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Brown Bag Lunches for Kids

It is time to go back to school. Sorry kids. For parents this brings back the dilemma of what to pack in their child’s lunch. The food we send our kids to school with can affect their health, behavior, and performance so we need to choose wisely.

A study published in the British medical journal The Lancet in 2007 (issue 370 volume 9598) showed common food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate lead to increased hyperactivity and decreased ability to focus. Excess sugars have the same effect. Many of the foods that end up in kids’ brown bag lunches are loaded with sugars, dyes, and preservatives. If we want our kids to do their best, we need to give them food that will support them in that endeavor.

Avoid packing soda and juices, as they are high in sugars, dyes, and preservatives. The artificial sweeteners in diet sodas are metabolized into neurotoxins. Even natural fruit juices are high in sugars and should be avoided.  Water is the best beverage for kids. There are numerous studies showing dehydration impairs memory. If taste is an issue, try adding a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple of the brown bag lunch. The name brands of peanut butter (Jiff, Skippy, etc.) and jellies (Welches, Smuckers, etc.) contain high fructose corn syrup (concentrated sugar), dyes, and preservatives. Read the labels and find brands that just contain nuts or fruit. Some stores have machines that grind the nuts into butter on site so you know it is fresh. For a change, try almond or cashew butter. If you really want to make a healthy PB&J, switch to a gluten free bread.

Fruit roll ups and other “fruit” snacks oddly enough do not have fruit in them. They are made from fruit juice concentrate and corn syrup. Both are just concentrated sugars. Plus there are the dyes and preservatives. There is no substitution for fruit. Grapes, cherries, oranges, apples, pears, and melons all make for great lunches. Putting orange wedges in the same container as apple slices will help prevent browning.

Kids love crunchy things. Skip the Doritos, Fritos, and Cheetoes. Try unsalted nuts and seeds. If you are going to give them corn chips, give them blue corn chips as they are not genetically modified.

Making changes from what kids are used to will take some time. Make gradual changes to allow their taste buds to adjust. Do not give up if they initially say they do not like it.

Food marketers are well aware of what drives kids choices. Parents need to use the same tactics. Make it fun. Put the trail mix in colored plastic wrap with a ribbon. Put stickers on the water bottle. Talk up how tasty these foods are and avoid the phrase, “you may not like this but it is good for you.”

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