Many children love Lunchables – those premade, packaged lunches that you can find at most grocery stores. However, have you ever taken a look at the ingredient list on one of those packages? DIY Healthy Lunchables can be a healthy and fun alternative using these simple tips!
As a mom who cares about the health of her family, I am striving to make healthier meals for my children, especially when we are on the go.
Many times when I knew we needed to eat lunch in the car during a one- to two-hour car drive for a doctor’s appointment, I would grab something easy that I knew my kids would like, such as Lunchables.
My older daughter especially loves these, and I can understand why. It’s kind of fun to be able to put together your own pizza or have cheese and crackers for lunch. Plus, Lunchables usually come with a juice box and/or a dessert.
However, earlier this year, when I started aiming for a healthier lifestyle and clean eating for myself, I knew I had to continue aiming to make healthier choices for my children’s meals too. I began thinking about the ingredients that were in packaged foods and started searching for alternatives.
We began with simple steps at home that I described in 5 Ways to Encourage Healthy Eating for Kids but I knew I needed to also improve the meals we were eating outside of the home.
A lot of families struggle with how to feed their kids when schedules are hectic and you are on the go, including us!
So I decided to find out what was lurking inside the ingredients in my daughter’s favorite type of Lunchables and learn how to make my own DIY healthy Lunchables that she would find just as fun and exciting for our next road trip.
WHAT IS HIDING IN LUNCHABLES?
A quick search on the internet is all you need to find a lot of helpful information, including this ingredient list for a popular brand of store-bought Lunchables. I chose the Lunchables Pizza with Pepperoni because it’s my daughter’s favorite.
Lunchables Pizza with Pepperoni ingredients:
Pizza Crust – (Wheat Flour [Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour, [Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Whole Wheat Flour], Water, Sugar, Glycerin, Soybean Oil, Contains 2% Or Less Of: Yeast, Vital Wheat Gluten, Mono- & Diglycerides, Salt, Xanthan Gum, Calcium Propionate, Sorbic Acid, Natural And Artificial Flavor, Enzyme), Contains: Wheat
Pizza Sauce – (Water, Tomato Paste, Sugar, Contains Less Than 2% Of Food Starch Modified, Garlic Powder, Salt, Onion Powder, Spice, Citric Acid, Dried Basil, Sea Salt, Sodium Benzoate And Potassium Sorbate [Added As Preservatives], Xanthan Gum, Natural Flavor)
Pepperoni – (Pork, Mechanically Separated Chicken, Salt, Contains 2% Or Less Of Pork Stock, Spices [Including Mustard], Dextrose, Lactic Acid Starter Culture, Oleoresin Of Paprika, Flavoring, Sodium Ascorbate, Sodium Nitrite, Bha, Bht, Citric Acid)
Mozzarella Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product – (Pasteurized Part-Skim Milk, Water, Milk Protein Concentrate, Milk Fat, Contains Less Than 2% Of Salt, Cheese Culture, Sodium Citrate, Sorbic Acid As A Preservative, Enzymes, Cellulose Powder Added To Prevent Caking), Contains: Milk
The ingredients that are in bold are the ingredients that are of most concern to me and can be avoided/limited. However, I also want to reduce all the chemicals and preservatives, if at all possible.
INGREDIENTS TO AVOID OR LIMIT
Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour: Bleached flours are typically refined and most of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals have been stripped during this process. It is better to find a whole wheat variety. It will contain the beneficial nutrients and will not have the added “enriched” vitamins that are often synthetic.
Sugar: We obviously want to avoid added sugar in our children’s foods. Both the pizza crust and the pizza sauce have sugar listed as the third ingredient. Ingredients are typically listed in order of quantity – from highest to lowest amount. So, the first 3 ingredients listed make up the largest amount of what you are eating, and we don’t want to see sugar in the top 3!
Artificial Flavor or flavoring: Always be cautious of these ingredients since they are usually considered trade secrets and the actual ingredients do not need to be disclosed. Typically, these flavorings are laden with harmful, toxic chemicals that you will want to avoid.
BHA & BHT: Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene are 2 chemicals that are used as preservatives. According to the Environmental Working Group are both are listed as moderate to high for concerns to human health.
According to Katie Wells at the Wellness Mama website, BHA and BHT are artificial antioxidants that help prevent food from spoiling too quickly. She goes on to say that, “These chemicals have been shown to produce potential cancer causing compounds in the body, and have also been linked to liver/kidney damage, immune problems, infertility or sterility, high cholesterol, and behavioral problems in children. Vegetable oils also contain residues of the pesticides and chemicals used in their growth and manufacture and most often come from genetically modified sources.”
Soybean Oil: All vegetable oils are chemically extracted and altered and should be avoided due to the health risks they can cause including cancer and reproductive health harm. Since these oils, including soybean oil, are chemically produced, it’s highly likely to contain harmful chemicals. Most vegetable oils contain BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoluene), which were discussed previously. Read more about the harmful effects of vegetable oil on the Wellness Mama website.
Cellulose Powder: Cellulose powder is an anti-caking agent added to prevent the shredded cheese from clumping together. A few years ago many people became outraged when they found out that wood pulp is a common source of cellulose. Who wants to eat wood pulp, right?
Yet, when I did my research, I found that it’s a plant fiber that passes right through the GI tract without being absorbed. According to an article by National Public Radio, it’s not harmful to our health. However, a part of my clean eating goal is to prepare and provide food to my family that is made from ingredients that I would serve in my own home and cellulose powder is not an ingredient that I cook with at home.
DIY HEALTHY LUNCHABLES YOU CAN MAKE AT HOME
After reading about all the ingredients that were in the popular brand of store-bought Lunchables, I set out to research and shop for ingredients that I could recognize and trust.
My version of DIY healthy Lunchables includes foods found at both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Typically, when I am searching for some premade or packaged foods and not cooking from scratch, I will start by shopping at one or both of these stores.
While I trust that they will have healthier options than some other grocery stores, it is still important to read the labels!
A good rule of thumb is to buy products that have ingredients you recognize and don’t have a lot of chemical names. Also, look for packaged products that contain the least amount of ingredients. This usually means that the food is clean and free from harmful chemicals and toxins.
HEALTHIER INGREDIENTS FOR DIY LUNCHABLES
Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Pita Bread – I chose this as the pizza crust for our DIY healthy Lunchables version. It had a limited amount of ingredients listed (only 6) and all of the ingredients were things I could cook with at home.
Making your own pita bread or pizza crust is another great option, but this busy mom of three tries to save time on days when we are driving to and from appointments all day. I don’t always have time for making all of our food from scratch, but I do try to find clean premade alternatives.
Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Pita is made with whole wheat flour vs. enriched, does not contain sugar or any soybean/vegetable oil.
Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Pita Bread ingredients: Whole Wheat Flour, water, yeast, barley malt, salt, cultured wheat flour with added vinegar (for added freshness).
365 Everyday Value Organic Pizza Sauce – Buying organic food, whenever possible, is always preferred. This brand of pizza sauce found at Whole Foods was superior to the one at Trader Joe’s.
As I mentioned, it’s always good to check the label and when I did look at the Trader Joe’s pizza sauce, I found that it contained canola and/or safflower oil, sugar, and citric acid. These are all ingredients I try to avoid. Plus, the Whole Foods version was made with organic ingredients.
365 Everyday Value Organic Pizza Sauce ingredients: organic tomato puree (water, organic tomato paste), organic extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, organic onions, organic onion powder, organic garlic powder, organic oregano, organic black pepper, organic basil.
365 Everyday Value Uncured Pepperoni – This brand of pepperoni was also from Whole Foods, and I chose it because it does not contain BHA, BHT, mystery flavoring, or any other chemicals/preservatives. It is also casein-free (made without milk protein), raised without added hormones or antibiotics, raised with vegetarian feed, and is Animal Welfare Certified – all great things when eating healthy sources of meat!
365 Everyday Value Uncured Pepperoni ingredients: pork, water, sea salt, paprika and extracts of paprika (for flavor), spices, cane sugar, granulated garlic, celery powder, cherry powder, lactic acid starter culture.
Trader Joe’s Whole Milk Mozzarella – I decided to use this block of mozzarella cheese because it had minimal ingredients and did not include cellulose powder, which most shredded cheese contains. I find it easy to quickly shred my own cheese, so I can avoid the cellulose powder and other preservatives.
Additionally, the milk used was from cows that were not treated with rBST, which is short for recombinant bovine somatotropin and is a type of artificial growth hormone used to increase milk production in cows. When eating a clean diet free from toxins, you should try to avoid all artificial chemicals, hormones, and preservatives, such as rBST.
Trader Joe’s Whole Milk Mozzarella ingredients: pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes.
MAKING MORE SUSTAINABLE LUNCHES
A great way to package this DIY homemade Lunchables version and still make it feel like the store-bought version is to use a stainless steel reusable lunchbox such as the Shuttle by PlanetBox. This is an easy way to make your lunches more sustainable and greatly reduces the amount of plastic packaging and the need to buy plastic containers.
This lunchbox has so many great features and can be used for YEARS to come – making it a wise, budget-conscious investment. I bought another, larger lunchbox for my other daughter called the Rover and not only does she love it, but it has held up so well over the past 3 years. I predict it will last her entire elementary school career and beyond!
All of the PlanetBox lunch boxes are made of safe, non-toxic stainless steel that contains no lead, PVC, phthalates, or BPA materials. This gives me peace of mind knowing that their lunches are not sitting in plastic all day and chemicals are not leaching into their food.
The Shuttle lunchbox also minimizes or eliminates the need for plastic bags and containers to pack up your Lunchables – or any other lunch! PlanetBox also goes a step further by shipping their products in very little plastic at all.
When I purchased the Shuttle lunch box it came packaged in ONLY paper and cardboard! I love supporting companies that are working hard to be more sustainable, and that is why I am sharing their brand with you. (This is not a sponsored post, and I am not an affiliate. I just love PlanetBox and know that you will too!)
Finally, all the PlanetBox lunch boxes can be washed in the dishwasher or by hand. Knowing that I can pop the entire lunch box in the dishwasher makes cleanup super easy.
BENEFITS OF DIY HEALTHY LUNCHABLES
As you can see, there are many benefits of making your own DIY healthy Lunchables at home.
- First, you get to control the quality of the ingredients that your children eat.
- Second, you can avoid the chemicals and toxins that many packaged foods contain that can potentially lead to health harm and disease.
- Third, you reduce or eliminate the plastic waste of buying pre-packaged Lunchables from the store.
- Fourth, your kids will have much more fun eating their lunch and you will find they are more excited to bring healthy lunches to school or when you are on the go!
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