A month ago, I posted a pic on @therealisticmum Instagram and Facebook page of Eva and me making the school sandwiches for the week that we keep in the freezer to make the mornings run a little more smoothly. This began brilliant discussions with followers, friends and readers about school lunches and some advice on preparing easy and healthy ones. I'm no expert and really just the type of mum that sticks in a piece of fruit, a sandwich, yoghurt and either a packaged snack or something home made. Now there is nothing wrong with that, but it did spark my interest in looking at other options for my kids and steering away from packaged and processed, which I am trying to do this year. I also really have no idea about what ingredients aren't great, for example the amount of sugar in something. To be honest I usually go for the most appealing thing without even considering what it says on the back. As I was talking about this to another blogging friend she said I have just the person to interview for your next post. So! Introducing The Root Cause and the family behind it; Belinda and Israel, and their two children Indrani and Rilian. They travel around Australia and regularly appear on TV shows like Sunrise as well as speak in schools educating parents and children about healthy school lunches. Plus so much more! I was blown away by the interview and hope you are too. After reading what they have shared, please visit their site for more information and you can go directly to their website and social media outlets by clicking on their links here. Enjoy the lunchboxecation! (made up word)
1. What is The Root Cause?
The Root Cause is the brainchild of me and my husband Israel – we’re a Mum and Dad on a mission to Transform Children’s Health in Australia, One Lunchbox at a Time. Our focus is on using simple and fun messages to help children and parents understand and take responsibility for the food they put in their mouth, and to have meaningful conversations about healthy food, without the usual parent-child power struggle.
We run education programs for children starting from 3 and up, parent workshops to help address the barriers to packing healthy lunchboxes, and an online eCourse to help parents pack healthy lunchboxes in about 5 minutes a day. We’ve been featured on Channel 7’s Sunrise several times, along with a host of news TV and print/online media, covering our current Australian Tour, our online eCourse, and our education program for children, The Mad Food Science Program™.
More than 1 in 4 children are considered overweight or obese, according to the latest government reports, and the trend is worsening. We couldn’t simply sit back and watch, without taking some action to try to change the obesity and health stats for children in this country.
2. How can we easily change our kid's lunch boxes so they are less packaged and more nutritious?
The first thing to do is to acknowledge that where you are at right now is perfect. There is no benefit from judging yourself or others harshly when it comes to food. Instead of beating ourselves up for choices made in the past, it’s far more productive to simply make better choices moving forward, with each new piece of information you learn.
Having said all of that, we’ve had the most success personally by making gradual changes. Massive changes all at once tend to overwhelm children and parents, and they are usually met with resistance and lots of push-back.
Our recommendation is to start small. If you want your children to eat more fruit and vegetables, gradually start adding them into the lunchbox. Start with a vegetable you know they like. You could even add a dip to make having the vegetables more fun. Then choose one packaged food item you’d like to eliminate, and find a recipe to make it at home. Or if you’re pressed for time, you could also find a healthier packaged food item (e.g. moving from additive-laden crackers to a different brand with no additives). Once you’ve had a few small wins like this, start introducing more real food – fruits, vegetables, homemade snacks without any additives and minimal sugar.
This is more likely to result in longer-term changes that are easier to make and easier to continue.
3. How do we get our kids to steer towards the healthier food and turn away from packaged and 'convenience' foods?
Again, this starts slowly, as it takes time to transition our children’s eating habits. Firstly, I would recommend every parent and child sit down together as a family and watch That Sugar Film. It really is a fantastic documentary, and is very accessible to kids as well as parents. It will give the whole family a better understanding about how unhealthy some packaged food can be, and perhaps even inspire the family to make a few small changes themselves straight away.
Also remember that children often need 7-12 tastes of a food before they can really work out if they like it or not. And our palates change and evolve over time, too. Remember tasting wine or beer for the first time? What about blue cheese, or coffee? For me, all of those tastes were a resounding “Yuck!” the first time, but as a parent, imagine a world without coffee, wine, blue cheese, or beer?!
Not many people like change, and that’s what it’s like for kids when we start putting new foods in front of them – it’s a change, so you need to be consistent and persistent with putting in front of them the foods you want them to eat.
Try putting a pick plate of cut vegetables – carrots, celery, capsicum, cucumber, etc – in the middle of the dinner table before dinner, or after school. If you do this when your children are hungry, before they have had other food, they are more likely to eat it. Eventually your kids will get curious, and try the food. Whilst your trying this out, I always say be prepared to have left overs for your own lunch. Once they’ve tried a few times, they might tell you what they like and don’t like. Then, you can start including some of that in their school lunches in place of one of the packaged foods. Over time, you can gradually add more and more real food to the lunchbox, while crowding out all the packaged foods.
One more tip is to simply stop buying the “convenience” or packaged foods. Don’t even let them get put in your shopping trolley, because once you’ve done that, you’ve psychologically more committed to buying the items. Once the items get home into the pantry, you’re more likely to eat them, because to throw it in the bin is wasteful of both money and food. If you resist even putting those products in your trolley, you’ll be less likely to buy them. If they’re not in the pantry, they won’t get eaten. And instead your kids will eat the food that is there – which of course will be healthier, real foods! ;)
4. Where can we get ideas to keep our motivation going to make healthier lunches for our kids? I always start the year off like this but as we get busy and I get tired towards the middle or end of the term, I really start to slack off on what goes into my kid's lunch boxes.
Obviously our Instagram account (@theRootCauseAU) or Facebook page (http://facebook.com/theRootCauseAU) is a great place to start! I post photos and details of the lunchboxes I pack for my family almost every day – school days or not – and that often gives our community a bit of extra inspiration to keep packing healthier lunches.
I also try to create a new healthy snack or lunch recipe every week, and that gets emailed out to our email community everySaturday, and shortly afterwards on our website. Your readers can subscribe here: http://therootcause.com.au/free-updates/
The 5 Minute Healthy Lunchbox System eCourse is another great place to learn and get inspiration. It’s loaded with 12 weeks of menu plans, shopping lists and recipes plus education modules including templates to help get your children more involved in their lunchboxes.
Beyond that, there are really a lot of wonderful other resources that we subscribe to – the best bet is to do some solid Googling or searching FB or IG, and see what you resonate and connect with.
5. How can we learn about ingredients and the amount of sugar in some packaged foods? I'm the type of mum that goes for the look of the package e.g. Star Wars yoghurts! I would have no idea which yoghurt is the healthiest and same with most other foods that I would put into my kid's lunch boxes.
Before we started this journey of cleaning up our family’s food, I was that Mum that went for the Star Wars yoghurts and other fancy packaged foods too, so I can completely relate to that.
The key message here is the same one that I share with children in The Mad Food Science Program™ – the educational incursion we run for school-aged kids. All packaged food has come from a marketing company who have done everything they can to make the front of a packet look appealing, healthy, and beneficial for you and your children. Labels like “lunchbox friendly” or illustrations including movie or TV characters are all part of the marketer’s toolkit.
However, you are better off completely ignoring the front of the packet, and instead turning it over to look at the list of ingredients, and the Nutritional Information panel. Here are some simple tips I offer kids at my workshops, which are just as easily applicable for parents:
1) If it has more than 6 ingredients, put it back on the shelf. It’s too processed.
2) If “sugar” (or one of its aliases - http://www.responsiblefoods.org/sugar_names) appears in the first three ingredients, put it back on the shelf. It’s likely to have too much sugar in it, and not enough real food.
3) Remembering that 1 teaspoon of sugar is 4g, count how many grams of sugar are in the whole packet, and then divide by 4. Now imagine sitting down to eat that many teaspoons of sugar in one sitting, and consider it in the context of every other food your child might eat in a day. Scary? Exactly. (Note: The World Health Organisation recommends a maximum of 3 teaspoons of added sugar for children per day – this is across ALL meals.)
I also recommend you start to look at the specific additives and preservatives (these usually appear as numbers in the ingredients list) and understanding if there are any potential impacts to your family’s health. If you really want to get technical, you can start to look into what some of the chemical ingredients in your foods are. For a comprehensive guide, check out these recent blog posts of mine:
6. What does the kids of The Root Cause's lunch boxes look like?
Again, check out our Instagram or Facebook, because the lunchboxes I photograph and post up there are the ones I make for my kids.
7. My kids love their sandwiches and I always make up and freeze a weeks worth to save time in the morning. If I wanted to keep doing this, what is some other ideas that I could add to their lunch boxes that I can do the same process? e.g. freeze muffins, pre cut fruit and veg etc
The best suggestion I could make here are to check the Recipes section of our website - http://therootcause.com.au/category/recipes/ - because most of these recipes are ones I make in advance and freeze.
And, like you suggested, pre-cutting fresh carrot, celery, cucumber, etc into sticks or rounds, and keeping them in a sealed container in the fridge is a great way to save time preparing lunchboxes.
8. For mums on a budget, are these types of lunch boxes affordable? Sometimes ingredients like dried fruit and seeds can be really expensive compared to a bag of Smith's chips.
This is a great question. Marketing plays a big role in getting us to believe packaged products are more convenient and cheaper. Buying real food ingredients is about on par with, and often cheaper than buying packet food in purely monetary terms. For example, you might pay $10 for a 1kg block of cheese which you can then cut into cheese sticks, but buying a packet of “stringers” style cheese sticks works out to around $35/kg for the convenience of having them pre cut and packaged – not to mention the other additives they often contain.
Again, buying a whole 1.5kg chicken might cost around $10, which you can then cut and prepare into wings, drummers, chicken breast, etc and use as a high protein lunchbox food. Whereas buying the same pieces of chicken at their per kg price might cost as much as $30.
By spending a small amount of time preparing food in advance each week, you can turn some inexpensive ingredients into wholesome, healthy, homemade food for lunchboxes.
Another thing to consider is how the food is likely to satisfy your child’s hunger. Something like seeds is packed with protein and healthy fats which helps keep tummies fuller, so you don’t need as many. But packets of chips are empty food and a child will be hungry again, usually within 40 minutes.
9. Where can we go to find out more information from The Root Cause to share with other parents?
We have also now opened rolling enrolments into our online eCourse The 5 Minute Healthy Lunchbox System™. Parents can pack healthy lunchboxes in just 5 minutes a day using my system, which includes 12 weeks of menu plans, recipes and shopping lists to make getting started a total breeze. The eCourse is delivered online via email, starts when you start, and you get lifetime access to the materials, videos, and recipes. For more information and to enrol visit http://therootcause.com.au/lunchbox/
Hope you enjoyed reading about The Root Cause and don't forget to check them out. Stay tuned for my latest blogs coming to you soon - Are you an annoying school parent? and How to get your kids to tidy up their toys. Keep and eye out for more recipes and book reviews!
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