This made me so angry

The other day I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, as one does, and I came across a post that made me stop and say out loud, “are you kidding me?” It was a post by a parent looking for some advice and it included a screenshot of the snack list that their child’s summer camp sent around to parents in case their child has food allergies, etc. This is that list:

snack list

As a certified health coach, when I look at this list I see:

Sugar, artificial colors, chemicals, trans fats, and more sugar.

Presumably, the children at this camp will be spending their days and doing activities inside and outside. These are not foods that will nourish and support these busy growing bodies. These are foods that are high in calories but very, very low in nutrition. They are deliberately designed to be hyper-palatable (in other words, super duper tasty to our human senses) so we want more. This hyper-palatability and lack of nutrition make it very easy to overeat these foods. Beyond that, more problems have been associated with these food ingredients, including tooth decay, attention problems, hyperactivity problems, hormonal issues, chronic illness, and obesity (for more on the link between food and childhood behavioral issues, check out The NDD Book by Dr. William Sears). These are not foods I want to see fed to children 5 days a week.

That’s not to say that I’m a fanatic – anyone who knows me will tell you that I am the exact opposite of a fanatic and the first one to dig into a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips. Are these foods OK to eat once in a while as a treat? Absolutely. Once in a while is perfectly fine. It’s when these foods are routine that we really have a problem.

What struck me about this list is that there is not a single healthy option on the list – even the “alternative” snacks are questionable (not to mention, what child is going to be OK with having plain Cheerios while their friends are having bright orange Cheetos? Show me one…I’ll wait.)

So if you disagree with this diet as a parent, your options are to send your kid with an alternative snack and a. listen to your child push back about how none of their friends have to eat that and they feel left out, b. your child gets picked on by the other kids for bringing their own healthy snacks (and we know kids tease each other about the most menial things), and c. be labeled the fanatical, overbearing parent.

While I have not reached out to the camp as I don’t know which camp it is, I assume that their argument in favor of these snacks is what we hear time and again about healthy food: budget.

OK. Here’s the thing: you can buy a box of Zebra Cakes for $2.25 and that gives you 10 mini cakes (5 packages of 2). Most kids are going to want both cakes, so you’re only feeding 5 kids with that box. You can buy a 2-lb bag of carrots for $1.50 and feed around, oh say, 10 kids. You can use the cost savings there to buy a jumbo tub of dip (like hummus) for the carrots… The budget argument doesn’t really hold up, huh? To do it even cheaper, you could turn making hummus to dip the carrots into an educational activity for the kids and have them make their own with a can of chickpeas and some oil. (More more information on eating healthy foods on a budget, check out this video of my workshop on it).

The old adage is “healthy habits start at home.” This is absolutely true; but, if your child is then being fed unhealthy foods by their care providers 5 days a week, that can really undermine all of your efforts at home. It’s like you, as a parent, teaching them “please” and “thank-you” at home and then having them taught “now” and “give me” 5 days a week at school.

I know for a fact that most in-school, after-school, and camp programs operate on a very tight budget and I am 100% sympathetic to that. And I understand that the government has massively rolled back any healthy food initiatives for school lunches. This is a huge issue but I don’t think the situation is completely hopeless. My impression is that many of the decision-makers for these programs are going into planning under the assumption that healthy foods are simply unaffordable. But there are many, many ways to get and prepare healthy foods on the cheap.

Do you know of any camp programs with menus like this one? I would love an introduction to try to begin to have conversations with directors about how healthy menu changes can be implemented. Please send me an email at wellandsimplehealth@gmail.com.

On a personal note, are you a parent who has been struggling to get your children to eat healthier foods? If so, we should talk. Please feel free to email me at wellandsimplehealth@gmail.com.

 

Further reading:

If you want to learn more about the effects of manufactured foods on our brain, check out The Hungry Brain by Stephan J. Guyenet.

If you want to learn more about the links between food additives and sugar and childhood attention and behavioral issues, check out the NDD Book by Dr. William Sears.

Product Review: RX Bars

If you have any health-oriented friends on Facebook, I’m sure they’ve been filling your feed with photos of them proudly holding an RX Bar and proclaiming how thrilled they are at its simple, natural ingredients. Many people rave about these and many people absolutely hate them. Most notably, the Food Babe has decried their ingredients list and marketing as misleading and toxic. As a general rule, I don’t listen to anything Food Babe says since she has no nutritional education whatsoever and her concerns are rarely if ever based on actual science. See this article here for more on that.

Given all the love it or hate it out there on these bars, I wanted to give you my take on them as a certified health coach and human who likes food.

Ingredients/Nutrition

I am all for simple, short ingredients lists and these bars deliver on that. However, short simple ingredients does not a healthful food make. While these bars do not contain added sugars, they still contain dates as a sweetener and a binding agent. In fact, these are listed as the first ingredient. Looking at the different flavors, the amount of sugar in them ranges from 13 grams to a whopping 17 grams! These are not a low-sugar snack and their stickiness really underscores that. That being said, they are a great source of fiber and protein which help slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. However, I wouldn’t make this a staple of your daily diet.

Some critics (cough cough Food Babe cough cough) will say that these bars are poison because their ingredients are not organic and may be genetically modified…….. if you know me you know that my eyebrow went way up at this. Yes, organic is always preferable¬† but it is unreasonable in today’s world to expect everything to contain small-scale, completely unprocessed, entirely organic ingredients, especially if you are eating a food that comes with a wrapper. I would much rather have you eat a snack bar made with whole food ingredients (like these) than chips or cookies made with trans fats and preservatives.

Texture/Flavor

As I alluded to above, these bars are STICKY. Like hillbilly Halloween costume smile after a few bites sticky. They’re similar in texture to a Larabar….but stickier. Given their stickiness and sugar content, these could be a good money maker for your dentist if you eat them frequently.

As for flavor, the only one I truly like is the Coconut Chocolate flavor. It tastes like coconut and chocolate, what’s not to like? The other flavors are not so good. I’ve heard this same exact thing from a number of people as well. The date flavor tends to come through and doesn’t always play well with the other flavors. It’s all about personal preference though.

Satiety

RX bars contain just over 200 calories per bar so they’re not at a meal replacement level. However, given their high protein and fiber amounts, they will fill you up and keep you feeling satisfied for a while. To me, those are two great things to look for in a snack, not too many calories and long-term satiety.

Conclusion

There are definitely some texture and flavor issues with RX Bars, but if you don’t mind those, they’re not a bad option for a snack. While I wouldn’t recommend eating them every day or regularly, they are a solid occasional snack and are definitely a better option than reaching for some cookies or chips. They contain far more nutrition than most prepackaged snack foods and are missing the troublesome ingredients that prepackaged snacks often have, such a artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, trans fats, and added sugars. Having some fruit or veggies or nuts is definitely a healthier snack option, but these will do on the go or in a pinch. The key here, as with most things, is balance and moderation.