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. What our children eat matters. 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.
The chicken. Chicken cooked at home can be an organic, free-range chicken that is not only high in protein, but also free from synthetic substances, like antibiotics, melamine, and pesticides, which have been linked to disease. For example, a 2018 study examined the effects on rodent’s reproductive systems when consuming caged chicken meat and found this group to have increased cholesterol levels, imbalanced steroidal sex hormone levels, and cyst development on the ovaries of the rats. This study concluded that consumption of caged chicken meat (when compared to uncaged chicken meat and vegetables) had harmful effects on the rodent’s reproductive organs (ovaries) and blood hormone profile.
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 any feed products, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Further, the USDA prohibits the use of drugs, including hormones, to promote growth in these animals.
The cheese. 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.
The vegetables that we send in the lunchbox can also be organic, which means that our children will not be consuming unwanted pesticides. What they will be consuming are many necessary micronutrients that help their bodies to grow and develop properly. For example, salsa made with tomatoes, onion, garlic, peppers, and cilantro will provide an array of micronutrients for proper growth and development. These are micronutrients like vitamin C (necessary for healthy bones, teeth, and blood vessels), and vitamin A (for vision), and minerals like magnesium for energy production and normal nerve and muscle function, among hundreds of other biochemical reactions in the human body.
The tortilla. 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 such as 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 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.”
This product that contains tortillas, chicken, cheese, and cookies lists more than 70 ingredients.
The chicken. Lunchables chicken ingredients include more than ten ingredients for their chicken patty. These include dextrose (sugar), potassium chloride, and sodium phosphates. The breading for the chicken lists 14 ingredients, like dextrose (sugar), modified corn starch, and caramel color. Next, the batter for the chicken includes nine ingredients which include dextrose (sugar), monosodium glutamate (MSG), and more caramel color. Finally, the seasoning for the chicken lists more than 20 ingredients like bleached wheat flour, modified corn starch, and soybean oil.
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 sodium citrate, sorbic acid (preservative), and cellulose powder.
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. These include 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 of trans fat consumption.
We can see from the comparison of these two chicken taco meals, that the home-made version contains nutrients that can support our children’s growth and development and can be free from harmful synthetic ingredients when we choose organic. However, 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. 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!”
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Ahmad, S., Ahmed, I., Haider, S., Batool, Z., Ahmed, F., Tabassum, S., . . . Saad, B. A. (2018). Effects of consumption of caged and un-caged chicken meat on ovarian health of female Wistar rats. Pakistan Journal of Zoology, 50(2) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/2092883401?accountid=158302
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