Dr. Greene on the Organic Lunchbox Challenge…
Students I speak with observe that school food is often either unappetizing (overcooked cafeteria veggies) or unhealthy. Tasty junk food at school has become a magnet for kids across the nation, encouraging nutrition choices that hurt kids now, and build unhealthy habits for the long run.
Thankfully, a growing wave of school boards is starting to tackle the issue, one school district at a time. A quick phone call to your school board could help tip them into action.
But even when action is taken, there is usually a lag of a year or more before the menu actually changes. The Organic Lunchbox is something simple you can do in the meantime to provide your children delicious food that gives them energy for today and builds healthy, vibrant bodies for tomorrow. I’m encouraging parents everywhere to give their children at least one serving of organic food every day this year. Here’s why, then how:
Toxic chemicals are toxic.
We know that pesticides and other chemicals (such as mercury) that can contaminate our food supply cause serious health problems if the exposures to these chemicals are high enough. These problems include cancers (such as brain cancer, breast cancer, and childhood leukemia), behavior problems, ADHD, learning disabilities, genital abnormalities, and reproductive problems.
We know that the very problems that can be caused by these environmental chemicals are increasing in our society and in our children. We know that childhood brain cancer and leukemia have each increased by more than 50 percent since 1975. We know that autism diagnoses have increased 10 times since the 1980’s.
We know that children have higher exposures to pesticides and other chemicals than do adults, and that even at the same exposures, they are at higher risk.
We’ve known from several good studies that pesticides and toxic chemicals aren’t just in the environment – but get into our developing children’s bodies. Some kids have high levels and others quite low. What’s different between these kids? Is there anything simple and practical that parents can do to lower their own children’s risks? A provocative study was published in October 2002 in the Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH. Here, children were divided into two groups: those who ate mostly conventional foods and those who ate mostly organic foods. All urine for 24 hours was collected from each child. Children who ate conventional diets had mean pesticide concentrations in their urine 9 times higher than the children who ate organic! Their levels indicated that they had exceeded safe exposure levels set by the EPA and were at increased risk to their health. By contrast, those children who ate organic foods were well within the EPA levels deemed to cause negligible risk. Feeding children organic foods is something simple and practical parents can do right now to protect their children and help them build healthy bodies.
The Organic Lunchbox
I recommend that children get a variety of healthy foods. Together, the foods below would make an ideal lunch, loaded with body-building vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other important nutrients (perhaps some that haven’t even been discovered yet). I’m asking parents to include at least one of these items every day. Even adding one of these a day could make a big difference for our children and our environment:
A Serving of Organic Fruit
A Serving of Organic Veggies
A Serving of Organic Whole Grains
An Organic Calcium Source
An Organic Source of Lean Protein
They DON’T Need: added sugars (especially high fructose corn syrups), added fats (especially partially hydrogenated fats), lots of artificial colors and other chemicals, or foods grown with pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones.
The Evil Twin
Let’s compare the commonsense, tasty lunch above with a popular prepackaged combination lunch-in-a-box, the kinds some kids fight over in the grocery store aisles. The one in front of me contains hot dogs, with cola to drink, and candy for dessert.
The Organic Fruit? None
The Organic Vegetable? None
The Organic Whole Grain? None
The Organic Calcium Source?
The Lean Protein Source?
It Also Contains: caffeine, chemical preservatives such as potassium sorbate and calcium proprionate, artificial chemical flavors, artificial chemical colors, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, added sugar, dextrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup – about 12 teaspoons of sugars, and more saturated fatthan anyone should eat at a meal.
All of the vitamins or minerals whose levels are disclosed on the package are quite low. It would take 10 of these meals to give a day’s supply of calcium or iron, 50 meals to get a day’s supply of vitamin A, and you would never get enough vitamin C – no matter how many of these you ate. Ten of these meals would supply almost 5000 calories, almost 200 gm of fat, and 8500 mg of sodium. This is part of what we mean by empty calories.
This may seem like an unfair comparison, but children eat food like this evil twin every day – food that they purchase at school, or pack along with them. The number one food kids eat? French Fries!
The Lunchbox Challenge
Let this be the year where you give your child at least one serving of organic food a day. The Organic Lunchbox is one great option. If packing lunch doesn’t work well for your family, consider starting the day right with a serving of organic food for breakfast. The research is clear that whether and what a child eats at breakfast makes a difference in learning, behavior, and test scores all morning long.
Isn’t it great that choosing healthy delicious food can make a real difference for our children today – and in years to come when they have walked out their childhoods, out of our homes, out of our reach, but never out of our hearts!