This fall, I’m taking a couple of graduate courses at a local university. The courses are taught in a “blended” format, meaning half of the class meetings are online and the other half are in-person. The in-person classes are 3 hours, and the teacher usually gives a 10-15 minute break roughly halfway through class so that we can eat or at the very least, get up from our chairs.
Last week, one of my classes met for an in-person session. At just about the halfway point of the class, the teacher let us have our break. As some of my classmates began talking and as I rose to go to the bathroom, I happened to look to my left, where a girl was sitting quietly and eating. When I looked down at the table, I saw a yellowish, rectangular-shaped box in front of her. She was eating a Lunchables.
Yes, you read that correctly. Lunchables.
Three things immediately went through my head, in this exact order:
2. They still make those things?
I was definitely a bit taken aback by this, and in a mild state of disbelief that anyone around my age would eat a Lunchables or think it was a remotely healthy food choice. This feeling remained with me for a few days after class, and I began to think about, hypothetically, what I would say to this girl to help get her nutrition on the right track. I thought about what I felt was some of the best nutrition advice I’d ever gotten. I also thought about advice that would be relatively easy to institute immediately. What were a couple quick, dirty, general nutrition tips that I felt were very important?
After thinking it over for a while, here’s what I came up with:
1. Eat Like an Adult
I learned this tip from the King of Simplicity himself, Dan John, and I absolutely love it. Ask yourself this question before your next meal: “Is this something a 6 year-old would eat?” Or if you have kids, “Is this something my son or daughter would eat?” If the answer to one of those questions is yes, and the food item in question is something a child would have at snack-time or in his or her lunchbox, then it’s probably not something you should eat.
Toaster Strudels? Sorry, those are out.
Frosted Mini-Wheats? Sorry, out.
Cheese Puffs? Out.
Snack Packs? Nice try, Billy Madison.
Lunchables? Again, really?
If you’re ever in doubt about what’s on your plate, remember to ask yourself: “Is this something a kid would eat?” And if the answer is yes, you could probably make a more nutritious, mature choice.
2. Eat Real Food
I got this tip from food writer Michael Pollan. What is real food? Well, there are a few ways to determine whether a given food item is real:
- If there are about 5 ingredients or less in the nutrition facts, or if the food simply has one ingredient, which is itself (i.e. “chicken” or “broccoli”), then most likely it’s real.
- If there are any ingredients whose names you can’t pronounce, then most likely it’s not real.
- If it’s man-made, it’s not real (the great Jack LaLanne once said, “If man made it, don’t eat it.”).
- If it’s processed (almost anything in a box, i.e. cookies or “TV dinners”), it’s not real.
Interestingly, processed foods are typically the most calorically-dense, and the least nutrient-dense. Real food, on the other hand, is usually the most nutrient-dense, and the least calorically-dense. Aim to fill the majority of your diet with real, minimally-processed foods. Not only do these foods taste great, but they will help you feel better and look better, as well.
Oh, and just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s real or good for you!
My next in-person class is next week, and I’ll be waiting intently until then to see if this girl brings a Lunchables again. In the meantime, eat like an adult and eat real food!