Heading Back To School

You’ve got the backpack, the #2 pencils, and an emergency pencil sharpener for those mishaps on test day, some funky neon highlighters, brand new sneakers and a chemistry book so thick it doesn’t actually fit into the new backpack. But are you really ready for that first day back at school? That depends; did you do your homework?

Before you or your child head back to school, you should already know what’s offered on the cafeteria menu and which of those foods harbor undesirable ingredients. Cafeterias tend to serve meals that are appealing to kids – pizza, spaghetti, hot dogs, etc. These lunches can be loaded with artificial colors and flavorings, refined carbohydrates and dozens of other additives that no spelling bee champ could figure out. College dining halls aren’t much better; though there typically is a salad bar, the vegetables may have been subjected to pesticides by farmers so it’s important to do research before sending your kids out the door with lunch money.

Here are a few commonly added ingredients to watch out for: nitrites, iodized salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), saccharin, xylitol, sulfites, olestra, Trans fat, BHA, BHT, and potassium bromate. These additives are used to maintain product consistency, enhance flavors and preserve nutrient values, but many have been linked to dangerous health problems like cancer, allergic reactions similar to asthma, and metabolic inefficiency. Also, anything that has the word “enriched” simply means manufactures had to add vitamins and minerals to the product because it was stripped of all its nutrients during the refining process rendering it unusable by the body.

Most schools post their menus online, but to get a list of ingredients, you will have to call the school. If they tell you they don’t keep an ingredient log, chances are you don’t want to eat anything they serve. Our advice…brown bag it!

Most college dorms come equipped with a communal kitchen. If you have a hard time finding acceptable meals in the cafeteria, try to use your meal tickets or money cards on lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (use the produce spray on the next page before eating), whole grain breads and the most nutritious foods they have to offer. Be sure to take all your vitamins and stock your mini-fridge with healthy foods. Don’t be afraid to cook your own meals!

Lunchbox Tips

Should you decide packing is the way to go, here are a few tips to help you make it through the year. Remember, variety and prep work are keys that will keep you from taking the easy route and zipping through the cafeteria line.

  1. Think ahead – Packing the night before or preparing several lunches at once is a big time savor and eliminates some of the typical morning chaos.
  2. Invest – Purchase several ice packs to keep your foods cold and a sturdy thermos for soups or hot water. “Fantastic Foods” makes different Cup-O-Soups that are great for packing (Don’t forget to pack hot water in your nifty thermos!).
  3. Be creative – Turn last night’s grilled chicken into Alphabet Soup, chicken salad or make a meat and veggie wrap.
  4. Variety – Buy an array of organic fruits and vegetables to mix and match throughout the week. Think outside the norm, carrots and apples are not your only options! Wander through the organic section of your grocery and try new things such as kumquats, figs, papayas, kiwi or frozen grapes or blueberries.
  5. Salads – Make a big salad out of nutritious leafy greens such as endive, kale, and spinach and eat it throughout the week. Add different toppings each day to keep it interesting (i.e. hard boiled eggs, chicken, pecans, sunflower seeds, mangos, avocados etc.). Adding salad mix to wraps or sandwiches also makes your lunch prep work go a little quicker.
  6. H2O – Always remember to pack your own bottle of reverse osmosis water.
  7. Dessert – “Betty Lou’s Smackers”, “Betty Lou’s Krispy Bites”, “Blissbars” or a serving of fruit salad.
  8. Let the kids help – Ask your kids for suggestions on what they would like to eat and have them help pack their lunches. Always encourage them to try new things!
  9. Explain – Tell your kids why it’s so important to eat a healthy lunch, how junk food affects the body and the benefits of vitamins and minerals. Other kids will probably ask them why they pack their lunch everyday. Now your children will have the answers.