Yesterday I made a fast stop at Loblaw’s to pick up some brown rice for a client (it was 7:20am and my local independent was still shuttered). Although I shop mostly at Mom and Pop shops, bulk stores and smaller independent food outlets, in general I have nothing against grocery stores or chains. I believe shoppers can be smart and make good choices at pretty much any food retailer if armed with the right info to see through the marketing hype.

Having worked in consumer marketing myself for many years before I shifted to living the life of a blissful nutritionist  I am attuned to their wily pitches and find them alternately amusing and appalling.  This includes the infamous President’s Choice Insider’s Report which currently is all about Back to School.

First – let me give credit where it is due: there are a couple of good tips in this flyer.  Like the idea of using hummus as a sandwich spread to “amp up the flavour”.  I also tell clients to use hummus in place of mayo when making tuna or salmon salad.  It’s a burst of flavour and added nutrition.

The President also points out right on the first page that ½ cup of blueberries is a serving of fruit, as is one mandarin orange or one small banana – a helpful reminder for people trying to get to their required 10+ servings of vegetables and fruit a day.

But…..there on the page titled ‘Nutritious ideas for the Lunch Box!’ we have the following: individually packaged cheese portions right next to the Dairy Farmers logo (umm, hello rich lobbyists), shelf stable flavoured milks (storable without refrigeration because the milk is heated to an even higher temperature than regular pasteurized milk, a move sure to kill off the last remaining vestiges of live nutrition along with any reputedly ‘scary’ bacteria), ‘fresh’ fruits from South Africa, Chile, Costa Rica, Equador and the USA (as if we don’t have blueberries right here in Canada), and the pièce de résistance – canned sparkling tropical fruit juice that allows you to “squeeze in 2 more fruit servings!” along with the 20mg of sodium and 31g of sugar you get in each can.  Oh boy.

Sadly, it gets worse. A few pages in you see the PC Oven Roasted Turkey Breast touted as a deli meat with no nitrites.  Don’t be fooled.  This highly refined product is filled with preservatives and other chemical gunk including potassium lactate, glucose, phosphate, carrageenan and caramel colour.  You also get 25% of your daily sodium requirements from just 3 slices. Add a PC Wrap for another 10%, a handful of the PC Little Penguin crackers which adds another 7%, and a new PC Carrot Cake for another 5% and you – or your kids – are already up to 47% of the total daily sodium just from you lunchbag!  Oh and that’s just sodium – we haven’t even gotten to the soaring levels of other preservatives or sugars that most packaged foods contain.

My point is this: no matter what Loblaws or any other retailer tells you about a new easy, healthier or better-for-you choice to pack in your own lunch bag or that of your children, you need to look beyond the marketing and really ask yourself if these foods contribute to your health and your energy and your future wellbeing, or can you do better?

I know you are busy.  I know back to school time is challenging.  I know kids can be picky.  I know that sometimes you may need to rely on a faster option than one made from scratch.   All true.   But how about considering this bit of wisdom from Edward Stanley: “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”  Ouch.

Instead of having lunch with The President, come have it with me and a few other savvy folk who are going to learn new ways to  Avoid the Lunch Bag Let Down  at a culinary workshop on Saturday September 29th .  No hype. No spin. Just smart and tasty lunch ideas, fast.