NYC Dietitian Offers Six Tips to Replace Frankenstein Foods

frankenstein-394281_1280To celebrate Halloween, I started thinking about foods in disguise – foods that dress like foods but are hiding a whole bunch of Frankenstein elements behind them to keep them looking  and tasting like food. Many of us take things at face value, pick them off the shelf and put them into our carts. But if we take the time to really understand what we’re eating, we might pause and reconsider our habits.

Guess that meal:

  • Whole Corn, Vegetable Oil (Corn, Canola, Soybean and/or Sunflower), Maltodextrin, Salt, Tomato Powder, Corn Starch, Lactose, Whey, Skim Milk, Corn Syrup Solids, Onion Powder, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Monosodium Glutamate, Cheddar Cheese (Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes), Dextrose, Malic Acid, Buttermilk, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Sodium Acetate, Artificial Color (Including Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 5), Sodium Caseinate, Spice, Citric Acid, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate.
  • Poultry Ingredients (Mechanically Separated Chicken, Mechanically Separated Turkey), Pork, Water, Corn Syrup, Modified Food Starch, Dextrose, Salt, Contains 2% Less of Beef, Extract of Paprika, Flavorings, Potassium Lactate, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Lactate, Sodium Nitrate, Sodium Phosphate, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
  • Milk, Water, Milk Protein Concentrate*, Whey*, Cheese Culture, Modified Food Starch*, Sodium Citrate, Salt, Skim Milk*, Lactic Acid, Potassium Citrate, Sorbic Acid (Preservative), Sodium Phosphate, Cream, Color Added, Tetra Sodium Pyrophosphate, Enzymes
  • Enriched Wheat Flour, Water, Sugar, Yeast, Soybean and/or Canola Oil, Salt, Soy Flour, Calcium Propionate, Vegetable Monoglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl-2-Lactylate, May contain Wheat Gluten, Sorbic Acid.
  • Pure Filtered Water, Concentrated Apple Juice, Calcium Citrate, Vitamin C, Potassium Phosphate

The Frankenstein Meal above is something many American children pack, every day, for lunch: Doritos, a bologna and cheese sandwich on white sandwich bread, and apple juice.  So what’s all that stuff, the endless list of nitrates, phosphates and more? The number of ingredients in each of these food items is what’s alarming – preservatives, added sugars … chemicals. The longer the list, the more processed the product.

With most children studying for 12 years, this adds up to approximately  2, 160 lunches. So, what is seemingly not a big deal, sending our kids with the standard lunch, adds up to over two-thousand meals of unpronounceable chemicals building up in their little bodies.

One of my mantras is to always be suspicious of a food item with a shelf life longer than my own.

sandwich-890823_1920So, with life on the run, and picky eaters, what can we do to replace these Frankenstein foods with easy, quick, healthy options? Here are some healthy lunchbox tips:

  • Read the label. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t buy it. Also, there should be just a few ingredients in each food item.  The more ingredients, the more processed the food, and the less desirable it is. This goes back to eating clean and applying this concept to our children’s lunchboxes.
  • Roast a chicken on Sundays. Send kids with chicken in their sandwiches instead of bologna. (Also, try shredded or roast beef, turkey, tuna fish etc.). Instead of a long list of ingredients, you’ll have chicken, salt, pepper, spices.
  • Buy real cheese, not processed American cheeses. If your kids don’t like sharp flavors, go for mozzarella or provolone, both of which are mild. “Real cheese” will have milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes, and perhaps some vitamin A added.
  • Think outside the sandwich bread aisle. Unprocessed bread only lasts a day or so. But there are other options. Wraps and pita breads are generally less processed. They’ll need to be refrigerated, but they’re filling and healthier. If you have adventurous eaters, try cucumber or apple sandwiches – with the cheeses and meats pierced to the cucumber or apple slices. Or, make crepes in the morning .
  • Water. Water. Water. Water. Get your kids drinking water when they’re thirsty. There’s nothing wrong with juice every now and again, but juices are sugar. And we’re an over-sugared country.
  • Replace chips with fruits, vegetables with hummus, baked apple crisps, homemade muffins and banana breads. Or, if they want a chip fix, find a package that has just a few ingredients: potatoes, salt, oil. It’s not the healthiest option, but it’s better than a long list of unpronounceables.

This year, let’s keep Frankenstein for dress-up and dress-down our pantries with clean foods. With just a few adjustments to our routine, and being more aware of all those Frankenstein-like food ingredients and additives, we can have healthier lunches and habits.

Happy Halloween!