By Holly Pellham Davis
With a staggering 1 in 3 children now clinically obese, it is more imperative than ever that we address healthy eating at home and in school lunchrooms across America. Food criteria has dramatically changed from clean, fresh, and nourishing to cheap, convenient, highly satiable, bio-chemically engineered foods loaded with additives. Not unlike creating demand for the latest toy or boy band, food company PR departments work overtime creating campaigns to entice our children to want certain foods. And the effects of this new food paradigm on our children’s current and long-term health is frightening.
In my last post, we discussed the importance of taking time to nourish your body with a healthy breakfast. Research shows dramatic drops in obesity rates (43% less likely) in people that eat a healthy breakfast each day (the key being healthy — fresh, low/no sugar, unprocessed — foods). I like to say, “Think out of the box by not eating anything that came from a box.” Remember, when we eat sugar and/or processed foods, our bodies will just crave more sugar and processed foods as the day goes on. It’s a vicious cycle.
Which brings us to our next stop, lunch.
As an example, let’s look at the eating habits of an average 4th grade boy. He wakes up 30 minutes before he is suppose to leave for school, gets dressed, grabs his backpack and a pop tart (17 grams of sugar), and rushes out the door for school. Snack time is 2 hours later when he consumes a cereal bar (11 grams of Sugar) and a package of M&M’s (31 grams of sugar). Another 2 hours pass and he heads to lunch and consumes a hot dog (nitrates, nitrites, processed meat) topped with a heap of of ketchup (8 grams of sugar in a 2 tbsp serving), a bottle of apple juice (15 grams of sugar), and chocolate cake (20 grams of sugar) for dessert. By 12:30 pm this child has consumed 102 grams of sugar (About 25 tsp’s) and not a single gram of fresh, nutritious food to support basic systems of the body or the proper growth and development of an adolescent (not to mention the fuel necessary for his brain to learn, retain, and reason in school.
Not only are the short term effects detrimental — inability to sustain focus, low energy, mood swings — but over time, the toll becomes greater on the human body, often with symptoms of elimination issues, headaches, allergies, depression, inflammation, sallow skin, early puberty, endocrine system disruption, inability to sleep, lack of energy, and inability to focus. To make matters worse, if continued, these symptoms can become diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
We must make changes today in an effort to save the health of our children. The work is ours to do, but we must also partner with our schools.
The first line of defense is education (ironic since most of our children receive a large percentage of their food intake at school). The focus on education needs to change from, “eat your veggies” to one that educates on the relationship between health and wellness and fresh, healthy food. The relationship must be explored and developed. Children are fully capable of understanding the vital role food plays in good health and conversely, how bad “food” choices make your body feel bad and not function properly.
A typical school plate lunch contains foods that are heavily processed, full of preservatives, sodium, fillers, emulsifiers, MSG, sugar, hydrogenated oils, shortening, margarine, artificial dyes, artificial sweeteners, artificial flavorings, and colorings (not to mention meats laden with nitrates and nitrites). Foods are commonly fried and breaded in an effort to make them appealing to kids. Drinks, chips, desserts, and sugar-filled drinks are offered without controls. Children learn to dump their plate lunch food and only consume the sugar drink (or just as bad, ordering tea and spiking it with multiple packets of Splenda, which is 600 times sweeter than cane sugar and created by mixing sucrose with chlorine).
Schools across America also provide vending machines with sports drinks and sodas (containing BVO, HFCS, citric acid, and sodium benzoate), chips filled with chemicals, flavorings, and salt, and sugar-laden candy. And the à la carte available to kids each day typically include items like pizza and french fries (full of cancer-causing acrylamide).
You can continue the education process by exploring good food choices with your children. If your child eats school food, evaluate the menu with them, discuss their likes and dislikes, and help them make better choices from the offerings with a focus on avoiding vending machine purchases, desserts and processed foods and instead indulging in fresh salads, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, and water. You could also send them to school with their favorite healthy protein, such as nuts and seeds. If a proper source of fresh, nutritious food can not be obtained from the school lunchroom source, plan and prepare a daily lunch at home. And enlist your kids to help. Get them involved, letting them partake in some hands-on learning while they take responsibility for their health. Last but not least, work with your school on offering fresh healthy choices in the lunchroom.
Here are my guidelines for the lunchroom:
Opt for pure water. Skip the milk offered at school, as it is not organic. Non-organic dairy is a major source of antibiotics and hormones in our food supply. Flavored milk is even worse, as it contains corn syrups and sugars that make is more like soda than milk. Similarly, skip tropical punches which contain sugar and dyes, iced teas, sports drinks in favor of pure, hydrating water. (After all, the human brain is mostly made of water.)
Implement a no dessert policy. Just because they are kids, does not mean they are “entitled” to sweets! Kids are entitled to be healthy and strong. I only offer desserts at home a couple times per week. Dessert should be an occasional treat, not a standard. I also encourage my kids to satisfy their sweet tooth with nature’s dessert- fruit!
Embrace veggies. Choose the salad bar or other fresh, raw, unprocessed (this includes no lunch meats) foods. If your school does not offer a fresh salad bar, select any fresh food option in the school line and ask for a double fresh portion, and skip the chicken fried meat, hot dog, hamburger, pizza, chicken nuggets, et al.
Review safe protein options with your children. This is the most challenging component to a healthy lunch room meal. Discuss beans (including burritos), soups, nut butters (containing no sugar or hydrogenated oils), and other alternative proteins. Be prepared to supplement from home. Almond butter packets, sprouted wheat tortillas, chicken breast leftovers from the previous night’s dinner are all great options.
Nixed packaged and vending processed foods. Much like the rule to shop the perimeter of a grocery store, teach your child to stay away from vending machines and individual-sized packaged chips, snack foods, and candy.
If you do prepare a homemade lunch for your kiddos, here are a few suggestions to “shake it up” a bit:
86 the sandwich bread. As an alternative to sandwich bread, use protein rich, sprouted wheat tortillas. Top with chopped grilled chicken, avocado, chopped organic red and yellow peppers and salsa. No grilled chicken? You can substitute black or pinto beans and throw on some broccoli sprouts, broccoli slaw, or chopped greens. Serve with hummus and carrots, celery, and red cabbage strips. Other alternatives to sandwich bread include, whole grain crackers (I love Mary’s Gone Crackers), a fresh romaine lettuce leaf to wrap food in, or a bed of organic greens with sliced protein and fresh veggies on top. Use sliced veggies and fruit to dip, push and eat with foods such as nut butters (instead of bread), hummus, and turkey breast (whole cooked, not processed). I even wrap my organic grass fed hamburger patty in romaine lettuce and top with avocado. Avoid the sandwich rut!
Double down on dinner. While making dinner the night before, double the recipe and package the leftovers (in a glass container with proper re-usable ice packs) for lunch. Add a fresh fruit medley, an organic apple, and a whole grain organic graham cracker with organic nut butter to round it out.
Serve it hot. Small meal size ceramic bowls with lids are a mom’s best friend when it comes to sending something hot to school for kids. Let your child know not to expect a pipping hot meal equivalent to what they get on the dinner table. When the food is delicious, children will be okay with this. Make some fresh whole grain pasta, toss with a dash of olive oil, some mixed veggies (such as frozen peas, carrots, and corn) added to boiling pasta water in the last 2 minutes of cooking, and a spoon full of marinara sauce. Wrap the outside of the bowl in heavy duty foil to insulate, and cover the top of bowl with parchment paper prior to placing the lid on the bowl. Serve with an organic cheddar cheese slice and organic apple slices.
Be a copy cat. Check out local lunch spots and the prepared food items at Whole Foods for ideas of what to send for your kiddos. Take notes. Do it yourself doesn’t have to be hard.
Start a special treat or theme day. Designate one day of the week a theme. It’s amazing how kids look forward to this. For example, every Friday is “Pizza Day” for my kiddos. On Thursdays, Whole Foods has their fresh 3-topping, brick oven pizzas on sale for $9.99. We purchase a grilled chicken, olive, and veggie pizza on Thursday, and on Friday morning I heat it up in the oven, slice it, and wrap the slices in parchment paper. I then place the pizza in large glass containers with lid and wrap in foil to insulate. You can serve with fresh greens, apple slices, fruit salad, or a veggie medley (sweet peppers, carrots, celery) and you’re good to go.
Most lunch offenders are like anytime food offenders — they often come in the name of cheap and easy.
These obstacles can easily be overcome with a little planning, education, and determination and will reap dividends in our precious children’s health.
We are Moms. Crusaders for our cause… our kids.