Convenience food for school lunches - Don't let the food industry fool you

Thanks to Google, Pinterest and ideas on this blog, there are thousands of tips and suggestions for healthy and tasty food for the school lunch box. Thanks to the food industry, there are many unhealthy (but tasty) convenience packaged products specifically for the lunch box. The food industry advertises these products to kids who, in turn, pester parents to buy them. Savvy packaging and misleading descriptions about the product make it difficult for even the most avid label reader to determine if the product is, indeed, real food or just sugar and fat in disguise.

I asked Moms with children in elementary school to tell me a few products their kids bug them to buy for the lunch box. All the Moms named a few items. Here's a closer look at the two items that were mentioned the most.

Lunch kits
Last year I compared the cost and nutrition of these bundles of fat and salt to a healthier, homemade version. You'll find the details here. I noticed this year a couple of new kits have been added to the mix and, like the other options, they don't have much to brag about in terms of nutrition.

Store bought lunch kit

"Fruit" by the foot/roll ups/gummies/gushers
These products boast they're made with natural flavours. Interesting...the strawberry flavoured version of one of these products didn't have strawberry in the ingredient list. What I learned about the two products I compared was that the ingredient list was similar and the Nutrition Facts panels were identical. These products don't have any of the fibre or minerals that are found naturally in real fruit. What they do have is 4.5 tsp of added sugar and one vitamin - vitamin C (12 mg in one individual pack). One individual package works out to 58 cents. So, basically we pay 58 cents for 4.5 tsp of table sugar and the amount of vitamin C in 1/4 of a small orange. According to my math, 1/4 of a small orange + 4.5 tsp sugar costs about 10 cents. You wouldn't think to pack 1/4 of an orange topped with 4.5 tsp of sugar in your child's lunch. But, if you did, they'd be getting a lot more nutrition compared to a pack of 'fruit' gummies or gushers and it would be cheaper!

The advertising dollars spent on these products must be worth it for these food manufacturers. The products have been around for a long time...they're the same two items my kids bugged me for when they were in elementary school seven years ago.

You might be pleased to know that as your kids move into secondary school they won't be pestering you to buy lunch kits and gushers. Instead, they'll be asking you to buy energy drinks or buying it themselves. That's because energy drinks are one of the top five most frequently advertised food products on teen's favourite websites. What a relief, right?!

When my kids were in elementary school, I felt that I was constantly saying 'no' to their request for the sugary, salty, fatty packaged food that, apparently, everyone else in their class got to eat. And it isn't that they never had any of that stuff. I bought it for them once in a while and they often had it given to them. It's hard to constantly say 'no'. I know I got tired of it. Food advertising to kids has a powerful influence on their food choices. It's pervasive and sophisticated and kids are vulnerable.

If you're frustrated by the influence of food and beverage marketing, have your say about it at
Stop Marketing to Kids