As kids head back to school, many parents struggle to come up with healthy lunch options that kids will enjoy. Here are some healthy lunch alternatives from nutritionists, chefs and "GMA" viewers.
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Beyond Peanut Butter:
There are options for children with peanut allergies. Peanut allergies don't always translate to other nuts, so some children can try almond butter. "This is a really nutritious option that allows kids to have a similar alternative," said Dr. Keith Ayoob, the director of the nutrition clinic at the Rose R. Kennedy Center in New York City.
Other peanut butter alternatives include soy nut butter, sunflower seed butter and apple butter.
*Allergies can vary by individual, so always check labels and check with your child's doctor.
Skip the Sandwich:
Experts say low-fat cheese and whole grain crackers are a great way to get your kids the calcium they need. Hard boiled eggs are also an option. Dietitian Marion Groetch of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City says eggs are "a great source of protein and low in saturated fat."
She also suggests whole grain pasta salad and green salads.
Heather Cupp, a dietitian with Riley Hospital for Children's POWER program in Indianapolis, Ind., says there are lots of fun alternatives to the lunch sandwich. Her suggestions include:
Breakfast for Lunch: 2 tablespoons of apple butter with one medium banana sliced and sandwiched between two whole wheat waffles, 1 cup of low-fat milk, 1 cup of carrot sticks.
Tacos to Go: Two hard or soft taco shells, or one small bag of baked tortilla chips and toppings like lettuce, tomato, low-fat cheese,, beans, salsa, etc. Add one low-fat pudding cup and 1 cup of berries for dessert.
No-Bake Pizza: 1 Whole grain English muffin, 1/2 cup of tomato sauce, 1 piece of string cheese, 5 slices of turkey pepperoni, 1/2 cup of sliced sweet peppers and mushrooms. Assemble at school so the muffin does not get soggy.
Shape, Alphabet or Other Theme Meals: An "S" themed lunch could include salmon salad (instead of tuna) with crackers, sweet bell pepper slices and strawberries for a sweet end. A circle theme would have crackers, reduced fat cheese cut-outs, melon balls, cherry tomatoes and other circle foods. Or try an ocean theme: tuna salad with goldfish crackers, blue Jello, broccoli trees with dip and pineapple for dessert.
If your child has to have that sandwich, there are lots of good choices. Experts draw a distinction between processed meats and fresh deli meats, such as plain roast turkey or roast beef.
Start with whole grain breads, rolls, pitas and wraps, Groetch advises.
Hummus is a great alternative to processed meats, as are tuna salad, chicken salad or egg salad. Just watch the salt content and limit tuna salad to twice a week because of the mercury content.
Ayoob recommends "a slice of Mom's meatloaf slipped into a pita pocket with some lettuce and tomatoes ... or substitute some leftover chicken that's been deboned and shredded."
And for dessert, nutritionist Connie Diekman, the director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, suggests a "fruit and yogurt smoothie enjoyed with graham crackers."
Experts note that packed lunches should always be kept chilled until eaten.