By now, many of you have probably seen the statement by The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) indicating that all processed meats cause cancer (particularly bowel cancer) and that large amounts of red meat likely (but not certainly) causes cancer. Processed meat includes foods like sausage, pepperoni, bacon, hot dogs, ham, cold cuts, etc. The IARC say that the risk of developing cancer is about 18% higher for every 50 g serving of processed meat eaten per day.

While the headlines in the media suggest that our worlds should be turned upside down, really, this information has never been “new” news. The evidence has already built up enough over the years to allow for recommendations against processed meats whenever possible. They are known to contain high levels of nitrates and nitrites and much research has shown the links to bowel cancer.

Going back to the basics has always been my philosophy on healthy eating – keeping it simple with unadulterated food cooked at home and in it’s whole form. This includes eating fresh, lean unprocessed meats whenever possible and – based on the Mediterranean diet – reducing the consumption of red meat to a few times per month. Notice I said reduce the amount of red meat consumed (not necessarily eliminate!). Meat is still a good source of nutrients such as protein, iron and zinc. It’s just about being well balanced and sensible (not eating too much, too often).

That all being said, I know when I think of processed meats, I immediately think of the one population group that seem to actually consume DAILY servings of it… and that unfortunately is school aged children! It is the dreaded lunch box staple that parents will tell me is such a struggle for them… so convenient… yet so unhealthy!! You know how it goes… Monday it’s a ham and cheese, Tuesday it’s a turkey and lettuce, Wednesday it’s chicken deli meat with diced cheese, and then it probaby repeats for the second half of the week.

But what’s a busy parent to do? How can you realistically replace processed meat with something just as easy that the kids love?

Here are my 4 top suggestions to replace lunchbox processed meats that you can try with your kids to make truly healthy lunches a reality!

1. Make your own sandwich meat filling

Using fresh meat is a delicious, healthy way to swap out deli meats while still keeping the familiar sandwich an option for your child. Try simply grilling or broiling chicken breast and slicing it in thin pieces against the grain for a more hearty and fresh option. Why not leave the chicken breast intact and even sub out the sandwich bread for a whole grain hamburger bun to create a weekly “chicken burger day” that’s bound to be a hit for your little one! Another great way to incorporate fresh chicken or turkey would be to roast a whole bird to use all week long. Try shredding it for a pulled chicken or turkey sandwich, or just on it’s own (kids LOVE “stringy” chicken).

Remember: cooked poultry, meats and seafood will last 3-4 days in the fridge and will freeze well for up to 3 months in the freezer!

2. Make use of your thermos

Especially with the cold winter on its way, it’s about time to break out your thermos and start thinking beyond the sandwiches and cold finger foods. Soups, stews, pastas, casseroles and pretty much anything thats made at home for supper can be used the next day. This way, kids are moving away from processed meats and into more home cooked hot lunches that you can feel good about (plus, it helps to use up your leftovers).

3. Go vegetarian​

Going vegetarian doesn’t have to be boring! There are tons of ways to create a protein rich lunch without using meat at all. Try making smashed bean fajitas with grated cheese and veggie toppings, hummus dip with whole grain crackers and veggies, boiled or scrambled eggs in a wrap, or a soy butter and sliced apple sandwich. You can also use tofu as great and versatile meat alternative. Keep it sliced for sandwiches, crumble and use in wraps, cut in squares and mix into quinoa or leftover pasta, add to soup, or let them eat it on the side with a sandwich. The possibilites are endless!

4. Non-traditional salads

While it may be hard to get a filling salad out of greens only (not to mention kids may not love the taste), it’s not hard to get creative with salads when you think a little outside the box! Tuna salad, chicken salad or egg salad sandwiches will always be staples.. but what about a whole grain pasta salad with veggies and your choice of fresh protein? High protein salad options are a cinch… think chickpea salads, lentil salads, quinoa salads, bean and rice salads, sweet potato salads etc. Add cheese for a creamy feel and flavour and voila!

If you need recipes, time saving tips or are thinking “My kid would never eat a lentil salad!”… contact me for advice on how to introduce these new foods to your child and modify them to make them enjoyable and still healthy!

Happy packing,

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