What’s Wrong With This Picture? School lunches stripped down.

I found this picture at stockxchng, a free photo source for internet use.  It was called “healthy school lunch” or something to that effect.  Take a close look at it.  A whole wheat sandwich.  Some fruit slices.  A granola bar.  A juice box.  A bag of cheetos.  Ok, well we all agree the cheetos aren’t healthy.  But the rest?  Do they or do they not make up a healthy lunch?

Today’s society would promote this as a healthy lunch.  We are told that whole grains, fruit and vegetables, dairy products and so on are good sources of nutrition.  And they can be.  The problem is, not all products are created equal.  Just because it is labelled whole grain doesn’t mean all the other ingredients are good.  And just because it has fruit in it doesn’t mean that it is healthy.  We need to go beyond that and read more labels.  Generally the rule of thumb is: the less ingredients the better and the easier to pronounce the better the ingredients are.  The exception being the Latin names for herbs etc. which I can’t pronounce for the life of me.  So let’s check out this lunch.  What exactly is wrong with it?

Whole wheat bread 

Check the label on your bread.  Does it contain High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS?)  if it does, your whole wheat bread has been demoralised.  HFCS is, among many other health problems, a leading cause of obesity.  Many breads, even ones labelled 100% whole wheat, contain HFCS.  Alternative: look for a loaf that contains a natural sweetener such as sugar or honey, which should be far down the list of ingredients, meaning that sugar is NOT a main ingredient in your bread. 

Processed meat
Processed meat contain nitrites, often contains HFCS, preservatives, and is high in sodium.  Is processed meat a good choice for a school lunch?  Absolutely not.  Alternatives: cooked meat, not processed meat.  Nut or seed butters (when allergies aren’t present).  Cheese.  Vegetables.  Cream cheese.  Low sugar jam.  Honey.  Butter.

Canned fruit slices.  These fruit slices are in plastic or metal containers that more than likely are lined with Bisphenol A  (BPA).    BPA, among other things, is a known endocrine disruptor and a potential carcinogen.  As well, cooked fruit contains less vitamins than raw fruit.   Alternatives: fresh fruit and/or vegetables. 

Fruit juice.  Fruit juice is fruit stripped of peels and pulp.  Peels and pulp are high in nutrients and fibre.  Therefore fruit juice, even 100% pure, is practically empty calories, high in sugar, and can cause dramatic blood sugar level spikes and crashes that interfere with learning and behaviour.  Alternative: tap water in a stainless steel container.

Granola bars
Most commercial granola bars are high in sugar.  If you consider that 4 grams of sugar equals 1 tsp of sugar, and you offer your child a granola bar with a sugar content of 16 grams of sugar, you are feeding her 4 tsp. of sugar in the bar alone, for a snack.  Add a fruit juice to that and you can expect her blood sugar to sky rocket and later, crash.  Alternatives: crackers and cheese, a cookie or granola bar (homemade is best) that is low in sugar. (Think 8 grams or less per serving).  Fruit. Dried fruit bars.  Nuts and/or seeds. 

Yogurt

Most people consider yogurt to be healthy.  The probiotics contained in active cultured yogurt are very beneficial to digestion and overall body health.  Ever checked the sugar content in a small container of flavoured yogurt?  The vanilla fruit ones can be between 20 and 30 g of sugar per serving!!!  That is the equivalent of 5-7 tsp of sugar in one little package of yogurt.  Also, the yogurt is in a plastic container which is likely made of bpa.  Alternative: plain yogurt sweetened with a drop of vanilla and a little bit of honey or jam.  Homemade yogurt is best: you can easily make homemade yogurt using simple ingredients such as milk, cream, and a tbsp of yogurt as a starter.  No additives, no colour, no artificial flavour, no preservatives or artificial thickeners.  Store in glass or stainless steel containers when possible.   

Now that I have stripped down that lunch box, what is left?  If you look at the alternatives, most of these will fit nicely into non-disposable containers to make for a litterless lunch.  Another favourite around our house is left-overs.  That healthy chili you made for supper?  The pancakes you made for breakfast?  Perfect for a lunchbox, and can be kept warm in a stainless steel insulated thermos.  So it all comes down to the ease of grabbing pre-packaged lunch and snack items versus the health and eco-friendliness of packing a low sugar, low salt, preservative-free, non-disposable lunch.  It’s more work, you betcha.  But it’s worth it.  Which will you choose?

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