Thursday, April 22, 2010

In the lunchbox: What's healthy or what's convenient?

I was watching British chef Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution the other night, and was struck by a scene in which he showed elementary school kids in Huntington, West Virginia -- recently named the unhealthiest place in America -- how chicken nuggets are made.

It was pretty revolting.

When Oliver's done demonstrations like this in England, the school kids are disgusted by the nuggest and reach for the grilled chicken legs instead. But when he tried the experiment in West Virginia the kids, who gagged and gasped while he showed the what went into the nuggets, clamored to eat the final, uber-processed product. Here's the clip, courtesy of YouTube:

My kids, like most kids, like chicken nuggets. I don't have time to make my own all the time, so the ones they get in their lunchbox are as "natural" as possible, but really, they're still fake food. And after watching this, I felt kind of bad about it. Which isn't Oliver's point at all; a once-in-a-while -- or even once-a-week -- chicken-nugget lunch isn't going to rocket kids into obesity. But coupled with studies that say working moms are raising unhealthy kids, it does ratchet up the guilt levels, no matter how healthy the rest of their lunches are.

Of course, it's possible to pack healthy lunches for your kids. What makes it less convenient is when those healthy lunches also have to be portable, disposable, not require reheating or refrigeration, and peanut and tree-nut free (and, in my case, gluten-free as well). Throw a picky eater into the equation and it's easy to see how schools started serving sugary, fatty, cheaply made, processed foods instead of wholesome, home-cooked fare.

Do you feel like you have to choose between healthy and convenient when it comes to packing your kids lunches? What kind of food is your child's school serving in the cafeteria?

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