AUSTIN, Texas (July 30, 2002) For many parents, back to school means back to routine and the daily grind of getting children, spouse and self out the door in the morning. Rushed and hectic schedules allow little time to think about what to make for dinner, let alone the immediate concern of the ingredients for a nutritious school lunch. This often leads parents scrambling to gather the “same old” lunch daily or resorting to prepackaged foods that are not necessarily the most healthful options.
With increasing concerns about childhood obesity and diabetes in the United States and the Surgeon General reporting levels of obesity at epidemic proportions, the new school year provides an opportunity to examine the contents of the school lunchbox. Whole Foods Market, the world's largest natural and organic supermarket, has done its homework to develop some tips for packing a lunch full of nutrition, variety and flavor but without the hydrogenated fats, excess calories and artificial ingredients.
“As parents learn to read labels, to distinguish the 'good' ingredients from the not-so-good ones, and to truly understand what they are feeding their children, they will be better equipped to easily assemble a meal that provides a child with more of the good nutrition they need,” said Alana Sugar, C.N. and nutritional consultant for Whole Foods Market. “It is possible to create well-balanced, great-tasting, kid-friendly lunches that are both convenient and nutritious.”
Whole Foods Market makes it easy to decide what to pack, with its line of Whole Kids™ products, the country's first and only organic food product line developed just for, taste-tested and approved by kids. With Whole Kids, parents can be assured their children will be enjoying products of the highest quality and free of artificial preservatives, colorings, sweeteners and flavors.
Labels 101 — The Secret to Balanced Nutrition
Growing children need a balance of protein, carbohydrates from whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables as well as natural, healthy fats for growth, according to Sugar. By examining labels, parents can discover:
- An item's ingredients, including partially hydrogenated fats, unnecessary additives, preservatives, artificial colors and sweeteners.
- Calorie, fat, fiber, sodium and sugar content.
- Reasonable portion sizes. For example, one small bag of potato chips may be more than one serving.
What Goes in the Lunchbox?
The Main Course
School lunches complete an important part of children's daily nutritional intake. Parents don't have to resuscitate the old standby of PB&J just to get kids off to school with a home-packed lunch. Alternatives such as wrap sandwiches, mini pizzas made on bagels or English muffins, colorful pasta salad with vegetables, or a steaming thermos of soup are easy to prepare in advance and offer a welcome change to the standard sandwich. By preparing the meal themselves, parents will know exactly what and how much their child is eating.
“Kids don't need to eat things they don't like in the name of nutrition. A little creativity can help revitalize some old standbys or help to inspire some new simple, delicious favorites,” Sugar said. “Every child needs a nutritious lunch, which should include a balance of healthy, natural foods from a variety of sources.”
Fruits and Veggies
Fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables are another important element and are the perfect kid-friendly foods. Fresh, organic apples or oranges can be sliced ahead of time. Under its signature Whole Kids line, Whole Foods Market offers pre-packaged organic apples that are the perfect size for children. If your little one needs some coaxing to eat veggies, a small container of hummus or ranch dressing is the perfect mate to a bag of bite-size carrots, green pepper strips, cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes. Other options include frozen grapes, melon chunks and banana slices. Fruits and vegetables are easy to pack and easy to eat — not just at school, but also as a snack to get your rising star through an after school sport or activity – and they pack a powerful nutritional punch!
Many kids cannot resist the temptation of chocolate milk or soda when given money to buy their drink at school. A wide variety of juice boxes and sodas are available but many are full of added sugar, artificial sweeteners and artificial colorings, not to mention caffeine. As with the entire lunchbox, read the labels to see how much added sugar is really in that juice. Whole Kids juice boxes, however, are available in organic grape or apple and contain 100 percent pure, organic fruit juice. An economical alternative to a prepackaged beverage is to fill a small thermos with juice, water, milk, soy milk or juice diluted with a bit of sparkling water.
Tips and Recipes to Make a Lunch They'll Rave About
Following are some tips and ideas from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook, available August 27th, to keep things fresh and different:
- Try a cinnamon raisin pita pocket stuffed with cream cheese and shredded carrots.
- Spread all-natural peanut butter on whole wheat bread; add a banana and chopped dates.
- Hollow-out a red or green pepper and stuff it with tuna salad.
- Update your childhood version of “ants on a log” — Spread celery sticks with peanut butter or cream cheese and add sliced almonds for extra crunchiness.
- Hollow-out an apple filled with a mixture of farmer's cheese, granola and raisins.
- Wrap thinly sliced turkey or nitrate-free deli luncheon meats around cheese sticks, dill pickles or carrot sticks.
To keep lunch fresh: Pack lunch in a small reusable cooler bag or insulated container to reduce waste, and insure that items stay fresh and cool. A reusable, frozen ice pack will keep perishable contents cold and fresh until lunch.
“Parents have the opportunity to shape the lifelong eating habits of their children and to help build nutritionally sound eating principles,” Sugar said. “Parents can ensure their children receive the nutrients necessary to grow up healthy and strong. By reading labels and understanding what kids are eating, parents will find it easy and rewarding to pack a lunch full of tasty, natural alternatives that kids are sure to enjoy. Just a little effort can help their children get a smart start to the school year.”
Contact the sources listed above for photos, product samples, store tours and/or to set up an interview with Alana Sugar or Whole Foods Market.