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Reinvent Your '90s Lunch Box with These Healthier Swaps

Smart Swaps

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Remember pulling out your My Little Pony or Ninja Turtle lunch box with the matching thermos as a kid? Those were the days.

But as much as we all might have loved our '90s foods, our adult selves know all too well that Dunkaroos and Bagel Bites weren't the best choices for our health.

Fortunately, as a nutrition consultant for the food-service industry, I've got a first-class seat to see some of the latest product innovations on the market. Good news: It's possible to reinvent the '90s classics you loved with a few healthy swaps. Here's how.

Photo: Shutterstock

Classic: Sprinkl'ins Yogurt with Sunrise Sprinkles

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Clocking in at 20 grams of sugar, this childhood classic might be a fun bit of nostalgia, but it's not something you'd want to feed yourself on the reg. Plus, it's got more than 54 ingredients, ranging from the controversial carrageenan (an agent that can potentially cause GI or immune system issues for sensitive individuals) as well as 11 food dyes (blue 1, blue 1 lake, blue 2, and blue lake 2, to name a few).

Photo: Walmart

Swap: Chobani "Flip" Sunrisin' Raisin

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The bright colors of sprinkles are recreated with whole foods (raisins and fruits!) that add a splash of color and nutrition. Not only does this parfait pack just 11 grams of sugar, it's also got 13 grams of protein (compared to the Spinkl'ins 5 grams). Protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so rest assured, the 150 calories you'll enjoy in this will go a long way toward preventing hunger (and hanger) later on.

Photo: Chobani

Classic: Dunkaroos

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Dunkaroos are essentially graham cracker cookies served alongside a rich frosting (#yum, right?). Problem is, these bad boys have four sources of dangerous trans fat. Though they only have 120 calories, this just goes to show that with 13 grams of added sugars, the fewest calories isn't always the healthier option. Sorry to break it to you.

Photo: Amazon

Swap: Justin's Honey Peanut Butter Blend with Banana Chips

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Don't fear the calories or fat! With 210 calories and 10 grams of unsaturated fat, this protein-packed (6 grams!) and fiber-filled (3 grams) option is a satisfying and satiating mini meal or on-the-go snack. Banana chips add a more nutritious sweetness, too.

Photo: Target

Classic: Bagel Bites

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Unwrapping the foil that contained the cool, slightly soggy Bagel Bites your mom whipped up the night before was a delicious start to your lunch, right? Sigh, not so much. With only 2 grams of fiber per serving, these bites won't keep you full either. Not to mention the fact that for just a few "bites" you rack up nearly 17 percent of the Daily Value of sodium.

Photo: Bagel Bites

Swap: Dave's Killer Bread Organic Plain Bagels

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With 13 grams of nutrient-rich whole grains (hello B vitamins and fiber) and 12 grams of filling protein, the new Dave's Killer Bread Bagels are a welcome addition to any brown bag. Avoid the "soggy" pizza blues and instead, wrap the bagel in foil with a tablespoon of labneh (a fermented cheese-like yogurt spread) on each half to provide an extra boost for your gut health. Pack a small container of roasted cherry tomatoes to top the bagel and bam, you've got a probiotic-friendly bagel bite swap with powerful nutrition.

Photo: Dave's Killer Bread

Classic: Cosmic Brownies

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This blast from the past has over 2 tablespoons of sugar per serving plus two forms of trans fat, not to mention the other 44 ingredients. Though appealing to the eye (hello, fun candy-coated sprinkles!), these brownies are far from an R.D.N.-approved choice.

Photo: Little Debbie

Swap: Nature's Bakery Organic Brownies

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Nature's Bakery's organic line of brownies has a new salted caramel variety that's a win-win for nutrition and taste, coming in at 12 grams of total sugar (some coming from natural date paste) for two bars and only 120 calories total! Missing the "sprinkles"? Press a few no-shell Wonderful Pistachios into the brownie and you've got a beautiful red-purple and green hue from antioxidants in every bite.

Photo: Nature's Bakery

Classic: Gushers

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There's a reason the name is what it is: The Gushers of the '90s are just gushing with loads of added sugar, a touch of trans fat, and absolutely 0 real fruit. In just one 90-calorie package, there are over 23 ingredients, three of which are added sugars and three of which are food dyes.

Photo: Shutterstock

Swap: KIND Fruit Bites

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A breath of fresh air for adults and kids alike, the KIND 100% Fruit Bites that just hit the market are made with only three ingredients (or fewer) and have no artificial ingredients, preservatives, or colors. Plus, they're free from the top eight allergens, including wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, fish, and shellfish, making them an excellent addition to any packed lunch. And they contain a full serving of fruit for just 60 calories.

Photo: KIND

Classic: Bugles

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Long summer beach days, sand in your nails, and Bugles on your fingers. Sound familiar, anyone? Bugles might bring back memories, but they also happen to be packed with a shocking 40 percent of your Daily Value of saturated fat thanks to the coconut oil they're cooked in. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to no more than 5 to 6 percent of your daily calories, so I think we all can agree that these have got to go.

Photo: Amazon

Swap: Simply 7 Hummus Chips

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You can't wear them like fingernails (sad!), but Simply 7's Hummus Chips are a healthier option for your salt cravings—and they're made from chickpeas. Chickpeas contain iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin K, all of which help build and maintain bone strength and structure. The Simply 7 Hummus Chips are allergen-friendly for those allergic to tree nuts, too, unlike the beloved Bugles.

Photo: Simply Seven

Classic: Kool-Aid Bursts

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The bottle, the colors, and the sense of "chugging" a fun drink might have made you smile, but there are a few reasons not to drink the Kool-Aid. Sadly to say, they contain a host of sweeteners and artificial dyes that give them that bright hue.

Photo: Walmart

Swap: Spindrift

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If you haven't tried Spindrift, run to your nearest Trader Joe's and join the movement. Not only is it made with real fruits and fruit juice instead of the "natural flavors" or "essences" commonly found in "healthy" sparkling beverages, it's also free of any artificial ingredients. Coming in between 2 and 15 calories, their line of flavors, including grapefruit, blackberry, cucumber, lemon, raspberry-lime, orange-mango, and strawberry, are definitely worth a try. Refreshing, light, and the perfect way to hydrate all day long.

Disclosure: Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T., is a nutrition expert, adjunct professor of nutrition, and owner of a nutrition communications consulting business where she works with national brands such as The Wonderful Company, KIND, FoodMinds, Maxwell PR, and others listed here. She is a nationally recognized speaker and freelance writer for Fit Pregnancy, Shape, Oxygen, and Fitness magazines. You'll find her at (@shawsimpleswaps) and (@bumpstobaby), sharing her love for food and travel, along with a friendly smile to support you on your journey to baby.

Photo: Spindrift


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