When we were researching for our back to school lunchbox series with Mintie Lunchboxes, we wanted to check what foods were bring advertised by supermarkets for lunchboxes. A quick search for ‘lunchbox foods’ on some of the top online supermarkets returned pages like this (this screenshot is from sainsburys, but the other supermarkets were very similar):
What jumps out here is the amount of packaged, processed foods – there’s nothing that actually looks like a fresh piece of food. We always advise parents to ‘keep it real’ by choosing food that looks like food, and is fresh. Foods that are packaged to survive on a supermarket shelf for months are going to be highly processed and full of preservatives and other nasties.
Some of our favourite lunchbox foods didn’t even make the list – where are the grapes, satsumas, apples, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese etc.? There are a couple of products here – like the nakd bars, raisins and dried apricots – that would be fine to have as a snack, but otherwise we wouldn’t recommend giving any of these products to your children, especially as a regular item in lunchboxes everyday.
It’s estimated that only 2 in 10 lunchboxes meet the government nutrition standards, with most lunchboxes containing foods that are high in saturated fat, salt and sugar such as crisps and biscuits, and less than half including any vegetables.
These statistics are worrying both in terms of the long-term health of our children as well as the immediate impact it has on their well-being and learning. But it’s not surprising when you consider the marketing messages from the food industry that we are all bombarded with. We’ve been led to believe that children need particular products in their lunchboxes. A lot of this marketing is aimed directly at our children, influencing their food preferences and what they ask for. The bright, playful colours and smiling cartoon characters on these packages are there to entice our children. It’s worth keeping in mind that these big food companies want us to buy their products, and aren’t necessarily concerned with our children’s wellbeing.
In our previous article we talk about some of the things to look out for when buying pre-packaged foods from the supermarket. Now let’s look in more depth at the ingredients that can be found in the lunchbox foods that are advertised to us and at some more nourishing alternatives to these foods. Our aim here is to provide you with useful information to empower you when making choices in the supermarket.
A closer look at some of these ingredients
Modified Maoic and Maize Starch – used as a stabiliser, thickening agent and emulsifier. It is heavily processed and because it no longer has any fibre, protein or fat content it causes a spike in blood glucose levels.
Natural Flavourings – flavours, natural flavourings and artificial flavourings are much the same. If it says ‘natural’ it means that it started with an actual food, but after being so heavily processed they all end up much the same. When you see natural flavourings, it’s not one ingredient but could be derived from as many as 50 ingredients.
Guar Gum – an additive used to stabilise, emulsify and thicken foods – which basically means it stops ingredients from separating. It absorbs a large amount of liquid in the digestive system which can lead to certain digestive issues such as bloating, gas, constipation. It can alter healthy levels of gut bacteria and has been linked to leaky gut syndrome and IBD.
Dimethyl Dicarbonate – a chemical preservative that has been shown to be hazardous to skin and respiratory health. Studies have also shown that it can cause severe irritation of the gastrointestinal tract.
Acesulfame K – a calorie-free sweetener found in sugar-free products, it’s up to 200 times sweeter than table sugar. acesulfame K has a slightly bitter aftertaste and is usually found blended with other sweeteners like sucralose or aspartame. as with other artificial sweeteners, concerns exist over it’s safety with some researchers suggesting it is harmful to health.
Vitamins: Niacin, B6, Biotin – Synthetic vitamins are not the same as the vitamins we get from eating real food. They are missing their co-factors and enzymes which are necessary for proper absorption.