Until the food in Fairfax County Public School cafeterias improves – and it’s got a long way to go – I will be packing my kid’s lunches. Yes, I have an agenda. Like you, my family’s health is a top priority. I want my kids to succeed in the classroom. Making sure they are well-fueled during the day enables them to make the most of their academic experience. Filling them with the artificial additives, preservatives, dyes, extra sugars and fats from processed pre-packaged foods does not.
I take brown-bagging seriously, and so should you. Because, yes, you can buy a lot of convenient options that take the work part out of it for you, but that decision may be undermining your student’s educational prowess.
Assuming you’ve sent your child out of the house with a healthy breakfast to jump start their school day, a healthy packed lunch should be a quality source of energy to get them through the rest of the afternoon. It may seem a tall order, but that lunch should enable them to sustain their attention span, maintain consistent, composed behavior and enhance their ability to learn. In the processed food world, there are a lot of elements that can undermine that goal.
Foods high in sugar – which can masquerade as many names – affect your kid’s blood sugar level, making it difficult for them to concentrate or cause hyperactivity or even sleepiness. A teacher’s time is ill-spent if he or she has to peel sugared-up kids off the wall all afternoon.
Preservatives and food colorings can cause behaviors similar to ADHD in many children, and low-quality, nutrient-diminished foods simply mean your child cannot possibly get the nutrients he or she needs to develop and thrive. Deconstruct for yourself the ingredient list on those popular yellow cardboard box lunches or clever little tubes of yogurt and think, “Would I buy these individual ingredients off the shelf because I thought they were a healthy choice for my kid?" You would not. So take back control of your child’s lunch. It’s not as hard as you think.
Here are the building blocks. A healthy lunch should contain a balance of macronutrients – the major sources of calories in our diet. Note to yourself – these need to be real foods, not some food manufacturer’s idea of what is high-protein, low-fat, low-sugar, high-fiber, enriched or enhanced.
In almost every case, the nutrients in the food-like product in a carton, container or tube have been fractured and put back together with additives that reduce their nourishment value. Real foods don’t suffer that fate, so, as much as possible, stick with the cleanest energy source for your learner.
First – a quality source of animal or plant protein supplies the body with nutrients it cannot produce itself that support growth, cell and tissue repair and brain function.
Second – a complex carbohydrate – the body’s main source of fuel – delivers slow-burning energy that simple carbs do not. This is vital to stabilizing blood sugar, supporting the central nervous system and promoting healthy digestion.
Third – the right kind and amount of fats are essential for growth, development and the absorption of nutrients from other foods as well as being a highly concentrated energy source.
So how do you create this miraculous mix in a lunchbox? Join me in two weeks as you’re in the throes of school supply shopping and getting your head around the idea of the day after Labor Day is really close, and I’ll share not only menu ideas but advice on how to take on brown-bagging with ease and confidence.
Right now just start reading the ingredient list on this yellow boxes and clever tubes.
Mary Porter is a nutrition counselor living in the Fort Hunt area. You can email her at email@example.com