WHAT IN THE WORLD…Are We Feeding Our Children
Just in time for kids to go back to school after the holidays….before I begin this article, I want to tell a little story! It’s a true story. It happened to me when I went to have lunch with my granddaughter:
Upon arrival at the school, one must sign in, of course! Then, I proceed to the hallway and wait for the class to arrive at the lunchroom. We enter the lunchroom and I already brought for us. I brought a salad with all the fixin’s! We both love veggies so it was packed with pea pods (she and I called them that!) and carrots, peas, lettuce, etc. We ate, spent some valuable time together and her class went back to their room. I began to look around as I was leaving and noticed WARNING signs. They said, “NO FOOD IS ALLOWED OUT OF THIS BUILDING”. I thought that’s strange. But left and later realized why they were doing this! At first I thought it was because children would take food back to their classes and cause bug infestations, right? WRONG! They were hiding something!! They don’t want parents to know what’s inside the ‘food’ their feeding their children! WOW! Do you know what your children are eating?
Did you know that on a typical day, 32 million children in the U.S. eat cafeteria food? Or that most of these students consume over half of their daily calories at school?
Facts like these motivate us to connect kids to real food, and teach them how to make healthy choices through our sweetgreen in schools program. School cafeterias are one of the biggest areas of opportunity that exist in the battle against childhood obesity. Recently there has been discussion about what constitutes a quality lunch, so we took a look at some typical school meals around the world, and how our own country stacks up.
Local fish on a bed of arugula, pasta with tomato sauce, caprese salad, baguette and some grapes
Pea soup, beet salad, carrot salad, bread and pannakkau (dessert pancake) with fresh berries
Steak, carrots, green beans, cheese and fresh fruit
Pork with mixed veggies, black beans and rice, salad, bread and baked plantains
Fish soup, tofu over rice, kimchi and fresh veggies
Baked chicken over orzo, stuffed grape leaves, tomato and cucumber salad, fresh oranges, and greek yogurt with pomegranate seeds
Mashed potatoes with sausage, borscht, cabbage and syrniki (a dessert pancake)
Sautéed shrimp over brown rice and vegetables, gazpacho, fresh peppers, bread and an orange
Fried ‘popcorn’ chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, fruit cup and a chocolate chip cookie
Surprised at what you see above? You can help us make an impact and change the way future generations eat! Now until December 29th, purchase a local apple at any sweetgreen location, and we’ll donate the proceeds to FoodCorps to help connect kids to real food.
10 Things the Food Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know
Bigger, juicier, saltier, sweeter, crunchier. Most of all, more. The food industry and its nonstop marketing has been tabbed by many experts as a major player in the obesity epidemic. “The result of constant exposure to today’s ‘eat more’ food environment,” write Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim in their upcoming book Why Calories Count, “has been to drive people to desire high-calorie foods and to become ‘conditioned overeaters.'”
Even as the food industry takes steps seemingly in the right direction—by launching campaigns to bring healthy products to schools, for example—wellness initiatives are often just marketing ploys, contends David Ludwig, a pediatrician and coauthor of a commentary published in 2008 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that raised questions about whether big food companies can be trusted to help combat obesity. Ultimately, he has argued, makers of popular junk foods have an obligation to stockholders to maximize profits, which means encouraging consumers to eat more—not less—of a company’s products. Health experts including Ludwig and Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, both of whom have long histories of tracking the food industry, spoke with U.S. News and highlighted 10 things that junk food makers don’t want you to know about their products and how they promote them. Here’s a peek behind the curtain:
1. Junk food makers spend billions advertising unhealthy foods to kids. According to the Federal Trade Commission, food makers spend some $1.6 billion annually to reach children through the traditional media as well the Internet, in-store advertising, and sweepstakes. An article published in 2006 in the Journal of Public Health Policy puts the number as high as $10 billion annually. The bulk of these ads are for unhealthy products high in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium. Promotions often use cartoon characters or free giveaways to entice kids into the junk food fold. On TV alone, the average child sees about 5,500 food commercials a year (or about 15 per day) that advertise high-sugar breakfast cereals, fast food, soft drinks, candy, and snacks, according to the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Compare that to the fewer than 100 TV ads per year kids see for healthy foods like fruits, veggies, and bottled water.
2. The studies that food producers support tend to minimize health concerns associated with their products. In fact, according to a review led by Ludwig of hundreds of studies that looked at the health effects of milk, juice, and soda, the likelihood of conclusions favorable to the industry was several times higher among industry-sponsored research than studies that received no industry funding. “If a study is funded by the industry, it may be closer to advertising than science,” he says.
3. More processing means more profits, but typically makes food less healthy. Minimally processed foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables obviously aren’t where food companies look for profits. The big bucks stem from turning government-subsidized commodity crops—mainly corn, wheat, and soybeans—into fast foods, snack foods, and beverages. High-profit products derived from these commodity crops are generally high in calories and low in nutritional value. Ultraprocessed foods, for example, lack fiber, micronutrients, and healthful plant substances called phytochemicals that protect against heart disease and diabetes, Ludwig wrote in a 2011 JAMA commentary. Consider: A 10-ounce, 90-calorie portion of strawberries has 5 grams of fiber, abundant vitamins and minerals, and dozens of phytochemicals, while a 1-ounce portion of Fruit Gushers also has 90 calories, but virtually none of the fruit benefits.
4. Less-processed foods are generally more filling than their highly processed counterparts. Fresh apples have an abundance of fiber and nutrients that are lost when they are processed into applesauce. And the added sugar or other sweeteners increase the number of calories without necessarily making the applesauce any more filling. Apple juice, which is even more processed, has had almost all of the fiber and nutrients stripped out. This same stripping out of nutrients, says Ludwig, happens with highly refined white bread compared with stone-ground whole-wheat bread.
5. Many supposedly healthy replacement foods are hardly healthier than the foods they replace. In 2006, for example, major beverage makers agreed to remove sugary sodas from school vending machines. But the industry mounted an intense lobbying effort that persuaded lawmakers to allow sports drinks and vitamin waters that—despite their slightly healthier reputations—still can be packed with sugar and calories.
6. A health claim on the label doesn’t necessarily make a food healthy. Health claims such as “zero trans fats” or “contains whole wheat” may create the false impression that a product is healthy when it’s not. While the claims may be true, a product is not going to benefit your kid’s health if it’s also loaded with salt and sugar or saturated fat, say, and lacks fiber or other nutrients. “These claims are calorie distracters,” adds Nestle. “They make people forget about the calories.” For example, tropical-fruit flavored Gerber Graduates Fruit Juice Treats show pictures of fresh oranges and pineapple to imply that they’re made from real fruit, according to a 2010 report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In reality, the main ingredients are corn syrup, sugar, and white grape juice concentrate. And Keebler’s Townhouse Bistro Multigrain Crackers boast that they’re made with “toasted whole wheat,” although sugar content far outweighs the whole wheat. “‘Made with whole grains’ should send up a red flag,” says registered dietitian Marisa Moore, a spokesperson with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “If you’re eating packaged food, like cereal, bread, or pasta, check the ingredient list to verify that the first ingredient is in fact a whole grain.” (Think of the first ingredient listed on a package as the main ingredient; those listed farther down are included in smaller amounts.) Although the government is working to develop guidelines for front-of-package labels, no consensus has been reached.
7. Food industry pressure has made nutritional guidelines confusing for consumers. As Nestle explained in her 2003 book Food Politics, the food industry has a history of preferring scientific jargon to straight talk. As far back as 1977, public health officials attempted to include the advice “reduce consumption of meat” in an important report called Dietary Goals for the United States. The report’s authors capitulated to intense pushback from the cattle industry and used this less-direct and more ambiguous advice: “Choose meats, poultry, and fish, which will reduce saturated fat intake.” Overall, says Nestle, the government has a hard time suggesting that people eat less of anything.
8. The food industry funds front groups that fight antiobesity public health initiatives. Unless you follow politics closely, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that a group with a name like the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) has anything to do with the food industry. In fact, Ludwig and Nestle point out, this group has lobbied aggressively against obesity-related public health campaigns—such as the one directed at removing junk food from schools—and is funded, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, primarily through donations from big food companies such as Coca-Cola, Cargill, Tyson Foods, and Wendy’s.
9. The food industry works aggressively to discredit its critics. According to the 2008 JAMA article, the Center for Consumer Freedom boasts that “[our strategy] is to shoot the messenger. We’ve got to attack [activists’] credibility as spokespersons.” On its website, the group calls Nestle “one of the country’s most hysterical anti-food fanatics.”
10. “Pink slime” is on its way out—but it’s not gone. Ground meat is commonly bulked up with what critics call “pink slime,” butchering scraps that have been cleansed with ammonia. While the industry insists that its “lean, finely textured beef trimmings” are harmless, some experts are questioning the safety of the ubiquitous filler. Following a public outcry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this month that school districts can choose between receiving beef with the trimmings or without, but at a higher fat content. A growing number of grocery stores, including Safeway and Supervalu, have announced that they’re ditching so-called “pink slime.” Still, it remains USDA-approved, and the food industry is free to use it.
YUCK-A Fourth Grader’s Short Documentary About School Lunch
The 10 Worst Foods to Feed Your Children
1. Kids’ Breakfast Cereal
Sure, that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Captain Crunch might boast a boatload of vitamins and minerals on the label, but when you consider the amount of sugar and processed ingredients per serving, the miniscule amount of nutritional value they offer doesn’t count for much.
Nutritionists recommend that when you shop for a suitable cereal for your breakfast table, go for brands that contain at least 3-grams of fiber per serving and less than 10 grams of sugar. The best morning cereal that you can get junior hooked on is whole grain oatmeal, it’s high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and you can sprinkle on some berries and mix it with yogurt, or a dab of honey or real maple syrup.
2. Granola Bars
I know this might be a shocker (it was to me), but granola does not a healthy snack make. And many store-bought granola bars marketed to kids lack nutritional value more than the adult focus brands—they’re loaded with sugar and added ingredients like chocolate chips, marshmallows, candy, high fructose syrup, and artificial dyes, which makes one granola bar about as healthy as two cookies.
Instead, try whipping up a batch of homemade energy bars with natural ingredients like almond or peanut butter, raisins, coconut, whole grain cereal, honey, and dried fruit and nuts.
3. Luncheon Meats
Bologna, smoked ham, and even roast beef are a kids’ lunchbox staple. However, according to food experts, if your child eats a sliced meat sandwich every day, you may be packing them a very dangerous and toxic food.
Take a good look at the label, does junior’s favorite lunch meat contain nitrates, a preservative used in food processing that drastically increases the risk of heart disease and cancer.
4. Snack Cakes
I know your child looks forward to that Ho-Ho, Twinkie, or Wagon Wheel you pack in their lunch box every day. But as much as we love treating our kids, most processed snack cakes are ripe with trans fats, the most unhealthy processes fat known to mankind.
So if your child needs something sweet to cap off every meal, pack some mixed berries and grapes in their lunch pail or bake cookies or squares from scratch using natural ingredients.
5. French Fries
I know that most parents are aware that feeding their kids French Fries at every meal is asking for weight gain and the development of a very unhealthy habit. However, moderation is the key here.
If you’re going to feed your little one fries, keep them to a few meals per week and make them a side, not the starring food feature. Nutritionists warn that French fries offer very little in the way of nutritional value—they’re super high in fat and sodium. Unfortunately, the same goes for potato chips, cheesy snacks, and any fried and puffed snack food. Instead, opt for baked chips or make your kids baked potato wedges instead.
If you are in the habit of ordering pizza several times a week after a stressful day, be aware that the pizza that comes to your door is a far cry from the kind you make and bake in your oven at home. So put down the phone. You can quickly throw together a healthier homemade pie with store bought, whole wheat crust, natural, low-fat cheese, shredded chicken, and tons of veggies. If you are in the habit of ordering pizza several times a week after a stressful day, be aware that the pizza that comes to your door is a far cry from the kind you make and bake in your oven at home. So put down the phone. You can quickly throw together a healthier homemade pie with store bought, whole wheat crust, natural, low-fat cheese, shredded chicken, and tons of veggies.
7. Juice Boxes
You know that juice boxes are bad news ever since you handed your 4 year old a fruit punch in the car for the first time. Did you ever get those stains out of your seat upholstery? However, juice boxes really don’t pack any nutritional value say food experts, so stop feeling so bad.
Not only are they packed with sugar, most commercial juices lack fiber and vitamins because they’re void of any real juice. Instead, blend up a batch of fruit smoothies with whole fruits, yogurt, and ice as a nutritious after school snack.
Packing a plastic baggie of crackers has saved my child from a meltdown time and time again. However, when I noticed the gratifying crunch I was feeding my child was made from processed, white flour, preservatives, unhealthy oils, I quickly swapped them for a brand make with fibrous whole grains.
Not only do they satisfy hunger for longer, they don’t leave my children tired and cranky. It’s really a win/win for everyone involved.
9. Soda Pop
My kids love soda, but dentists warn that serving pop on a daily basis means a mouthful of sugar at every meal. Not only does that affect your kids’ waistlines, it’s damaging to their teeth as well. And even diet soda contains a ton of toxic chemical sweeteners that should be served in moderation.
There are plenty of alternatives when it comes to drinks for children. Try all-natural fruit juices, milk or even water instead of pop at meals. Cutting back just a bit a day will go a long way in making your children healthier.
10. Fruit Snacks
Put down that strawberry fruit roll! It likely doesn’t contain any real fruit anyway. Nutritionists attest that most fruit snacks are actually candy masked in a health label—and no, “fruit juice” doesn’t count.
Instead, add some real fruit and fiber to your kids’ lunches in the form of dried whole fruit, like raisins or apricots, or fresh grapes, berries, and sliced apples and pears.
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