Today's guest post comes from Heather Martin, N.D. -- a naturopath, mother, and wellness blogger from Eastern Canada. Heather is a curator of all things awesome on her excellent blog, The Acorn -- Wellness, Inspiration, Beauty.
It may come as some surprise that many of the biggest lunchbox villains are marketed as healthy choices for kids. These companies, after all, want to make money, not feed your kids nutritious food. Labels like ‘low fat’, ‘sugar free’, or ‘all natural’ are purposely deceptive. A quick perusal of a food’s ‘Nutrition Facts’ often bears out a far different story than the one being trumpeted in splashy print across the front of the box.
The following childhood standards are widely viewed by parents as nutritious options. And who could blame them; the marketing budgets behind these products could fund some small countries. Remember, packaged food is BIG business - whereas an apple is just an apple.
1. Granola Bars
With names like ‘Nutri-Grain’, ‘Oats n’ Honey’, and ‘Fibre One’, you would expect granola bars to be packed with good stuff for your kids. The reality is that they contain anywhere from 9 to 20 grams of sugar. To put that in perspective, 5 grams equals roughly 1 teaspoon of sugar. At the top end of the spectrum, that little bar contains a whopping 4 teaspoons of sugar. Let’s call a spade a spade: at this point, it’s a chocolate bar.
Swap for a homemade version or high-energy snacks, like nuts or a banana.
2. Luncheon Meats
This sandwich staple should be avoided at all costs. Freshly sliced cold cuts from the deli counter are fine if they are nitrate-free. But pre-packaged meats, unless you can find an organic brand, are usually loaded with preservatives, sodium, and most problematically, nitrates, a known carcinogen.
Swap for canned salmon, hard boiled eggs, leftovers, or fresh, nitrate-free cold cuts.
3. Yogurt Cups
Yogurt cups are, quite simply, dessert masquerading as a healthy lunch staple. Even when they’re devoid of questionable preservatives, the sugar content is sky high. At 19 to 29 grams per cup, flavored yogurt manages to make even granola bars look good. That’s more sugar than a Twinkie!
Swap for plain kefir or plain, whole fat yogurt.
4. 'Low Fat’ and ‘Fat Free’ Foods
First, if it advertises this on the label, you’re automatically buying a processed food. Second, fat is often replaced with sugar, which your body ingests and then turns into fat. Third, there are many, many, healthy fats, and your brain (amongst other organs!) needs these healthy fats to function. Last but not least, naturally occurring fats help us digest our food; once removed they can cause all sorts of digestive issues. Do not, I repeat, do not fall prey to this marketing gimmick. It’s making us all sick.
Swap for real food from your kitchen. Do your best to avoid packaged and processed.
5. Juice Boxes
Back to those pesky added sugars again. Any label that reads ‘fruit punch’, ‘fruit blend’, or ‘all natural flavour’; beware. This is Kool-aid in disguise, my friends. Even 100% juice contains all the sugar and none of the fibre or vitamins of a piece of fruit (that part has been processed out).
Swap for fruit and a reusable bottle of water.
Knowledge is power: learning to steer clear of these ‘healthy’ imposters in your grocery aisles gives you the power to opt out of a system that enriches itself at the cost of our well being. Far from making your kids healthy and happy, these products are high in preservatives, sugar, sodium, trans fats, and ingredients no normal person can pronounce. In other words, the very things that are making our kids sick.
When packing their lunchbox, keeping it real is your best bet. If you stick with whole foods, you’re already way ahead of the curve. Think hummus and raw vegetables, a homemade bean salad, or almond butter and an apple. With a little advance planning, it’s easy to get into the habit of swapping lunchbox villains for real food favorites. A very little extra effort will pay off in a delicious, nutritious meal to help your family feel their best, both in and out of school.