Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Unhealthy Lunches and Snacks - Stop the Madness!

I often wonder how seemingly educated, smart and sophisticated grocery shoppers (that includes you, too, Dads) get sucked up in the commercial marketing of unhealthy foods. Really? Do grocery shoppers not already know to steer clear of virtually everything in the middle aisles of the market? Have you been living under a rock?

I can't stand the commercials or advertisements for kids' food. Hate 'em. Marketers know that parents are pressed for time. They know we have busy schedules and lots of lunches to pack. So, they appeal to our need for speed. According to the perpetrators of the marketing madness, the faster we can open a box and plop out a meal the better. The problem is, these meals are not good for us and these products are making us sick.

Magazines include Wal-Mart ads which appeal to our sense of "saving money." The ad says that for less than $1 or two you can feed your family breakfast. You can shove a plain, white bagel down your kid's throat along with some OJ and voila! A healthy and low-cost breakfast! Shame on you Wal-Mart. Parents, can't you offer a healthier alternative and toast a slice of whole-grain bread, add a dollop of natural (no sugar added) peanut butter and include a glass of milk for breakfast? Does it really take that much more time or cost that much more money? I don't think so.

Day after day I see kids with unhealthy lunches. It makes me lose my appetite. The problem is, it's not the kid's fault his lunch is unhealthy. His parents are basically teaching his palette to rely on added sugars and modified foods to satisfy him. He doesn't know any better yet he will pay for this unhealthy practice for the rest of his life when he won't really want to eat anything that isn't sweetened. We owe it to our kids to take a more responsible approach to eating.

Here are some examples:

  • Lunchables. Really? You need to buy processed, packaged food with a long list of artificial flavors, partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup and more for your kid's lunchbox? These products have no business being marketed as lunches for kids. Why not choose lunchmeat with no preservatives or artificial ingredients (Dietz & Watson, Boorshead, etc), whole grain crackers , and a piece of fruit instead? It's not that hard.
  • PB&J Uncrustables. Parents, you need to buy a PB&J sandwich? One with upwards of 25 different ingredients, some of which you can't even pronounce? You can't make a PB&J sandwich on whole-grain bread with natural (no sugar added) peanut butter and natural fruit preserves? C'mon. Isn't your children's health more important to you?
  • Applesauce. On the surface, applesauce looks like a good choice. But when you add a flavor like Cinnamon/Strawberry/Raspberry, etc. you add unnecessary ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup. Why? Applesauce is naturally sweet. Without added sugar. If you want a flavor added to natural applesauce why not sprinkle your own cinnamon or puree your own strawberries. It's not that hard, really.
  • Fruit Juice. The epitome of wasted calories. Sure, some fruit juices are 100% juice and, boy, those marketers love to appeal to your sense of "wholesome" and "nutrient-packed." If it's 100% juice that is high in Vitamin C it has to be good, right? But why not get more bang-for-your-buck and offer up a whole apple instead? Your kids get the benefit of a serving or more of fruit, with added fiber from the apple peel. Don't give your kids juice, give them an actual piece of fruit instead. And, make sure they are drinking water (which they probably need more of anyway) or milk for lunch.
  • Granola Bars. Snacks like Kudos which advertise "excellent source of calcium" and "made with whole grains" try to suck you into the "granola is healthy" mentality. Don't be fooled. With five different listings for sugar and hydrogenated oils to boot, these are not healthy snacks, they are candy bars. Do parents really think that granola bars with M&M's, Chocolate chips or Snickers is a "healthy" choice? Really? If you want to give your kid a candy bar, just admit it and quit trying to pass a Kudos granola bar off as a healthy snack.
  • Go-Gurt. Sounds like a great idea...yogurt on the go! Yogurt is a nutritious snack, right? Not this yogurt. It has more sugar per ounce than a can of Coca-Cola. The problem is there isn't one but two sugar sources listed in the first five ingredients. Both Sugar and
    High-Fructose Corn Syrup. Is this necessary? Nope. Get your kids off Go-Gurt for good! Try Stoneyfield Farms brand instead. Yes, sugar is listed as the second ingredient, but it is a natural source of sugar that isn't processed. The sugar ratio per ounce is much less than Go-gurt and not artificial colors or flavors are included.
Please stop making poor food choices. Please read food labels. Stay away from high-fructose corn syrup, added sugar and partially hydrogenated oils. Use real, whole foods not processed, artificial, fake foods.

Some great places to search for easy recipes for lunches and/or snacks are:

Check them out, print off a recipe or two and see how easy (and satisfying) it can be to make a good, healthy lunch or snack.

It's really, truly, is not rocket science.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Confessions of a Control-Freak Mom

Nicholas started 1st grade today (cue sobbing). He will now officially be under the care and tutelage of essential strangers for the majority of the week for the majority of the year. I get the privilege to see him on nights and weekends and during the occasional school break. I have tried really, really hard to prepare myself for this day, the day that I have to wave goodbye and step completely out of his sight. Not just be in the other room, within arm's reach, as he plays with his race cars. Not just be within eyesight as he tackles the monkey bars on the playground. More or less be absent from his life for eight hours a day, five days a week. To some mothers, the start of school is deserved reprieve. To a control-freak mom, it's an anxiety attack on steroids.

I have had my finger on the pulse of every single event or occurrence in Nicholas's life over the past six years. As a stay-at-home mom, we have enjoyed the closeness that comes with spending all of our waking hours together. I have relished in watching the baby grow into the toddler who grew into the preschooler who was a Kindergartner just last year. I knew the day would come when he would grow up a little bit more and become a little bit more independent. When he would venture off to school full-time with a backpack full of cool pencils, colorful erasers and a trendy lunchbox. I knew it in the back of my mind. But that day was light years away as I changed diapers, held the hands of an unbalanced walker, listened with amusement to the awkwardness of new speech and watched chubby legs transform into strong, muscular limbs. My mind cannot quiet comprehend that the day I anticipated for years has actually arrived.

I know that Nicholas is ready for his big debut as a 1st grader. Just because I'm having issues with his initiation into the world of raucous bus riding, potential bullies and influential older kids doesn't diminish the fact that Nicholas has developed a decent moral foundation. His dad and I have spent countless hours instilling in him the principles of honesty, respect, and compassion. But, up until now, I have been right by his side to encourage him to demonstrate those principles and I have reprimanded him when he has not. Today, he has to accomplish those tasks all by himself.

I wish more than anything that I could stand by him on the playground and lob away every hurtful remark. I wish I could hold a shield over his heart so that anyone who tries to deflate his good nature would be unsuccessful. I wish I could just go back to when Nicholas was a baby and do these past six years all over again. But, I know that's not possible or realistic. As much as I struggle to accept the inevitable, I am aware that I can't be there to wipe every tear or calm every nervous tension. I wish like hell there was a way that I could.

Because he will spend the next 11 years in school surrounded by different cultures, personalities and environments, I pray that Nicholas makes good decisions. That he chooses his friends wisely. That he teaches people how to treat him by not tolerating cruel remarks and callous behavior. That he stands firm in his beliefs and doesn't succumb to unscrupulous influence. It is ironic, however, that I am expecting a six-year-old to accomplish what I have struggled to pull off for the past 39 years. I just hope that Nicholas learns how to stand up for himself a lot sooner than I did.

Nicholas asked me at breakfast today, "what should I do if some boys are mean to me on the bus?" I asked him what he thought he should do and before he could answer, Christopher chimed in with a simple, "just ignore them." Nicholas said he would certainly try this strategy but I also reassured him that it would be OK to ask for help from the bus driver. I resisted the urge to tell him, "just give me the names of the mean boys and I will take care of the rest."

When Nicholas goes to bed at night and asks if we can have a "conversation," he usually has some questions he needs answers to or situations he needs help sorting out. Sometimes he just wants to delay his bedtime, but I never miss an opportunity for a "conversation." I know now that these little talks will become even more precious now as I learn about his teacher and friends and school day from afar.

Nicholas got on the bus today. He turned around and waved goodbye to me today. He ventured off into uncharted, exciting, scary territory today. My control-freak instincts kicked in as I reached for my car keys, but I also resisted the urge to drive behind the bus and follow Nicholas to school. I just have to take a leap of faith and hope that those in whose care I have entrusted him do their best to support and protect my son.

It's tough to let go. I have a sinking feeling that it never gets any easier, either.


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