Can you share data and recommendations on processed meat intake for kids? I know some processed meats are not considered healthy, and I have read that processed meats could be behind the spike in colon cancer among younger people. For day care, I have to pack nut-free cold lunches for my picky toddlers (3.5 years, and 18 months), and I find myself relying on salty cured meats like pepperoni, salami, and deli meats that I know they will eat cold. Are these unhealthy, or even unsafe, lunches?—Lunchmaker in training
Data on diet is notoriously bad. I’ve written about this before (see my overall take on data of this type and my specific take on hot dogs). The basic issue is that it is extremely difficult to generate causal evidence on the impact of diet on health. This is because an individual’s diet is very wrapped up in many other behaviors. In the data, people who consume a lot of processed meats also differ in multiple other ways from those who consume less — less likely to exercise, more likely to smoke, more likely to be obese, less likely to consume vegetables. Identifying the processed meat as the cause per se is extremely difficult or impossible.
Too much of anything is not good when it comes to food. You can eat too many carrots, too much broccoli, too much cheese, too much deli meat. A diet containing entirely salami and liverwurst is probably not a good choice, purely for short-term digestive reasons. But lunch is only one piece of the day.
The reality: lunch packing is not for the faint of heart. We did a series at one point in which another ParentaData team member and I tried to pack cool bento boxes for our kids. She was much better at it than I was, but it was fun for a time — although I reverted back to just throwing baby tomatoes into a container. It’s hard to find stuff our kids will reliably eat that doesn’t take all of our limited time to prepare. If there is a moment in the day to throw in some salami, this is it.
We are looking for an overall balance over days or weeks, not over minutes. Not every meal we feed our kids is going to serve the same nutritional purpose. And there is nothing in the data that would tell you that deli meat for lunch is a problem.