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Fill their lunchbox with affordable, nutritious snacks

It’s back-to-school time again, and many families are trying to figure out just what to pack in school lunchboxes. TODAY food editor Phil Lempert presents affordable and nutritious foods that'll keep your kids happy and healthy.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

It’s back-to-school time again, and many families are preparing their children with supplies and new school clothes, while trying to figure out just what to pack in those school lunchboxes! Parents across the country are wondering what foods their kids will eat, which ones offer the best nutrition, and which ones are affordable now that food prices are at the highest levels in the past 30 years!

One of the most important lessons to share with our kids is about healthy eating. After all, it is no mystery that obesity levels in school-age children are the highest ever, and that healthy eating habits have been proven to contribute to higher rates of success in school-age kids.

The combination of higher food prices, the obesity epidemic and our desire for on-the-go foods has influenced the food industry to make new foods that satisfy these needs. Here are my picks for the 2008 school year:

  • Peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches might well be the ultimate back-to-school food! But this year, there is Back to School Naturally More Peanut Butter. This peanut butter features flaxseed for omega-3 essential fatty acids, omega-6, wheat germ for fiber and egg whites for lean protein. Naturally More easily differentiates itself from other natural peanut butters with the added benefits of omega-3, fewer calories, 25 percent more protein and 50 percent more fiber. Fortified with these powerful ingredients, Naturally More provides all the protein and essential fats needed to keep the body naturally balanced. Naturally More is available in two varieties — original and organic. (Suggested retail, $4.49;
  • Lunchables changed the way kids eat, and boy, have they come a long way from tiny foods in yellow plastic compartment trays! New Lunchables Fun Pack Wrapz meet the Kraft Sensible Solution guidelines and are available in two varieties. The Grilled Chicken option boasts two wheat tortillas, grilled chicken, mild taco sauce, ranch sauce, Nestle Crunch and Capri Sun 25 percent less sugar Fruit Punch. The second option, Beef Taco, has two wheat tortillas, seasoned ground beef filling, a blend of Kraft 2 percent milk natural reduced-fat mozzarella, nonfat Cheddar shredded cheeses, mild taco sauce, an Airheads treat and Capri Sun Roarin' Waters Wild Cherry. (Retails for $2.59;
  • Brown-colored bubbled beverages are so yesterday. Today it's all about the Froose, an alternative to those high-sugar juice boxes for kids. Froose is a one-of-a-kind whole-food beverage that combines organic whole grains and fruit to create a juice that is naturally low in sugar and contains 3 grams of fiber and inulin (plant-based polysaccharides, or several simple sugars linked together). Inulin also increases calcium absorption and promotes good intestinal bacteria. Froose comes in three flavors: Playful Peach, Perfect Pear and Cheerful Cherry. Kids will think they're drinking the same old sugary juice, but it's completely organic, nutritious, low in sugar, and provides the fiber, vitamins and complex carbohydrates kids need for bone and muscle growth. (Retails for $0.75 for 4.23 fl oz.;

Here are some suggestions for those afternoon meals when the kids get home:

  • Kids love chicken nuggets, and just imagine how much money you can save by giving your kids a better-tasting and healthier alternative to what they can find at the local fast-food restaurant. A bag of Banquet Chicken Breast Nuggets can be purchased for around the same price as many fast-food chicken nuggets, but you'll get more than four times the amount of food. If you purchase the Banquet Chicken Nuggets, for less than $4, you'll get more than 40 white-meat nuggets — made with real white-meat chicken — in a resealable bag. (
  • Want to offer your kids more exotic flavors? Plum Organics Kids Meals are designed to fuel the specific health needs of kids, while also providing 32 mg of DHA, an omega-3 important for brain and eye development. Options include: Bowtie Pasta with Sweet Potato Sauce (which comes with a side of edamame, corn and red bell peppers), Rainbow Veggie Shells with Parmesan Sauce (with side of peas and carrots), Cheese-filled Spinach Tortellini with Marinara (and a side of peas and carrots) and Italian Sausage Marinara over Multigrain Pasta (with a side of peas, sweet corn, green beans and carrots). The meals cook in just three minutes. (Retails for $4.49;

Here are some snacks your kids are sure to love:

  • LiveActive Chewy Granola Bars are the first-ever nonrefrigerated snack bar containing fiber and a live probiotic culture. These new bars — the latest addition to the LiveActive line from Kraft — are an easy and tasty way to promote digestive health while on the go. The bars are available in three flavors: Peanut Butter, Chocolate Raspberry and Blueberry Almond. ($3.59 for a box of five bars;
  • Country Choice Organic, a leading national maker of organic oatmeal and cookies, has created a healthful organic treat called Oatmeal on the Run. A whole bowl of instant oatmeal is baked into every soft and chewy grab-and-go bar, available in three flavors: Oatmeal Raisin, Maple and Apple Cinnamon. While formulated as a convenient breakfast, Oatmeal on the Run is also a perfect snack for kids running to sports and activities. (Suggested retail for the five-count package is between $3.79 and $4.19;
  • Enjoy Life Foods' boom CHOCO boom bar is the first dairy-, nut- and soy-free chocolate bar. Until now, most packaged chocolate bars were strictly off limits to anyone with food allergies because of the ingredients used or the prevalence of nut warnings. Boom CHOCO boom bars are made from dairy-free rice milk — as opposed to cow's milk — and are made in a dedicated nut- and gluten-free facility, so everyone can enjoy them. The bar is available in three chocolatey varieties: boom CHOCO boom dairy-free rice milk, boom CHOCO boom dairy-free rice milk with crispy rice and boom CHOCO boom dark chocolate. (Suggested retail $1.79 for a 1.4-ounce bar;
  • To make sure that your children's lunches are as fresh as when you made them, there are the Fit and Fresh System Food Containers. The Lunch Chiller is designed to hold a sandwich, wrap or entrée for lunch and portioned side dish. The container is built around a "Removable Ice Ring" that snaps into the underside of the lid to keep your food fresh and chilled until ready to eat. ($9.99; keeps foods fresh for six hours;

There are two questions you should ask yourself that may help you decide what to serve your children:

  • Are you providing your child with three well-balanced meals per day, at regular times?
  • Are you aware of what and how much your kids are eating when they are at school? With parents leading busy lives, many may admit that they have no idea what their children are eating while at school. For some parents, their children consume two of their three meals per day at school. In those cases, the responsibility to eat well, by default, falls on their kids.

Some schools teach nutrition education; however, it is the parents’ role to lead their children in the right direction with healthy eating decisions. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you make meals fun and exciting, kids will want to stay at the dinner table longer and will enjoy their mealtime.
  • Bring your child grocery shopping with you. Pick and choose foods to go in his or her lunchbox together.
  • Prepare for your weekly meals in advance. Don’t buy food at the last minute. You may end up just buying whatever is available instead of stopping to think about what foods are healthy.
  • Be patient with your child’s eating habits; kids are picky. They may not want to try five new foods at once. However, they may be more willing to try one new food per week.
  • Make sure your child is taking a multivitamin. If you are not sure that they're getting all of the nutrients needed, a multivitamin is very beneficial. No other vitamin or mineral supplements are necessary, unless your doctor or registered dietitian has recommended them.
  • Network with the moms in the neighborhood on their meal selections. Find out what they are feeding their children. You may grab some great ideas for your kid’s lunchbox!
  • Keep track of new products available at your local supermarket. Numerous manufacturers have already begun developing and delivering healthy products that are now available in your local grocery store. Keep your eyes open — there may be a product that both you and your children will enjoy!

One of the most effective ways to encourage nutritious eating in children is for the whole family to make adjustments in their eating habits. Back-to-school time is a great opportunity for your entire family’s healthy food makeover.

For more new back-to-school foods, check out .

Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at .