What our children eat matters
For many of us, August is a back-to-school month, which means that our children will be eating at least one meal each day during the week away from home. The food that they consume each day can help their bodies to grow and develop properly, or it can become an obstacle that leads to disease down the road.
Much of what is consumed on The Standard American Diet today is highly processed, convenience foods that tend to be more energy-dense, and nutrient-deficient. These are pre-made, packaged foods like breakfast cereal, potato chips, ramen noodles, granola bars, and Lunchables.
Let’s take a look at which lunch is more likely to support the proper growth and development of our child’s body, a homemade lunch (with similar ingredients) or a Lunchable.
Homemade School Lunch
Sending our children to school with a packed lunch each day may seem like a difficult task (and to be honest, some days it is a challenge), but there are ways to keep this simple without sacrificing the nutrition that supports their health.
One way is to make a bit extra when we are cooking dinner the night before. For example, if dinner on Tuesday is Tacos (Taco Tuesday is a “thing” here in Texas 😉), then Wednesday’s lunch can be…yes, you guessed it – tacos! You’ve already diced and cooked up the fixings the night before, so packing this into lunchboxes can be quick and easy, all it takes is a bit of planning.
Chicken tacos can come together quickly in the lunchroom, as our children use the tortilla, chicken, cheese, and veggies that have been packed to build their tacos. And, let’s face it, the building is a large part of the attraction with the prepacked Lunchables.
All About the Chicken
Chicken cooked at home can be an organic, free-range chicken that is rich in protein and vitamins and minerals
- niacin (B3) – A macronutrient that assists in converting food into energy.
- B6 – necessary for red blood cell formation to carry nutrients and oxygen to every cell of the body,
- selenium – necessary for proper immune function, and thyroid health.
The organic certification of poultry in the U.S. requires that the animal be raised on organic pastures, fed organic feed, and prohibits the use of antibiotics, GMO products, and animal-by-products or synthetic preservatives in the feed products. Further, the USDA prohibits the use of drugs, including hormones, to promote growth in these animals.
Que So the Cheeze-o
Cheese is a tasty processed dairy food, that provides many nutrients to the diet depending upon the type of milk used and the processing involved. For example, goat cheese is higher in protein, fat, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin E, and vitamin B6 than cow’s milk. It is also much easier to digest and recommended for people with gluten allergies.
As with home-cooked chicken, our cheese choice can be organic from cattle, sheep, or goats, certified organic by the USDA. Organic cheese from these ruminants must meet the organic requirements, which include; raised on organic land, fed organic crops and feed, managed without antibiotics, growth hormones, and produced without genetic modification, according to the USDA.
Heads up on the Veggies
The veggies we send in the lunchbox can also be organic, and add a little color and extra flavor. What they will be consuming are many necessary micronutrients that help their bodies to grow and develop properly. For example, salsa made with tomatoes, red onion, garlic, peppers, and cilantro will provide an array of nutrients and vitamins for proper growth and development. These are micronutrients like:
- Vitamin C – necessary for healthy bones, teeth, and blood vessels
- Vitamin A – for vision
- Magnesium – for energy production and normal nerve and muscle function, among hundreds of other biochemical reactions in the human body
- folate (B9) – is needed for DNA production and plays an integral role in proper neurological development during gestation and early infancy
- Vitamin B6 – is necessary for red blood cell formation
Red onions are rich in chromium, needed for proper insulin function and energy metabolism, and they contain more antioxidants (like quercetin and anthocyanins) than other forms of onions, which can help to reduce inflammation.
In addition to these nutrients, tomatoes are a major source of lycopene, an antioxidant that has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.
Wrap it all up
When we purchase a pre-made tortilla to send for lunch, it can be one that we know contains healthier ingredients. For example, an organic whole wheat flour tortilla can contain just a few ingredients: whole wheat, oil, baking powder, and salt. Just like the meat, cheese, and vegetables, the quality of the tortilla ingredients will lend to whether the product has health benefits or detriment. The fresh tortilla also lends to a better taco that our kids will want to eat, pack a little extra to share with friends!
Lunchables are no munchable for our kid’s health
The Kraft Heinz food company promotes their Mexican Style Chicken Tacos Lunchables this way: “Kids get to wrap Oscar Mayer Breaded Chicken Poppers and Kraft Shredded Cheese how they want into Mini Flour Tortillas. Their tasty trip comes to an end with Churro Cookies.”
Does this product promote breaded chicken poppers for a taco? More flour, sugar, and carbohydrates in the flour tortilla and “churro cookies”? This product lists more than 70 ingredients. Let that sink in. 70 ingredients of what?
Sugar Chicken patty for a taco?
The first question that comes to mind is, Where does the chicken come from and why is it covered in breading for a taco? Lunchables chicken ingredients include more than ten products that make up the chicken patty. These include dextrose (sugar), potassium chloride, and sodium phosphates. Chicken nuggets should be served as chicken nuggets, and not in a taco. There is no explanation as to where the chicken comes from. As a parent, do you question, is this chicken free from synthetic substances, like antibiotics, melamine, and pesticides, which have been linked to disease.
For example, a 2018 study examined the effects on the reproductive systems of mice when consuming caged chicken meat. The outcomes of this study group demonstrated an increase in cholesterol levels, imbalanced steroidal sex hormone levels, and cyst development on the ovaries. This study concluded that consumption of caged chicken meat (when compared to uncaged chicken meat and vegetables) had harmful effects on the mice’s reproductive organs (ovaries) and blood hormone profile.
A 2017 journal published A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association that concluded children are at an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases when they consume added sugar in their food. Further, added sugars contribute to an energy-dense, nutrient-poor diet which increases the risk of developing obesity, certain cancers, and dental problems like cavities.
A 2015 review published in the Journal of Biomedical Science found that chronic intake of monosodium glutamate (MSG) has the potential to reduce antioxidant enzymes, increase lipid peroxidation and fibrosis that can lead to renal toxicity and kidney damage.
The cheese. The Lunchables product contains a pasteurized prepared cheese product containing more than ten ingredients. These include (Pasteurized Part-Skim Milk, Water, Milk Protein Concentrate, Milkfat, Contains Less than 2% of Salt, Cheese Culture, Sodium Citrate, Sorbic Acid as a Preservative, Apocarotenal (Color), Enzymes, Cellulose Powder Added to Prevent Caking.
Skip the veggies, who needs macronutients?
Finally, we’ll conclude with the tortillas, as there are no vegetables listed in the product. The ingredient list shows about 20 ingredients that make up the tortillas. The shortlist states “contains wheat” The long list includes substances like vegetable shortening (trans fat), calcium propionate, and sugar.
A 2005 article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal states that the intake of trans fats increases the risk of heart disease as it raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels while lowering high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels. The article further states that there are no safe limits to trans fat consumption.
We can see from the comparison of these two chicken taco meals, that the homemade version contains nutrients that can support our children’s growth and development. As a parent, we can choose to provide a lunch free from harmful synthetic ingredients when we choose organic. The pre-made Lunchables chicken taco meal contains many chemicals linked to disease processes.
When our children consume clean, whole foods, their bodies receive the proper nutrition that can support their growth, development, and overall health. It only takes a few minutes to provide a lifetime of healthy habits.
However, when our children consume energy-dense, nutrient-deficient foods, their risk for developing chronic disease increases.
Psalms 22: 26 “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever!”