We’ve all seen Lunchables®, those pre-made meal kits for kids. My daughter’s favorite is the Ham and American Cracker Stackers. Each morning she begs me to send her to school with one; “but, all the other kids bring ’em.” I get why they are so popular with Mom’s and kids alike. Mom’s feel like they are giving their kids the basic food groups and kids get to pick up small food, eat it with their hands, and then have a piece of candy. I’ve even been know to buy one now and again.
Have you ever read the nutritional label? Let’s take a look at my daughter’s favorite kit.CHERRY FLAVORED WATER BEVERAGE WITH OTHER NATURAL FLAVOR: WATER, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CITRIC ACID, SUCRALOSE (SPLENDA(R) BRAND SWEETENER), NATURAL FLAVOR. COOKED HAM – WATER ADDED – CHOPPED AND FORMED – SMOKE FLAVOR ADDED – HAM: WATER, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SALT, POTASSIUM LACTATE, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, SODIUM LACTATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATES, SUGAR, SODIUM DIACETATE, SODIUM ASCORBATE, SODIUM NITRITE, SMOKE FLAVOR, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR. PASTEURIZED PREPARED AMERICAN CHEESE PRODUCT: MILK, WHEY, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, MILKFAT, SODIUM CITRATE, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SALT, LACTIC ACID, SORBIC ACID AS A PRESERVATIVE, OLEORESIN PAPRIKA (COLOR), ANNATTO (COLOR), ENZYMES, CHEESE CULTURE, WITH STARCH ADDED FOR SLICE SEPARATION. CONTAINS: MILK. CANDY BAR: CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, GROUND ROASTED PEANUTS, HYDROGENATED PALM KERNEL OIL, COCOA, MOLASSES, AND LESS THAN 1% OF WHEY (FROM MILK), CONFECTIONER’S CORN FLAKES, NONFAT MILK, SALT, LACTIC ACID ESTERS, SOY LECITHIN, SOYBEAN OIL, CORNSTARCH, ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, TBHQ AND CITRIC ACID (ADDED TO PRESERVE FRESHNESS), YELLOW 5, RED 40. CONTAINS: PEANUT, MILK, SOY. CRACKERS – UNBLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], FOLIC ACID), WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT FLOUR, SOYBEAN OIL, SUGAR, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL, SALT, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA AND/OR CALCIUM PHOSPHATE), WHEY (FROM MILK), SOY LECITHIN, NATURAL FLAVOR. CONTAINS: WHEAT, MILK, SOY.
It is not the number of ingredients that bother me, it’s the ingredients themselves. Although the juice is made with few ingredients and is only 30 calories a serving, one of those ingredients is the artificial sweetener sucralose (sucralose contains chlorine and has some health experts researching possible health risks including migraine headaches, cancers, and immune-system debilitation). Let’s look at the ham, shouldn’t the ingredients in sliced ham be ham? Why does my ham have sugar, cornstarch and smoke flavor in it?
I ask myself these types of questions a lot while scanning nutritional labels in the supermarket aisle. I want to have a better understanding of what goes in to making the food I serve to my family. In the last few years, my husband and I have become more conscious of high-fructose corn syrup (a highly processed liquid sugar extracted with the chemical solvent glutaraldehyde), sodium nitrates (reported to be linked to brain tumors and some types of cancer) and other additives found in today’s processed convenience foods and have started to incorporate minimally processed foods, made with fewer additives and chemicals into our pantry.
All this inspired what my daughter calls Mom-ables. Using the concept of compartmentalized food cut in small finger-friendly pieces, I make my own lunchables at home. They are often served with organic juice like Honest Kids® or milk and a fresh vegetable. I skip the candy dessert and instead, serve fresh fruit. I use nitrate free ham like Hormel® Natural Choice® Cooked Deli Ham, Land O Lakes® American Deli Cheese and Classic Rich Cracker rounds by Late July.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a health food nut. I understand the importance of additives and enjoy the convenience of packaged foods. However, in today’s quickly growing organic and “all natural” food landscape, and with a CSA share that provides my family with veggies for 6 months out of the year, I have access to minimally processed foods, made with fewer additives and chemicals.
We still order fast food from time to time and I would never pass up an ice-cold cola, but when I can, I try to fill our refrigerator and cabinets with foods that list ingredients I can pronounce. After all, why would you server your kid brand name fruit chews containing corn syrup, and carnauba wax when you can give them a piece of fruit?
If you’d like to learn more about eating healthy, check out Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, available at all major booksellers.m “Rule #19 If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t… Rule #39 Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself.”