Have you ever tried to find out the ingredients in the food being served at your kids’ school? It’s certainly not an easy feat. Some have even had to file a freedom of information act to learn what food children were being served. Yes, school lunches leave little to be desired, but are they actually posing a threat to our children’s health? Our own Mamavation founder set out to get school lunch ingredients and find out. She met with a 64 ingredients chicken sandwich. The ingredients are displayed below.
In this lengthy list of ingredients, there is a lot to be concerned with. I went line by line deciphering each ingredient and determining its safety. Let’s start with the very first of the school lunch ingredients:
Conventional chicken is often full of antibiotics. Antibiotics are injected into chickens to help them grow larger and “fatten up.” With the frequent use of antibiotic drugs, it’s creating bacteria resistant to treatment with antibiotics. New research shows the antibiotic resistant bacteriophages can be transferred to humans in chicken meat. In addition to the antibiotics, it’s also common practice “plump” chickens during production with broth or salt water, another technique to create a larger product. As much as 30% of the chicken’s weight can be attributed to this plumping process. The issue here is primarily with sodium. A usually low sodium food, such as plain chicken, can skyrocket to 400mg with the addition of injected liquid.
This difficult to pronounce ingredients has gained some recognition when Subway was targeted for their use of azodicarbonamide in their bread. Azodicarbonamide is also used in rubber products like yoga mats and the soles of our shoes. This ingredient is banned in Europe as it is linked to asthma and skin irritation.
Enriched flour, and enriched foods in general, are portrayed as a a better option because they are fortified with vitamins and minerals. However, it’s the fortification that is the biggest concern for these school lunch ingredients. In processing, naturally occurring nutrients are stripped away. Many of the replacement minerals are in forms our bodies can’t fully absorb. Added in folic acid has even been linked to cancer.
Vegetable Oil/Soybean Oil
These oils are processed at high heat with added toxic chemicals and solvents. Vegetable oils are high in Omega-6 fatty acids. It’s crucial that there is a balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids in the body, but increased consumption of vegetable oils has caused this balance to get out of whack. Excess levels of Omega-6s are linked to cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and even cancer. Lastly, trans fats can be found in these oils, which are are know to be a dangerous. Trans-fats are known to cause cancer, heart disease, and other health problems.
Soy is a controversial ingredient for a number or reasons. Not only is it an allergen, it contains high levels of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens mimic estrogen in the body, something that has triggered concern relating to increased risks in cancer. Soy is also is thyroid suppressing, which can lead to a host of problems like weigh gain, fatigue, and more.
Genetically modified organisms are a topic we discuss often on Mamavation. The concern over GMO foods is spreading, as there has been a little research done on the long term affects of these biotech foods. The WHO just declared that the glyphosate, the pesticide used in GMOs is probably carcinogenic.
It’s no secret GMOs are in a lot of foods, but sometimes those ingredients are harder to spot than you think. Although animal’s are not genetically modified, their feed is, so animal products are deemed contaminated with GMOs. Here’s where GMOs are hiding in this sandwich:
- Isolated Soy Protein
- Vitamin B12
- Dried Whole Eggs
- Soybean Oil
- Vegetable Oil
Monosodium Glutamate is definitely not something we want to be feeding school children. This excitotoxin overstimulates brain cells which can lead to brain damage, tumors, learning disorders and behavioral issues. I was able to find MSG likely hidden in these ingredients:
- Vegetable Protein Product
- Isolated Soy Protein
- Enriched Bleach Wheat Flour
- Garlic Powder
- Spice Extractives
- Malted Barley Flour
Remember that this is just the chicken patty and bun, it doesn’t even include condiments or the rest of the food being served with the meal. The number of harmful school lunch ingredients most likely would be even higher with the analysis of an entire meal. We chose this chicken sandwich because it, or a very similar product, is served in schools across the country. This particular one is from a California food supplier.
It turns out this chicken sandwich, and many of the foods served up in California school districts is sourced through a co-op. In speaking with Super Coop we learned there are currently 213 schools districts in their co-op and this will be growing to 223 next year. There is somewhere just under 1000 school districts in California, so this co-op makes up about 22% of California schools. Why use a co-op? School’s must use at least 10% of the entitlement funds they receive from the government, or else they lose it. A school lunch co-op pools these funds, so unused money doesn’t go to waste and helps reduce food waste as well. The larger group of school districts amount to larger buying power. They can buy from a large manufacturer that otherwise their school district might not do business with. Although more options are needed when it comes to the food schools are feeding kids, it seems co-ops are not providing a solution to the quality of food being offered.
See For Yourself
Are you curious what’s in the food your child is being served? Ask your school’s nutrition director for a list of ingredients and see what you find. It may take some prodding, but we have the right to know what is being fed to our children. Stay informed on this and other reasons to forgo a school lunch if you can.
In addition, see if your school would be interested in a real foods lunch option, such as Revolution Foods. They’re working to make kids healthy eaters by providing chef created affordable food to schools.