It’s back to school time & school lunches are always a controversial topic in our household. Since my son was in pre-school, it has been a subject up for debate. I want healthy, he wants tasty, & not so left of mainstream that he’ll be labelled the “weird food kid”. Fortunately it’s much easier today that it used to be. Here are some quick and easy choices that will keep your family happy & healthy.
1. Real cheese vs. processed cheese product (i.e. most American cheeses) – If you’re piling on the American cheese singles, you need to know that the reason it is labeled “Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product” is because it contains less than 51% cheese and the reason that it is cheap is because it’s made with extremely cheap ingredients. In our house we refer to it as “fake cheese”. If you’re concerned about the fats and calories in cheese, then consider a natural skim or part skim cheese. In addition, buy cheese in a block and slice it or shred it at home for affordability. If you’re still concerned about the fat in cheese, then consider that the U.S. consumes significantly less cheese compared to our European neighbors (i.e. half as much as Greece) & recent health reports show that our incidence of obesity, heart disease, cancer, & arthritis is twice as high. I’m not implying that it’s all about the cheese, but I do strongly imply that it is in part affected by our consumption of processed (fake) food.
2. Turkey instead of beef & ham products – Who doesn’t love bacon? I get it, but bacon is its own class of unhealthy for more reasons than just fat, but that is the subject of a future blog post. Give uncured turkey bacon & other uncured turkey products a shot, they’re delicious and turkey is a superfood! Why? Turkey contains less saturated fat than chicken, pork, or 95% lean ground beef, AND it typically has the same if not more protein (3 oz serving size). In addition, turkey is a good source of vitamin b6, b12, and niacin, is rich in zinc, and is an excellent source of selenium. Vitamin B’s are known to lower the risk for heart disease, zinc is a requirement for a healthy immune system, and selenium is critical for DNA repair, thyroid metabolism, immunity, antioxidant function, and has also been found to lower the risk of coronary artery disease.
3. Whole foods instead of processed foods – As is the case for bacon, who doesn’t love a good Velveeta sausage dip, mac-n-cheese, and I completely understand that those processed/cured meats sure are cheap, easy lunch inclusions. However, while those processed foods are convenient, we are paying an all too high price with our health. The U.S. has now sunk to 27th out of the 34 developed countries of the world with regard to overall health, disease, and life expectancy (http://bit.ly/14got7I). I, along with many other scientists believe that diet & lifestyle choices play a paramount role in our lagging health. Processed foods require preservatives, stabilizers, thickeners, colorants, flavors, ph control, emulsifiers, moisture control, clarifying, chelating, and bleaching additives. After all of that, how can you not envision an episode of the Jetson’s. More importantly, it doesn’t take a genius nor a scientist to figure out that we were a much healthier country of citizens when we were growing our own food, or at least eating food grown by our community, & getting ample exercise. If you’re not ready to make the whole foods jump quite yet (we’ll have lots of great recipes & ideas to come), aim for preservative/nitrite free & all natural lunch meats. Lastly, if whole roasted versus processed meats are available, choose the former.
4. Fresh fruits & veggies instead of chips or crackers – The latest recommendations for daily servings of fruits & veggies per person is 9. That’s 2 cups of fruit or 2.5 cups of veggies, on average. In our house the rule is to obtain a sweet reward, it requires 2 servings of a fruit or veggie. Have a finicky young one? Try adding a greek yogurt dip instead of ranch/blue cheese, they’ll likely not know the difference & they will be getting vital calcium & protein without the fat and preservatives.
5. Whole wheat & nuts instead of white bread and whole grain – Even if you or your family is opposed to whole wheat bread, the white wheat bread is a great alternative, and tastes the same. There are many emerging brands in addition to the Whitewheat brand from Nature’s Own, which are made from white wheat rather than red wheat, as is in traditional bread. This type of wheat is missing the gene for color, the whole grains council describes it as “albino” wheat. Most important, white wheat has a very similar nutritional profile, including fiber and protein. However, be careful not to confuse this with whole grain bread or bleached wheat flour products. In addition to whole wheat, adding nuts such as almonds & walnuts are a great way to add fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, protein, as well as many essential vitamins and minerals.
These are 5 great ways to increase your & your family’s health profile today. Check back in a few days for some great lunch time healthy recipes & ideas that are quick, easy, affordable, and portable.