It is back to school time and everyone is gearing up for the new school year. New crayons, backpacks, clothes… why not think about a new approach to your child's lunch. Listed below are the top 9 items you should NOT send with your child to school for lunch and what you can easily replace those items with. Let's start your child off on the right foot to a great school year and a healthy life.
1. White processed breads, instead, use 100% whole wheat.
Did you know that there is a difference in breads that claim to be whole wheat compared to 100% whole wheat? Companies can claim whole wheat on their packaging if the bread contains over 51% whole wheat, meaning there is still bleach used in the refining process. If you want to take bleach out of your child's diet, only serve 100% whole wheat products. Another alternative would be whole wheat tortillas, or even a gluten-free bread. The best alternative is a homemade bread so you know exactly what is in it and what your child is eating.
2. Juice boxes/sodas, instead, pack homemade lemon aid or flavored water.We can sum this up in one word… Sugar!!!!! Sodas and juice box are chalked full of more "simple" sugar than a child should consume in a single day! Simple sugar is very different from the complex sugars found in natural fruits and vegetables. Why is this a big deal? In the short term, simple sugars affect: mood, behavior, attentiveness, ability to concentrate, and immune system (your body's ability to make white blood cells). In the long term, simple sugars have been known to cause childhood obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Also in recent news there has been several reported cases of mold growing in the juice boxes! Yuck! So what should you send your child to school with? Water is the number one choice for hydration and health, but if you child doesn't like the taste of water, flavor it up with organic fruits such as lemons, strawberries, oranges, or even pineapple. Your child and your child's teacher will thank you for not pumping them full of sugar in the middle of the school day.
3. Prepackaged lunches, instead, anything homemade!
We all know that packaged foods are lacking in nutrients and full of chemicals that have all kinds of harmful effects on our children. But, a recent study (article on study), on Lunchables shows that the high salt content affects circulation and therefore blood pressure just 30 minutes after eating a Lunchable. The better alternative would be anything that you can make at home, so you know exactly what is in it. This week try organic hummus, spread and rolled up on a 100% whole wheat tortilla. Super easy and healthy!
4. Sports drinks, instead, drink water or flavored fruit water.
The misconception about sports drinks is that they are actually good for our children. What isn't so widely known is that the ingredients in sports drinks, such as electrolytes, can actually be harmful to children. Even though these drinks are marketed toward school-aged children, they are formulated for professional athletes who perspire for long periods of time. When your body perspires you lose electrolytes, which your body naturally regulates, without the help of sports drinks. But if you perspire a lot, for very long periods of time, these sports drinks help to replace the electrolytes for maximum hydration. When you give a sports drink to your child who isn't a professional athlete and isn't sweating for 10 hours a day, you run the risk of throwing off that balance of electrolytes, sodium, and water in their body. Affects of drinking sports drinks, can be dizziness, nausea, excessive need to urinate, and in extreme cases; damage to the liver. Instead, give your child water or homemade organic fruit water with no added sugar.
5. Lunch meats/hotdogs, instead, Healthy Proteins.
Any kind of overly processed meat such as deli lunch meats and hotdogs are high in nitrates as well as sodium. The worst offender of this is bologna and hotdogs, which are also made with meat byproducts and fillers too. If you have to use meat in a sandwich choose a leaner whole meat like ham or roast beef. An easy option to keep protein in your child's lunch is to use left over homemade chicken or roast beef from dinner the night before. Make sure the meat is hormone free and organic. A vegetarian option would be almond butter, nuts, seeds, hard boiled eggs, and cheeses.
6. High fructose corn syrup, instead, use natural complex sugars.
When it comes to the dreaded high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) you really have to read product labels, and when in doubt, make it at home so you can control what is put in your food. Organic sugar is better to use than white sugars, natural complex sugars found in fruits are the absolute best choice, and anything made at home is better than HFCS. Why is HFCS so bad for you? Well there have been entire books written about how HFCS is so bad for you, but the main point is the process of making HFCS. This process takes corn and chemically engineers it into a 55-45 fructose to glucose ratio, which makes things sweeter (and cheaper to make) than average sugar. But this biochemistry concoction it doesn't absorb into our bodies like normal sugar. Instead of being digested, it is rapidly absorbed into your blood stream causing minor and major problems with all systems in your body. So, how to help cut this out of your diet? Read labels and make more foods at home. For your child's lunch give them the complex natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables instead of the HFCS found in processed foods and beverages.
7. Cereal bars or Candy instead, try homemade snacks.
Cereal bars that are sold in stores are usually full of sugar and fruit 'flavoring'. If you are sending a cereal bar with your child be sure to read the label and stay away from HFCS and artificial flavors. Another risk of store-bought cereal bars is if your child has a peanut allergy, since a lot of the producing of these types of products happens in factories that also produce peanuts. Most of the time it is written on the label somewhere if they were produced in the same factory with peanuts. Instead, try making a cheaper alternative at home. Cook oatmeal with organic pureed fruits like strawberries. Let the oatmeal cool and then roll into bite size balls. Your children will have fun making these with you and eating them too! You could also try homemade organic gold fish (click here for recipe).
8. Vinyl and Plastic Containers, instead, use metal, glass, or cloth.
This list wouldn't be complete if I didn't mention the containers themselves, because it is so important not only to the health of your family but also to our environment. Stop using plastics… just stop. Seriously. Plastic starts to breakdown soon after it is made in a very slow process of release tons of chemical compounds into our food, environment, and our bodies. (This includes plastic baggies, and tupperware.) These chemicals we are ingesting have been shown to cause cancer, infertility in men, and neurological problems. The new craze is BPA free plastic which is a good start but still doesn't solve all the chemical problems plastic has. Vinyl which has become popular for children's lunch bags because of all the cool colors and designs it comes in… but vinyl also contains chemicals that release in our air and food. VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds is what gives those vinyl lunch pouches that 'new' fresh-from-the-factory smell and has been shown to be harmful. Instead, try metal boxes or lunch cylinders, or even try your hand at making your own cloth tote! These options are not only better for your child and the food they will consume but for the environment as well. Click here for Free DIY Tutorial.
9. Empty Calories, instead, try veggies, fruits, and good proteins.
Empty calories come from solid fats or added sugars in foods that have little to no nutritional value. Examples of the empty calories can be found in cakes, cookies, sodas, energy/sports drinks, juice boxes, ice cream, chips, donuts, and hotdogs. Calories are good for our children, who are in the middle of growing, but only if they are accompanied with nutrients. You can switch out your child's empty calories for veggie sticks, unsweetened applesauce, a banana with almond butter, or yogurt with berries.
The goal of a healthy school lunch is to give your children real foods made at home with natural and organic ingredients. Make as much as you can at home, so you are in total control of what your family is eating, and if you can't make it, read labels so you know exactly what you are getting. Food is fuel and the best foods will keep your child healthy and ready to take on the rest of the school day!
Some great websites to check out: