School is back, and with its return comes that pesky question of what to pack for lunch. 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.
It's handy to keep in mind that packaged food is BIG business - whereas an apple is just an apple.
5 Lunchbox Villains and How to Avoid Them
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, 4 grams equals roughly 1 teaspoon of sugar. At the top end of the spectrum, that little bar contains a whopping 5 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 such as a banana.
2. Luncheon Meats
This sandwich staple should be avoided. Freshly sliced meat from the butcher is fine, but packaged cold cuts, unless they’re organic, are loaded with preservatives, sodium, and most problematic, nitrates, a known carcinogen.
Swap for canned salmon, hard boiled eggs, hummus, and tofu.
3. Yogurt Cups
Yogurt cups are dessert masquerading as a healthy lunch staple. The sugar content of most is sky high. At 19 to 29 grams per cup, flavoured yogurt manages to make even granola bars look good. That’s more sugar than a twinkie!
Swap for plain yogurt, kefir, or cheese.
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 the brain needs these healthy facts to function.
Last but not least, naturally occurring fats help us digest our food; once removed they can cause all sorts of digestive issues.
Don't fall for this marketing gimmick, in your kids' lunchbox or your own.
Swap for homemade sandwiches, wraps, pasta, or dinner leftovers.
5. Juice Boxes
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.
When packing your kids' 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. 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.