For years, I worried about what to make my daughter Claire for lunch every day not wanting to pack a lunch with too much sugar in it and possibly cause acid reflux. Early in life she attended a great Montessori school that did not have a cafeteria and I would pack my sweet little preschooler “lunch” in her favorite Hello Kitty lunch box. I remember the day her principal called me:
Principal: "Hi Dr. Wei! Claire has been telling her teacher that her lunch has come up into her throat. Has she been telling you this at home?"
Me: “No, she hasn’t. Thank you so much for telling me.”
I knew immediately what that meant: my 4-year old was having acid reflux and it’s because of what I packed in her lunch box—a Capri Sun pouch drink, 2 Oreo cookies and a PB&J sandwich on white bread. These items all have one thing in common: they contain a high amount of sugar.
Here were our typical conversations about lunch:
Me: “Claire-Bear, what would you like for lunch tomorrow?”
Claire: "I don't care Mommy."
Me: "PB&J or turkey and cheese?"
Claire: "PB&J is fine."
So PB&J it is! I guess I will make "turkey and cheese” the following day.
If this is what you currently make your child for lunch, I am not trying to make you feel bad, but I do want to share my epiphany as a mother, why this is such an important issue for the Healthy Kids Movement and the risk of acid reflux causing runny nose, stuffy nose, cough, croup, etc.
As a busy mother who works full time, I was so proud of myself for making her lunch at all! When she was 3-4, before I practiced what I share now, I didn’t spend much time thinking about lunch and its impact on her health. My job was to pack a lunch with items she “liked” and would eat, like a juice box and other items full of sugar. In fact, she often had grapes with her pouched drinks! Sugar, sugar, sugar! Making her lunch was a checklist item that only took up 2 minutes of my time. After learning how to read nutrition fact labels, I realized there was too much sugar in her lunch! I've stopped buying Capri Sun since 2008 and we almost never buy juice boxes (except for some parties).
I continued to struggle for a few years with packaged items that were “easy” to use but still processed, and yogurt products that were just beginning to rise in popularity. No doubt Claire had some more episodes of backwash into her mouth due to bad lunches! She is now in 7th grade and I am doing much better with making quality lunches. She even brings a water bottle filled with water daily.
After moving to Orlando, Claire started 2nd grade and I continued to struggle with lunch options. One night she asked me a question that changed all her future lunch options: “Mommy, why do you not pack me hot pasta in a thermos?” I was dumbfounded. "Mommy never thought about that."
She shared that her new, dear friend at school has a thermos and the child got to eat chicken noodle soup for lunch—a hot lunch. I can't believe that my 7 year old helped me think outside the box. I was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan, where hot lunch was the norm, every day, for everyone. We students had metal boxes, and mothers and grandmothers packed rice and leftovers from dinner the night before for lunch the next day. I LOVE HOT FOOD! Yet, I never thought about preparing it for Claire's lunches.
I still remember sending my husband off to Walgreen's that night to look for a thermos excited to impress my 7 year old with the ability to deliver hot lunches, and stop the PB&J and turkey and cheese madness. He came back and handed me this cute plastic pink one, of course. The next morning, I heated up chicken noodle soup and put it in the thermos, all the while picturing the heat melting plastic and leaking BPA (bisphenol A) into the food—a chemical and poison which can get into the blood stream if eaten—and my poor little girl eating that with her soup.
I insisted that Dave order a better one online and we chose the Thermos brand real vacuum insulated food jar. Ever since the arrival of the gorgeous, shiny, easy to clean thermos, I have been able to pack her homemade spaghetti and meat sauce, home cooked pasta gently tossed with olive oil and some shaved parmesan cheese, or garlic/basil/tomatoes, or chunks of steak and broccoli from dinner with rice, chicken stir-fry, green beans—endless lunch options. And always, cut up fresh fruit like watermelon, honeydew, pears, etc.
My own mother would be proud. Hot foods are simply divine and warm the soul! Chinese people believe in the power of warm and hot liquids instead of cold. My paternal grandfather never drank any cold liquids, and I know the reason was that by warming our core, it should encourage dilation of blood vessels and blood flow. This is believed to improve digestion overall. Grandpa always walked 1000 steps after every meal rather than sitting down and just letting the food sit there. Grandfather lived until 93!
A new routine for us is right after dinner, I pack her lunch in her glass Tupperware container and refrigerate. In the morning, we pack the Tupperware into her lunch bag. Her school has a microwave students can access. But for prior years, I would put hot water in the Thermos for a few minutes, then heat up the meal over the stove or in the microwave, and pack it in the food jar. Claire loved that. Although lunch wasn’t piping hot a few hours later, this worked for many years.
Does all this take work? Absolutely. Is my child worth it? Absolutely. I love food and expressing my love of family through food.
I hope that you will get a Thermos, and free yourself from the PB&J and turkey and cheese sandwich dilemma! Try it, I think you and your child will enjoy new lunch options and say goodbye to prepackaged stuff that is high in sugar and has the potential to cause acid reflux, like Lunchables, drinkable yogurt smoothies, pouches, tubes, applesauce, chocolate pudding, etc!
Eat healthy, be healthy and teach great eating habits early.
Blog updated January 30, 2019.