school lunch and the lab rat whisperer.

 Ok, if Jennifer Love Hewitt can do it with ghosts and Cesar Millan can do it with dogs…then I’m gonna whisper the lab rats. One of the constant arguments about making school food better is the “Well, the kids are eating the same stuff at home anyway” excuse. The thing is, folks, they aren’t. They can’t. The frozen chicken nuggets  parents buy at the store are completely different than the ones the kids are eating at school..even if they are by the same brand. The food-makers-that-be are quick to tell us that the school’s version is healthier. That the food has been fortified with additional nutrients according to the USDA minimum guidelines. We are told that based off our own children’s “buying power”, this is what they want. I hear over and over again the food we give them at home is far worse than what is on that tray at school.

Oh. Really? 

In my last post, I tossed out the “What the hell is my kid eating” challenge. Luckily, I was able to get the ingredient list for a school commodity chicken nugget. So, what do you say we look at the nugget and breakdown the confusing additives together? And then, let’s see what the lab rats have to say. Why? Because nobody ever asks them.  (For both our sakes, I’m not going to discuss everything. That would take days. I do, however, want to point out some things that a parent, should know.)

the whole grain, oven baked school commodity chicken nugget. (by a brand you can relate to because you probably have it in your freezer right now)

Ingredients: Chicken, water, textured soy protein concentrate, isolated soy protein with less than 2% soy lecithin, seasoning [corn syrup solids, brown sugar, dextrose, salt, vinegar powder (maltodextrin, modified corn starch, dried vinegar), garlic powder, onion powder, chicken type flavor (hydrolyzed corn gluten, autolyzed yeast extract, sunflower oil, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate)], sodium acid pyrophosphate.

Breaded With: Whole wheat flour, enriched bleached wheat flour (enriched with niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, modified wheat starch, salt, soybean oil, spice, yellow corn flour, paprika, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate), garlic powder, natural flavor, extracts of turmeric, fumaric acid. Breading set in vegetable oil.

All right, then. Here we go.  

First, the chicken. This isn’t the chicken you see in your grocery store all shiny and vacuum packed. This is what’s left of your shiny, fresh looking chicken. This is also the product of the chickens that couldn’t make the cut in the commercial/retail arena. Meaning…such low quality they couldn’t pay you to take it and serve it to your family.

The review could determine whether the USDA will continue sending schools chicken from “spent hens” — old egg-laying birds. Commercial buyers, such as KFC and Campbell Soup, won’t buy the meat because it doesn’t meet their standards, but USA TODAY found that USDA has bought millions of pounds of spent-hen meat for schools. -from USA Today

The water is pretty self-explanatory, unless you’re wondering why chicken would need water. That brings us to the textured soy protein concentrate and the isolated soy protein with less than 2% soy lecithin. First of all, the soy’s actual purpose is to act as an extender, a binder and to add protein. These ingredients can take the shape and texture of the product they are mixed into. In other words…that chicken *and chicken parts* are so completely crappy that you need to add something to make it:  a.) nutritious, b.) look and feel like chicken, and c.) make that crappy chicken go a long way and serve lots of kids. Oh…and that’s where the water comes in…you have to re-hydrate it.

So, why the fuss over the soy?

Soy contains a high amount of phytates. What the hell’s a phytate, you ask? Well, phytates bind to minerals that, in my “just a mom” opinion, are pretty damn important…like iron, zinc, copper, calcium, and magnesium. When that happens, the phytates inhibit the absorption of the aforementioned pretty damn important minerals, especially iron. Basically, you can fortify that nugget all day long…but you’re doing it in vain by adding the soy protein mess.  Soy has also been linked to  inhibiting thyroid function resulting in a slow down of metabolism.

Hey! You promised lab rat whispering! (ok, ok..sorry)

The lab rats want you to know that there is vast amounts of research pointing to soy inhibiting mineral absorption. {1} It was also determined that things happened to them differently than in humans because, well…they are rats. The rats would also like to mention that textured soy protein (or TVP) and isolated soy protein contain, along with the phytates, phytoestrogens. While the researchers tend to find things “inconclusive”..the rats want you to know that these ingredients did give some of them fertility problems including testicular atrophy

 Back to the ingredients..

One drawback (other than the non-absorption of minerals and thyroid disruption, of course), is that all that soy extending will need some flavor to make it taste and smell like chicken. That fast tracks us to the “seasoning that has seasonings that apparently need seasoning”. OK..try to stay with me on this…

The overall “seasoning” contains: corn syrup solids, brown sugar, dextrose, salt, vinegar powder (the vinegar powder contains: maltodextrin, modified corn starch, dried vinegar), garlic powder, onion powder, chicken-type flavor (the chicken-type flavor contains: hydrolyzed corn gluten, autolyzed yeast extract, sunflower oil, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate).

Easiest way to go about this? MSG

The lab rats say: 

Scientists use MSG, on purpose, to increase the weight of  lab rats. MSG has also been linked to brain lesions, retinal degeneration, and increased appetite in the rats and their other lab animal buddies. MSG also causes a laundry list of reactions in humans such as skin rash,chest pressure, headaches, sinusitis, insomnia, hyperactivity and abdominal pain…just to name a few. {2}

The lab rats also feel it is of the utmost importance for you to know that when combined, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate can make disodium 5′-ribonucleotides. Disodium 5′- ribonucleotides are to be avoided by people with gout, asthma, and those allergic to aspirin. {3}

And, finally, let’s not forget the sodium acid pyrophosphate. This can be used for a variety of things, such as maintaining color, water retention, and acting as a source for leavening reaction (probably why it’s in the breading). It can also be used to to remove iron stains on hides during processing in leather treatment. It will come in handy if you happen to have a slaughter house. Simply add it to scalding water to clean off  that pesky stuck on hair, feathers, or scurf when your processing pork or poultry. Somebody should also call B.P. and let them know that it makes a great oil dispersant. {4}

OK…and that was just the chicken-ish part.Thankfully,  the breading is easier to decipher. The only question here is “what the heck is the natural flavor all about?” Bread has a natural flavor? I’m going to go out on a super short limb here and suggest MSG again. By the way, you should also know that the breading in the chicken counts as a bread group component. Two birds, one stone probably.

 So…what the hell is my kid eating?

The answer….roughly 70% crappy various chicken-y parts; 25% faux meat-via-soy (that inhibits mineral absorption, disrupts the thyroid, and made those poor rats’ testicles atrophy…flavored with hyperactivity causing / fat rat making MSG ; and breading *with natural bread flavor?* 

BTW…here are the ingredients for the chicken nuggets in my freezer by the same brand..

Chicken, Water, Salt, and Sodium Phosphates.Breaded with: Bleached Wheat Flour, Water, Modified Food Starch, Yellow Corn Flour, Salt, Dextrose, Leavening (Sodium Ammonium Phosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate) Spice, Extractives of Annatto and Turmeric, Natural Flavor, Breading set in vegetable oil.

The lab rats and I agree with the food makers-that-be….this is definitely not the same as what the kids are getting at school.


 {1} Hurrell et al. 56 (3): 573. (1992) 

{2} (this is an amazing site to learn about MSG!)




One Comment to “school lunch and the lab rat whisperer.”

  1. I am not sure what is the worst part… most of all of these ingredients are things we try very hard to avoid at our house. Not always successfully though since they seem to be in so much stuff. So no this isn’t the stuff kids are eating at home most of the time and I agree that it is unreasonable for that to be the excise as to why we CAN do it this way, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

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