On Wednesday I received the weekly mailer from HyVee where I do my grocery shopping. I LOVE HyVee and find it to be probably the best place in Iowa...so I was really upset to find what this "Big 2-Week Ad" for back to school contained.
In it were coupons for the normal things, crayons, backpacks, lunch boxes, but I am not wanting to focus on those things today, I am more focused upon the items that would go into the lunch boxes. The actual lunch itself.
What made me sad was that this "back to school" mailer had pretty much nothing but deals on highly processed foods with little or no nutritional value. I talked a little bit about NuVal in a previous post. NuVal is a scoring system for food, telling you how good the food is for you. It's a quick and easy way to tell if you are making healthy food choices. 100 is the highest score and foods that are given a NuVal score of 100 are highly nutritious whereas foods that score a 1 have pretty much no nutritional value. That being said, let's take a look at what HyVee is touting as "good" back to school lunch deals.
Right away on the first page there is a coupon for boxed macaroni and cheese with a NuVal score of 8. Easy, yes, nutritious NO. Then we open up the mailer to find a huge two page spread where you get a backpack filled with back to school supplies for only $4.99 (a $25 value) if you buy 5 of the following products:
- A 2 liter bottle of pepsi - NuVal score of 1
- Lays Potato Chips - a NuVal score of 12 (wow, I thought that would've been lower)
- Cheetos Bacon Cheddar Cracker Packs - Amazingly, no NuVal score but I am guessing it's not high
- A Frito Lay Variety Pack- Again, no score, but my guess is somewhere between 1 and 10.
Then we turn the page, and we find more chips, fruit snacks (NuVal of 1), more boxes of macaroni and cheese for ridiculously low prices and it continues. Kool Aid 10 for $1 (NuVal of 3), Hamburger Helper 5 for $5 (NuVal of 2), Oreo Cookies $2.88 (NuVal of 4), CapriSun juice drinks $1.97 for a pack of 10 (NuVal 1). And my personal favorite, LUNCHABLES! Oh Lunchables, highly processed meats and cheeses (or cheese food) that may not even be real meat or cheese, 4 for $5 and a NuVal score of a whopping 5! Oh yes and if you buy 2 of those, you get a free lunchbox.
Now by this time you are probably saying, "wait, Elizabeth, what about the fruits and vegetables?" I am glad you asked my friends because they are located on the last page. Last after all the processed foods, they are the most expensive items in the mailer and yet they are the only items in this mailer that offer any nutritional value. Peaches -$1.28/lb and NuVal of 99, Pears -$.99/lb and NuVal of 96, fresh green beans- $.99/lb and NuVal of 100, baby carrots- $1.48 for a 32 oz bag and a NuVal of 99. See the difference? I would much rather eat these.
Now here is my rant about all of this, shopping for back to school these days is getting more and more expensive. I should know, I was a teacher for seven years before having my son. The school budgets are getting smaller and smaller and therefore parents are being asked to spend more money on school supplies. This carries into the diets of our kids too. This is especially true for low income families. If you are a parent, you have a low income, and children to feed, what are you more likely to buy? The whole foods or the cheap processed foods? Parents should not be forced to make this decision and there are ways to get around this problem if we have the right resources available to parents. For one, buy locally. Your farmer's market is going to have WAY cheaper options on produce and meat than the grocery store. Second, do your research and find the store that has the cheapest prices on whole foods and shop there. There are so many things you can do to change this. Shop around the perimeter of the store, processed foods are more often than not located in the aisles. If we all stop buying these products, maybe the message will be sent that we don't want them! We want a healthier nation!
As a teacher, I used to see kids come into my room in the morning with a Pop Tart and a can of Coke, for BREAKFAST! I saw kids eating fruit snacks, lunchables, Trix Yogurt (which is not yogurt I might add), and anything else colored neon. When I taught high school I can't tell you how many kids would walk down the street and get fast food for lunch. It made me sad. Probably 9 out of 10 kids in my classes were eating like this. It makes me sad because not only are these kids not feeding their bodies what they need, they are not feeding their brains either. Time and time again we have been told by experts that kids need good, healthy foods to feed their brains. Kids who are constantly eating highly processed foods do not have the concentration they need to get through the day. They tend to be hyperactive, or overly tired. I can't tell you how many kids I had come in after lunch to my class and be so sleepy instead of revived.
In addition, schools don't give enough time to eat lunch. When I taught elementary the kids had 30 minutes, when I taught high school it was only 15 minutes. Either the kids had to scarf their lunches down, or sometimes they didn't eat at all. Many times they grabbed something really fast, that had absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever. When I lived in France, I taught there for two years, as well as having been a student there myself. Students start the school day at around 8 am, they have a two hour break for lunch where most of them go home and eat with their families, and then they return to school until about 5 pm. Most places shut down at lunch time for at least two hours. This gives people time to prepare a healthy and well balanced meal, eat that meal, and have some time to rest before returning to work or school. Kids have better concentration in France, they do better academically, and amazingly France has a very low occurance of hyperactivity in children.
It is absolutely essential to feed our children's brains with healthy and nutritious foods as well as their bodies. These are lessons that we can instill NOW in our kids that they will have for a lifetime.
So, I have had my say, now I want to challenge all of you who have kids going to school to do right by them. Even if your income is fixed. Visit NuVal's website to find a scoring guide, or if you live in the Midwest, HyVee has the scores posted on the price labels. Pack your kids a lunch for the first day of school that does not have any items with a score lower than 75. For a drink, give water, not juice. Don't forget to leave me a comment and tell me how you did! Talk to your kids teachers and have them encourage parents to pack healthy lunches. We CAN change this, we just have to stand up!
Until next time, happy and HEALTHY cooking and EATING!