When I went to elementary school, one of the most important items that I had with me was my lunch box. The theme printed on my lunch box was a critical determinant of my status in the class my lunch

By Dr. Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO

When I went to elementary school, one of the most important items that I had with me was my lunch box. The theme printed on my lunch box was a critical determinant of my status in the class; my lunch box would either set me up as one of the ‘cool’ kids or would generate teasing and, in that case, ultimately a ‘lost’ lunch box.   Either way, what was packed inside my lunch box was, as best as I can remember, pretty standard fare – a sandwich with whole wheat bread, carrot sticks, an apple and some cookies. In hindsight, I could certainly imagine some improvements, but all in all, lunches ‘back in the day’ weren’t really that bad. Nowadays, kids are having a tougher time overall eating healthy lunches and it seems to start with preschoolers. 

The contents of a child’s lunch bag have enormous implications. The USDA’s MyPyramid for Preschoolers has established the daily recommendations for fruit and vegetables at one to two cups each and the daily intake of grains at three to five ounces, half which should be whole. Given the prevalence of picky eating and children’s widespread affinity for packaged and processed foods, packing wholesome lunches is no small feat. And, yet the consequences are so significant.  The accelerated growth that occurs during childhood and into adolescence means that the rate of cell division is revved up throughout childhood. When this finely orchestrated process of cell division goes well, we grow bigger and healthier. However, if the antioxidant status of our cells declines, free radicals assault the oxidatively vulnerable organelles of cell division. When this happens, things go wrong. Chromosomes get sticky and break and significant genetic damage occurs. This genetic damage worsens over subsequent cell divisions and ultimately becomes a set-up for adult onset diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disease and other chronic illnesses. 

Bottom Line: 

What goes into a child’s lunch box has the potential to establish the foundation for health or for disease. Children who eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains have healthier chromosomes, less genetic mishaps and ultimately a lower risk of chronic disease. When parents are educated about healthy foods for their children, and their children are educated about healthy eating, and teachers emphasize healthy food education, children’s diet patterns change.  I can’t think of a more important component of early education to give children what they need for a long and healthy life.

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