So – I’m sad about this post. Sad because so many of us are working so doggone hard to provide awesome nutrition for our kids. And we are being misled (and that’s the kindest word I can use) by the food industry into making unhealthy lunch choices for our children. But I want you to have information so that you can make informed decisions about what you feed your family! Here’s a great start…
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We all want our children to perform their best at school – socially, academically, and emotionally. We do all we can to help them gain their independence, learn, make friends, and live up to their full potential. But what fuel are we giving them to get them through their long day? We give them what we’ve been told is healthy, am I right? Fruits? Lunches prepared with balanced nutrition? Dairy for calcium? What if I told you that you’ve been misled? What if some of the things that you trust to be healthy and nutritious for your children aren’t?
Why is lunch so important for children? Can’t we just make up the difference at breakfast or dinner?
Proper nutrition is also tied to better academic performance, so kids who eat unhealthy lunches are more likely to score lower on tests and have a harder time with schoolwork. There are long-term effects as well. According to a 2012 article written by registered dietitian Timi Gustafson, not getting enough essential nutrients at meals may lower kids’ IQ scores, memory capacities, fine motor skills, social skills and languages skills into early adulthood and beyond. A child’s poor dietary habits can even influence his sleep patterns, which may have an effect on cognitive behaviors and academic abilities. According to the results of a research review published in 2004 in the “British Journal of Nutrition,” children who are micronutrient-deficient may exhibit more aggressiveness, less mental endurance and lower intelligence test scores. (source)
Unhealthy Lunch Option #1: Fruit RollUps
Myth: Sounds good, right? The first word is fruit! Fruit is good… Let’s give our kids some fruit for lunch! Fruit roll ups are misleading. They are mostly sugar and very little fruit. Here’s a sample ingredient list for a fruit snack:
Apple juice Concentrate, dried apples, blackberry puree, strawberry puree, canola oil, Contains 2% or Less of: fruit pectin, lemon juice concentrate, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), black carrot juice concentrate, blueberry juice concentrate added for color, Natural Flavor, Citric acid, sodium sulfite added to protect flavor.
Ingredient number one is sugar. They call it apple juice concentrate but it’s basically sugar. You don’t get the beneficial fiber of an apple, and many of the nutrients present in a fresh apple have long ago disappeared in the process of turning to a juice and then a concentrated form. Same with the puree. (source)
Alternative: Try a fresh piece of fruit instead because it will include fiber and other nutrients, depending on the fruit. Apples, clementines, bananas, peaches, apricots, plums, pears, berries, and grapes – are all easy to toss into a lunchbox without any preparation. The original fast food! If you have the time, melon slices are favorites for most kids as well!
Unhealthy Lunch Option #2: Flavored Milk
Myth: Think you’re doing ok sending your child to school and telling her to pick up a milk? Maybe. But maybe not. Almost 70% of the milk sold at schools is flavored milk. Flavored milk is nutritionally different from plain milk. It contains added colors and flavors, sodium, and sugar. Flavored milks contain an average of 16 grams (4 teaspoons) of added sugar and up to 30 grams (8 teaspoons) of added sugar.
Alternative: Plain milk. But there are other things to look for that could make it even better. Try to avoid milk from cows treated with hormones. Organic is better. Organic milk from grass-fed cows is even better. Dairy from grass-fed cows is higher in micronutrient content and healthy fats. But it can be pricey and it won’t likely be available at your child’s school, so you would need to pack it. And you don’t have to get rid of all the fat in your milk! The fat content of the milk helps to make some of its most important vitamins available. Vitamins A D, E and K are fat soluble – meaning they need to be eaten with fat to be absorbed so you can’t get the benefits from them without some fat.
So the point of all this in NOT to make you feel like you’ve messed something up if you’ve ever put these things in your child’s lunchbox… I really want to provide you with information so that you can make the decisions that you really want to make. Here’s information so that you can make an informed choice about what your child eats throughout the day!
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