Category Archives: Nutrition

Healthy School Lunches


Healthy School Lunches

Reprinted from The Wellness Family Newsletter

Parents today recognize the importance of feeding their children healthy nutritious foods. The problem is that the cafeteria has become just another franchise; foods aren’t healthy and well-balanced. Vending machines offer chips, cookies, sodas and a myriad of other junk foods that children shouldn’t be eating. This creates a challenge to parents that many have decided to ignore.

Assuming that it’s a lost cause, some parents have rationalized that the rest of their meals are healthy and nutritious so why worry about what their children are eating for lunch. This is a dangerous misconception considering what is being served in the majority of school cafeterias.

What’s being served?

Although programs have begun to appear over the past few years addressing the problem, the fact is that not much has changed. The majority of entrees served on school campuses include pizza, Sloppy Joes, cheeseburgers, spaghetti, hotdogs and corn dogs.

It’s rare that you will see anything made with fish and chicken; unless it’s fish sticks and chicken nuggets, which contain processed meat that is breaded and deep fried. This is not nutritious.

The Traditional Sandwich

Commonly found in the packed lunch is a sandwich; the problem is that bad choices can be made here as well. White bread bought at the store contains bleached flour. And don’t be fooled by the word “enriched”, as adding back a portion of the vitamins removed during the bleaching process doesn’t undo the damage.

Additional poor sandwich choices include peanut butter which has hydrogenated oil; and as much as parents want to believe differently, jelly is not a source of fruit but is high in processed sugar. Pre-packaged, processed meats and cheeses should also be avoided as they are high in chemicals and salt.

Better sandwich choices include whole wheat bread with a lot of grains, and almond butter instead of peanut butter. Also, be creative. Try to put vegetables into a sandwich as much as possible.
For instance, baked turkey or chicken with lettuce, cucumbers, sprouts, red peppers – maybe even some beans sprinkled inside make a tasty protein.

Perfect Packing

Part of putting together a healthy packed lunch is having the right storage containers. Be sure to use an insulated lunch box that will hold up to four small food containers and a thermos.

When purchasing the containers you should buy at least two sets; this will help you to avoid having to wash them each night. As for the thermos, be sure that it is the wide mouth variety; this will be necessary if you wish to use it for beans or soup.


“It’s rare that you will see anything made in a school cafeteria with fish or chicken”

The Beverage

When it comes to healthy lunches, milk, juice and soda should be avoided at all cost. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that juice consumption is contributing to cavities and gastrointestinal issues for children.

The best choice is a small bottle of water: open the bottle, remove an extra tablespoon or two of the water to avoid expansion problems when freezing, then put it in the freezer with the lid off. In the morning replace the lid then put it in the lunchbox. This will not only be a healthy beverage at lunch, but will succeed in keeping the other items in the lunch box nice and cold.

The Entrée

Great sources of protein that can be put in a small lunch container are cubes of baked chicken, turkey or ham. This does not include processed meat that you buy at your grocery store; but should be prepared at home and cut into bite sized pieces. Remember that you can freeze these in small portions and use them randomly over several weeks.

Another great sandwich option is a healthy wrap. This can be done by purchasing whole grain tortillas and wrapping up healthier protein and vegetable sources.

A hard boiled egg is also a great source of protein. And don’t forget that wide mouthed thermos you purchased; beans are an excellent source of protein and can be served in a thermos with organic tortilla chips for dipping. You may also consider providing your child with some of last night’s stew heated up.

The Side Dishes

Most children don’t consider a meal as lunch unless there are chips and cookies though these must be avoided at all cost. The side dishes for your children should be tasty green vegetables; remember that greener is better.

Fruit is also a great side dish, but while it is healthy, it is also a source of sugar and not as rich in vitamins and minerals as vegetables. Serve fruit just once for every five servings of vegetables. Remember that it should be fresh, organically grown fruit; fruit roll-ups are not fruit.

Also consider inviting your child to help you prepare vegetable soup or vegetarian chili. These can be put in a thermos and taken to school over the span of a week.

Consider putting together a grain salad. This can include couscous or steamed long grain brown rice with chopped cucumbers, red peppers, baby carrots, or any other similar vegetable. You may also choose to marinate the chopped vegetables in a salad dressing for a few days prior to preparing the salad. Drain the vegetables and then mix them in. This will add moisture to the salad without having to add excess dressing.

Going Organic

Organically grown foods are slightly more expensive but worth it. The price of providing foods that are free of pesticides, growth hormones, hydrogenated oils and artificial additives and preservatives is high.
It’s important to note that organic foods are also more filling. By providing your child with smaller portions of healthier foods you’ll be spending the same amount of money without providing them with the cheaper foods. These cheaper foods are not just less expensive, but they lack nutrition. You’re paying less but you’re getting less in return.

Create a Menu

No one knows better than your own child what they’re going to eat, so let them help you prepare their lunches. Remember that if they like what their eating they will bring home an empty lunchbox.

The best way to accomplish this is to insure that their options are only healthy choices but with variety. This can be made easy by creating a mix-and-match menu. Using a white board, poster board or similar display, draw out five columns and label them for each day of the week.

Then using color-coded post-it notes, index cards or by printing on colored paper, create a square for each lunch option. For example, their protein options would be on blue, vegetables would be on green and fruits would be on yellow.

Every Sunday, let your child help you prepare their menu by picking the appropriate cards and placing them in the column for each day. You and your child can then begin prepackaging those options that can be frozen or stored for a few days.

In Summary

It’s important that your children like their lunches but it’s more important that their bodies get the vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need to develop and grow properly.

The Fast Food Dilemma


The Fast Food Dilemma

Reprinted from The Wellness Family Newsletter

It’s six o’clock and you just picked up the kids from soccer practice, or perhaps you just got off work and picked up your children from day care; regardless, you’re running late and you know that there’s nothing prepared for dinner. The kids are asking for McDonald’s again and perhaps you’re thinking, “What’s the harm? It’s so much easier than going home and cooking. At this rate, we won’t eat until seven. Yes, I think McDonald’s is the answer.” McDonald’s is never the answer.

What’s the Harm?

The American Psychological Association has recognized that there is more to our obesity problem than just genes or lack of exercise. In a recent article, Dr. Kelly Brownell said that the problem isn’t so much a lack of self control as it is a “toxic food environment”. Every street corner has an option for fast food and none of them are healthy. Obviously, we know this, but the convenience outweighs a critical concern for our daily dietary needs being met.

Of course, Brownell acknowledges that genes and self- control play a role in obesity, diabetes and the myriad of other health problems that result from unhealthy eating habits; but, in his view, both face a losing battle against the overabundance and availability of bad or unhealthy food choices.

Brownell is particularly concerned about the advertising allowed for fast food restaurants. Joe Camel has been taken off billboards because of his obvious negative influence on our children and yet Ronald McDonald and his friends are considered cute so they take a starring role in commercials broadcast when children are most likely to be watching TV. “How different are they in their impact,” Brownell challenges, “In what they’re trying to get kids to do?”

High-fat, high-sugar and high-calorie abound, serving sizes keep increasing and, thanks to the drive-thru, the exercise we might have gotten by getting out of our cars and walking into the eating establishment has even been eliminated. In this western culture of convenience, it’s become too easy to give up on being healthy and just eat whatever we can get our hands on the fastest with no regard for the future health problems that will arise. Of course, diabetes and high blood pressure have become the least of our concerns.


“If fast food is bad, then trans-fat is evil,” writes Guto Harri in a recent article from the BBC News. Trans-fats increase the damaging cholesterol content of a meal, clog arteries and increase the risk of heart attack.

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils or trans-fats:

  • Turn oily foods into semi-solid foods (Oreo cookie filling, etc.)
  • Extend the shelf life of products
  • Are put in pastries, margarine and fast foods
  • Have no nutritional benefit


“The problem isn’t so much a lack of self-control as it is a ‘toxic food environment’…”

Obviously, the growing concern about premature death and rising obesity has made trans-fats a major target. It’s been determined that even a small reduction in the daily consumption of trans-fats can significantly cut the risk for heart disease and can help lower the levels of “bad” cholesterol.

This concern has been made known to all of the major fast food chains and yet only a few have done something about it. Wendy’s quit using cooking oil containing trans-fats in the summer of 2006 and, by April of 2007, all Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants will have ceased their use. McDonalds promised to reduce trans-fats in its products over four years ago and “aims to roll-out a new cooking oil” this year. Still, trans-fats aren’t the end of the fast food story.

Cancer Risk

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has recently filed suit against seven major restaurants and fast food chains in the state of California. They include: McDonald’s, Burger King,Chick-fil-A, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse and TGI Friday’s. The reason for the suit, these companies are knowingly serving food containing carcinogens without a health warning to the consumer.

PCRM commissioned an independent laboratory to test grilled chicken products from California outlets of all seven chains. PhIP (one of a group of carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines) was found in every grilled chicken sample provided for testing.

Heterocyclic amines were added to the list of known carcinogens in 2005 and PhIP, specifically, has been on the California governor’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer for more than a decade.

“Grilled chicken can cause cancer, and consumers deserve to know that this supposedly healthy product is actually just as bad for them as high-fat fried chicken,” says PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D. “Even a grilled chicken salad increases the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer and other forms of this lethal disease.”

What was once considered the healthy option on the average fast food menu has become the deadliest.

So, what do we do?

It’s time to consider that the only way that fast food restaurants will start sharing our growing concern for healthier eating choices is if we stop buying their products. It’s time to seriously consider the risk to ourselves and our children and weigh those risks against the “convenience” being offered by “fast food”.

We have other options. Fast food is not our only choice.

  • Always at the top of the list is the deli counter at your local grocery store. Most delis now offer rotisserie chickens for a reasonable price, homemade soups by the pint and bags of prepared tossed green salad
  • Of course, remember that the greener the salad the better; iceberg lettuce is mostly water and has little or no nutritional value
  • Another great idea is to talk with a friend or parent who loves to cook about preparing meals in advance for your family. Some of the most time consuming steps to cooking can be done in advance (chopping vegetables, etc.)
  • You can offer to pay or barter for this service, or your mother may want the excuse to see the grandkids once a week and prep meals that feed more than two

In Summary

It’s too easy to give in to the pressure of “there isn’t enough time to fix a healthy meal”. Yet the facts are clear: fast food cannot be an option.

Consider the following ideas for healthier eating:

  • Prepare a menu each week and stick to it
  • Sunday should be “prep day”: chop vegetables and prepare casseroles then freeze them for future use
  • Consider purchasing prepared meats (boneless skinless chicken breast, etc.) that can be defrosted and quickly prepared
  • The Crockpot is gaining popularity again and healthy recipes aren’t hard to find. Prep the food in the morning and when you get home from work, dinner is ready to serve