Before continuing to make any of the lunches listed below, be sure to check out their much healthy alternatives.

1. Grilled Cheese

A simple grilled cheese sandwich is a childhood favorite. Not only is it easy to make, but kids can’t resist the taste of ooey-gooey cheese. If you opt to make your sandwich with processed cheese slices, chances are you’re not even using real cheese. Sure, many cheese slices marketed to kids are fortified with calcium, but the “cheese” itself is often an oil-based, not a dairy-based, product, which contains little in the way of nutrition.

Also, researchers from the Consensus Action on Salt and Health found that most processed cheese slices contain more salt in just one slice than a lunch-portion bag of chips. However, you can make a healthy grilled cheese using whole grain bread, real cheddar or goat’s cheese, vegetables (i.e., tomato slices), and lean turkey or chicken.


2. Pizza

Often leftovers make the ideal lunch, and if your dinner the night before was pizza, kids are usually thrilled! However, if your pizza pie was delivered, a slice can contain as much as 500 calories (the average cheese slice from Domino’s contains 265 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 565-grams of sodium) and not much else in the way of nutritional value.

Instead, make your own pizza at home using whole wheat pitas or naan bread, fresh veggies, low fat cheese, lean chicken, and homemade tomato sauce.


3. Snack Food

Snack-sized foods (i.e., chips and candy bars) are an unfortunate staple in children’s lunch bags. Kids tote snack options filled with empty calories and sugar to class and gobble them up at recess–only to experience an inevitable energy crash later in the afternoon due to fast-burning starches and refined sugars.

So instead of sending your son or daughter to class with a bag chips, make a batch of baked, homemade veggie chips (i.e., using an assortment of sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, and zucchini) and instead of a chocolate bar, opt for DIY granola bars made with whole grains, dried fruits, and raw nuts.


4. Hot Dogs

Hot dogs are an easy and popular lunch option for kids. Unfortunately, most store-bought wieners can be considered “unfit for human consumption,” according to recent research from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), who reviewed over 7,000 clinical studies that linked processed red meats (i.e., hot dogs, bacon, processed ham and salami) to cancer.  Sure, most store-bought winers are high in Trans fats, sodium, and calories, but the real danger lies in a carcinogenic ingredient, sodium nitrite, which infuses the red coloring into the meat and causes the development of cancer-causing nitrosamines in humans.

Rather than hot dogs for lunch, pack a pita stuffed with lettuce, tomato, low fat mayo, and low fat cheese. Luckily, you can find lean, all-natural deli meats (i.e., turkey or chicken) that contain low sodium and no added colours or preservatives.


5. Fries

If your children buy their lunch at the school cafeteria, they may consider an order of fries a perfectly suitable lunch option. While French fries are cheap, delicious, and (temporarily) filling, deep fried potatoes are a sorry excuse for a fully-balanced lunch.

Sure, potatoes are considered a vegetable, but preparation is key. Consuming a diet high in deep-fried foods not only increases the risk of becoming overweight as a child, but Harvard researchers found that becoming overweight in adolescence greatly increases the risk of becoming an overweight adult. Additionally, researchers from Hutchinson Center linked the regular consumption deep-fried foods (more than once per week) with increased risk of certain cancers (i.e., prostate cancer).


6. Kraft Dinner

Boxed macaroni and cheese is a quick meal to make for your child if he or she comes home for lunch. However, that box of white pasta and cheese-flavored powder is a hot bed for added sodium (410-miligrams), coloring, preservatives, and empty calories (210) per 1/4 box serving–and really, who only eats 1/4 of the box!

To make a healthier lunch pasta for your loved one–boil up some whole wheat pasta and combine with a tomato sauce that’s rich in fresh or frozen vegetables, and low fat (real) cheese. This way you’ll be certain of the ingredients your child is eating for lunch.


7. Chicken Fingers

Chicken fingers are easy to pop out of the freezer and into the oven, particularly if your children are small and still like to eat with their hands. However, not all chicken is created equally. In fact, a research study from University of Mississippi analyzed and broke down a typical store-bought chicken nugget in their lab.

Unfortunately, what they found was a product made up of roughly 40-percent chicken meat muscle while the remaining 60-percent was made up of connective tissue, fat, blood vessels, nerves, and bone spicules. If that puts you off your lunch, don’t fret! You can find “healthier” chicken strip options simply by reading your nutrition and ingredient labels thoroughly.


8. Fast Food

Kids love to eat fast food, especially if they can leave school property to visit a local restaurant. Enjoying the odd fast food lunch is an envious treat, however the health risk increases when fast food becomes a frequent weekly occurrence.

Much of blame can be laid on marketing, according to the Interagency Working Group on Foods Marketed to Children (IWG), who claims the fast food industry spends upwards of $5 million per day marketing unhealthy options to kids–98-percent of which are options high in unhealthy fat, refined sugar, and dangerous sodium levels. Talk with your kids about eating out. Healthier options can be found at local sandwich shops that serve fresh sandwiches, soups, and salads.


9. Luncheon Meats

If bologna, pastrami, or salami are staples in your  kids’ lunch boxes, listen up! Numerous studies, including a fairly recent European study, took a look at processed meats (or preserved red meats) that were preserved via curing, smoking, or salting (i.e., bologna, ham, salami, pastrami, bacon, sausages, and hot dogs) and found that the more consumed; the greater the overall risk of developing cardiovascular disease, high blood cholesterol, weight gain (due to increase saturated fats), and certain types of cancer (i.e., colerectal).

Specifically, the study linked those who consumed 20-grams of deli meat (or less) daily to a 44-precent increased risk of premature death due to these conditions. And the more consumed–the higher the risk! Luckily, subbing turkey and chicken slices, which aren’t processed using sodium nitrite, are considered safe options in lunch boxes.