Do you really know what is in those ready-to-eat lunches?

Read the label the next time you go to put something in your cart. Chances are, you would have to be a scientist to recognize most of those ingredients.

by Cary Bailen —

I  ran a day camp at a large school last summer and was shocked at what the kids brought to lunch every day — prepackaged lunches with cold cuts, cheese and cookies, and other fast foods marketed directly to kids. My experience made me aware of how powerful marketing really is.

Parents, the following is a short nutrition lesson for you. When it comes to label ingredients, the fewer, the better. Also, the more recognizable ingredients, the better. Read the label the next time you go to put something in your cart. Chances are, you would have to be a scientist to recognize most of those ingredients.

Worse yet, you need a magnifying glass to read the tiny print used to list all the ingredients. You might as well sit down, because it will take you a while to read the whole list.

In a CNN health article, Dr. Clarence Grim stated, “The packages should carry a warning label.” That should be a clue about the contents of these fun, cute, easy-to-do lunches that we continue to feed to our beautiful, nutrient-deficient kids.

Marketing and advertising wins kids over all the time. They see how cool the packages look, and see that all their friends have them. Is it a wonder that they want them, too? It is what the advertisements do not tell us that ultimately hurts our children. So, when your child whines, cries or throws a temper tantrum because he wants the neatly packaged food-in-a-box, think twice about which is more important — your child’s health or how cool they feel next to their friends.

One idea is to teach your children the importance of nutrition by taking them to the grocery store and reading the labels with them. The more organic any food is, the better — and remember to read the ingredients on the label first. Fat, calorie and sugar content are the second most important things, after the overall ingredients. When something says “low fat” in big letters on the front of the package, it is probably just a marketing ploy to get you to buy it. The unstated facts are that the fat has been replaced with chemicals, which will be stored in your body as fat because they cannot be digested.

Food truly can be fun, easy, affordable, tasty and healthy. It is just a matter of proper education and attitude. Try making your own box lunches by buying a reusable lunch box with compartments and adding foods like organic chicken nuggets, carrots and celery with organic peanut butter, vitamin water that tastes great and organic cookies. Real ingredients. Real food. Real good.


Cary Bailen, B.A., has taught health education for more than 10 years and is the founder of Kidz for Life, which offers custom-tailored nutrition training and health education programs for individuals, families, groups and schools. 602 751-0012, or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 2, April/May 2006.

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