious sandwich, for instance, it is important to focus on whole-grain and fiber-rich bread. Incorporating whole grains into the diet has been linked to the prevention of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

When adding fruits and vegetables to a school lunch, it may be helpful to disguise them. For example, roast vegetables to make them into chips that you can serve with a side of hummus. Fruit can be paired with peanut butter or plain Greek yogurt to make the snack more appealing. Keep in mind that children will opt for soda or sugary drinks if given the choice, but natural fruit-flavored water or a calcium-rich drink, such as milk, are both healthy alternatives.

Now that you know a few foods that make lunchtime nutritious, read on for nine things you should never pack in your little one’s lunchbox.

1. Artificial Dyes



Start reading exactly what is in the packaged food you serve your children. “Studies suggest that the increasing use of dyes in our food supply leads to hyperactivity, chromosomal issues, lymphoma, and tumors,” Wilday explains.

2. Candy



Unfortunately, candy has absolutely zero nutritional value and is high in sugar. Instead, give your children sweet but nutrient-dense alternatives. “Something like watermelon or berries will give them the bright colors they see in candy and a sweetness that is good for them,” Wilday says.

3. Chips



Especially during the school day, children need snacks that will fill them up, not leave them hungry. Chips are a common processed food that children reach for when they want an easy and tasty snack, but they will only leave them wanting more. “If you grow up eating junk, it is much harder later on to get away from it,” Wilday says. “Essentially, our bodies become addicted to the sugar and chemicals we eat. If you learn proper eating habits at a young age, this addiction will not occur!”

4. High Fructose Corn Syrup

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Corn and lab equipment. Concept for biofuel research. (iStock)

Foods containing HFCS are a major contributor to digestive problems. “This highly processed sweetener doesn’t require normal digestion,” Wilday said. “Instead, it is more rapidly absorbed into the blood stream and goes directly to your liver. It is thought to contribute to the growing cases of fatty liver, diabetes, and obesity.”

5. Juice Boxes


Young boy drinking juice box indoors (iStock)

Although many juice companies claim to make juice boxes with real fruit juice, the drinks are high in sugar and calories. Steer clear from giving your child a drink that will have them bouncing off the walls at school.

6. Pre-Packaged Lunch Trays



Although these are a quick go-to, they are shockingly unhealthy. The meat, cheese, and processed crackers are filled with added salt and chemicals.

Check out more foods children should stay away from at school.

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