Packed with plant power

Earlier-than-usual wake-ups, rushed mornings, AM traffic… Moms and Dads, it is that time of year again: It’s back to school. But before you rush out of the door with a measly peanut butter sandwich and a bruised banana trailing behind a flurry of bouncing ponytails and half-done school ties, we have got just what you and your child need in preparation for healthy and tasty meat-free lunchbox meals. If your child is already plant-based or is transitioning, there are many ways to make plants nutritious, as well as fun and exciting for even the pickiest of eaters.

Once viewed as nutritionally inadequate and even harmful, a plant-based diet is becoming more accepted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), doctors and dietitians around the world as healthful, affordable and sustainable. Indeed, a plant-based diet is suitable for individuals across all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence and for athletes, according to the largest group of nutritionists in the U.S, the American Dietetic Association. A well-planned and balanced plant-based diet can provide many health benefits in the prevention and treatment of a multitude of diseases including diabetes, some cancers and heart disease.

So what’s the secret to preparing balanced meat-free meals all year round? If the lunch box comes back with half-eaten greens and sandwiches, and you find yourself settling once again back into the old lunch-making routine, there is no need to fret. We have a few tips for you and a number of meat-free meals that are easy to make, for all ages.

plant power
Sure, we love our PB&J sammies but there are many other options out there that are just as simple. With a little bit of imagination, it is easy to pack a lunch that your children will gladly devour.

We begin with the power of C². Fill your kid’s lunchbox with a variety of colour and crunch. Strips of red, yellow and green bell peppers make great rainbow food while bite-sized pieces of Fry’s Vegetarian Pops or Fry’s Polony Slicing Sausage with grilled veggies on a kebab stick gives texture and adds interest. View your child’s lunchbox as a mixed media art piece filled with all kinds of colours, textures and shapes. Likewise, allow your children to have fun creating their own food art. In separate containers filled with fresh and dried fruits, nuts and cereal, encourage them to design “pictures” on their non-dairy yoghurts!

Dips and sauces are your draw cards when offering raw vegetables. When packing carrots, cucumber and celery sticks, add a small container filled with hummus, nut butter, or B-Well Tangy Mayo. Adding some whole-wheat pita bread, crackers, or rice cakes can jazz up the standard bread fare.

We know kids can regard fruit as boring, but there are definitely some tricks you can pull to ensure fruit seems more appealing. My mother always said, “It’s not a fruit salad unless there are ten or more fruits in the bowl!” While am I certainly not saying you need to start buying every fruit on the shelf, having a variety certainly spices things up. Small chunks of fruit, such as strawberries, grapes, pineapple or melon, served on a skewer, are almost always eaten. Bananas and apple slices are also more likely to be eaten when accompanied with some peanut butter.

If it’s too much effort to eat, it probably won’t be eaten. A little bit of prep work goes a long way in making almost all food more kid-friendly. Peel oranges, deseed peaches or cut kiwis in half so that the flesh can be easily scooped out with a funky spoon.

plant power
Who said that too many cooks spoil the broth? By actively involving your kids in choosing and preparing their school lunches, they are given a sense of responsibility in what they eat, an understanding of where their food comes from, and how food impacts their health, the planet and other beings. And as they grow up, give them more of a say in what goes into their lunchbox.

Additionally, peer pressure can also be the make-or-break in your child’s decision to toss or trade in his or her lunch. Ask them what meals their best friends bring to school and find the plant-based alternative. Consider making a twister-style wrap, veg-filled hot dog sandwich, or a chicken-style mayo sammie.

plant power
An appropriately planned plant-based diet is nutritionally adequate, healthy and satisfying. Children raised on, or who are transitioning towards a plant-based diet are at an advantage: they are at a much lower risk for a variety of health issues that will affect many of their meat-eating school friends as they grow up. An increased consumption of fruit and vegetables and a diet naturally lower in saturated fats ensures plant-based children reduce their risk of weight-related illnesses and are able to maintain a healthy body weight.

So what types of food should we focus on? Firstly, it is important to remember that children require more calories during times of growth or when physically exerting themselves. Due to the fact that plant-based diets are high in fibre, they may feel full before they have actually consumed enough calories. Be sure to include foods that are both nutritionally dense and rich in calories such as trail mixes, dried fruit or rice cakes with nut butter.

A well-balanced plant-based diet, that is filled with brain-busting foods, help with concentration during school and with the retention of homework. But our brains are picky eaters, requiring glucose throughout the day, so be sure to include whole grains, beans and legumes, fruit and vegetables so that neurons are supplied with the energy they need. Additionally, because our brains are made up of 60% fat, chia and flax seeds, nuts, beans, avocado and coconut – rich in omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids – should be consumed daily so that your child feels happy, focused and calm.

Protein on a plant-based diet should not be a concern. If your child is getting enough variety throughout the day, he or she will obtain the eight essential amino acids that facilitate bone and muscle growth, ensuring top performance on the track and field, in the pool, or on stage. Beans, grains, cereals, nuts, seeds, meat alternatives and soy products, such as Fry’s Meat Free Mince are just some of the foods that are rich sources of protein.

Iron requirements for children and teenagers are high, and by eating a varied diet, a young vegan can easily meet his or her iron needs. Foods rich in iron include broccoli, spinach, blackstrap molasses, beans and dried fruit. To ensure that the body effectively absorbs iron, include foods that are high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, bell peppers and tomatoes.

Bone density is determined during the teen years and young adulthood, so getting in good sources of calcium every day is very important for building healthy bones. And one doesn’t need to get it from cows. Products, such as Fry’s Chicken-Style Strips, leafy greens, including collard greens, fortified soy or rice milk, fortified orange juice and almonds are just some of the plant-based calcium sources.

Adopting a plant-based diet is not only healthy for your child, but it also has a positive impact on the planet at large, meaning future generations get to live in a safe and happy environment.

The increasing global demand for meat, dairy and eggs mean more animals, and with more animals, more crops are needed to feed them. This, in turn, leads to land degradation, deforestation, land and water scarcity, species extinction, pollution and global warming. Livestock production is not only unsustainable, it is unjustifiable. A plant-based diet offers many meat alternatives that mimic taste and texture, like the Cheeze Griller Burger Sandwich, Chick’n Strip Pizza or Schnitzel Burger, whilst requiring less land, water and energy to produce. Lessening our ecological footprint starts first and foremost with what we eat. It begins with us.

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The Soy story, Fry’s tells it factually

The soya bean has been part of the human diet for thousands of years and the Ancient Chinese believed it to be one of the five sacred grains vital for life (alongside rice, wheat, barley and millet.) This high regard has been carried through time and has been supported by scientific investigation in more recent years. Soya is now recognized as a ‘functional food’ (meaning that it has health-promoting properties) and is one of an elite group of foods, to obtain approval by the U.S. FDA for a health claim. (The FDA currently recommends 25g of soya protein per day for adults to potentially reduce the risk of heart disease.) (1)

However, despite it being a longstanding natural source of nutrition and an established ‘functional food,’ there are elements of controversy regarding soya consumption.

The first point to establish in this debate is that different sources of soya may have different nutritional implications. Like the current carbohydrate controversy, (which ultimately boils down to carefully choosing high fibre, whole grains over refined, high sugar varieties), the type of soya consumed should also be closely examined. The widespread genetic modification of agricultural soya has been associated with negative health and environmental consequences, but this must not be confused with soya that has been naturally farmed.

There are many areas of health, where natural soya foods are recommended as a part of nutritional therapy. These include heart disease, menopause, hormone dependant cancers (breast, prostate and endometrial) and bone health.

What makes soya a healthy choice?

  • Soya is a high-quality ‘complete’ protein! Soya is particularly important in a vegan diet, as it is one of the few plant products which provides protein that is nutritionally equivalent to meat. The nutritional quality of protein foods varies according to the amino acid profile of each. (Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and although the body can make some amino acids, there are certain ‘essential amino acids’ which are required from dietary sources.) ‘Complete’ proteins are those which contain all of the essential amino acids. All animal proteins are considered complete whereas plant proteins are generally incomplete (containing some, but not all of the essential amino acids.) However, soya is one of the few plant exceptions, which is recognized as a complete protein! Looking even more closely at protein quality, the WHO and U.S. FDA established the protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) as the official assay for evaluating protein quality. Proteins that after correcting for digestibility provide amino acids equal to or in excess of human requirements receive a PDCAAS score of 1.0. Soya has been successfully rated as such, meaning that it meets the protein needs of human adults, when consumed as a sole source of protein. (2)
  • Soya is cholesterol-free! Cholesterol is only found in animal products, thus although soya protein has been classed as a protein equivalent to meat, chicken and fish, it has the added benefit of providing a cholesterol-free alternative.
  • Soya is a good plant source of Iron! There are different chemical forms of iron, some of which have a greater absorption potential than others. Although the general assumption is that plant-based sources of iron have a lower bioavailability than iron obtained from animal proteins, recent research has shown that most of the iron contained within soya, is of the well-absorbed form, ferritin! (3)
  • Soya protein is a wise choice for sports nutrition! The importance of protein in the diet of athletes (for muscle development during training,) is well known. What remains misunderstood on this topic, is the actual amount and preferred sources of dietary protein recommended to achieve muscle building. Protein needs are dependent on the type of sport and the total energy intake of athletes and whole food sources are usually recommended above supplements. Excessive protein consumption can result in compromising glucose levels, dehydration and kidney strain. (2) However, there is evidence that suggests soya protein puts less of a strain on the kidneys compared with intakes of animal protein. (4) Furthermore, high intakes of animal protein (which also contain fat), often result in a higher fat diet. This is not recommended for sportsmen and women due to the associated influence on body fat percentage. Soya can thus be embraced as a good protein source for athletes, being high in protein, but low in fat.
  • Soya contains isoflavones! Soya contains healthy phytochemicals (plant compounds) called isoflavones. There are various types of isoflavones, but two specifically (genistein and daidzein) have been studied closely and found to be very similar in structure to the hormone estrogen. These so-called ‘plant hormones’ are much weaker than true hormones, yet seem to have a positive influence on estrogen balancing in the body and have been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Phytoestrogens found in soya foods are also able to act as antioxidants, carcinogen blockers and tumor suppressors and may exert a protective effect against hormone-related cancers by binding at estrogen receptor sites.Further studies suggest that plant-based estrogens may reduce the incidence of vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes) of menopause and lastly that they may protect women against osteoporosis by the action of genistein, which stimulates osteoblasts (bone-forming cells). (2)

    Are there side effects to soya?

    As long as you are choosing good quality soya, which has not been genetically modified, there is little reason to avoid it, with the obvious exception being soya allergy.

    As far as the food hormone hype is concerned, soya does not have any mistrustful mechanisms! Dietary estrogens are at least 1000 times weaker when compared to the strength of circulating estrogens in most mammals. (5)

    Commonly asked questions allude to various eccentric theories including the effect of plant estrogens on men. However, evaluation of the clinical evidence concludes that isoflavones do not have feminizing effects on men at intakes even higher than are typical in the diet of Asian males. (6) Further, results of a meta-analysis (which is a summary study of previous studies) show no effect of soya protein on the reproductive hormones in men. (7)

    There have also been propositions in the literature linking soya foods to gout. (All protein foods contain substances called purines, which yield uric acid as a by-product of metabolism, and could thus supposedly aggravate acid build-up and the symptoms of gout.) However, although soya (being a protein) does have a moderate purine content, it is much lower than that of many high purine animal proteins. It is also worth noting that improvements in the efficacy of gout medication have largely replaced the need for rigid dietary restriction of purines in recent times.

    What about supplements?

    There is a big difference between soya-based foods and soya supplements, which contain a much higher concentration of isoflavones. There is no scientific evidence to support the practice of mega-dosing with soya and like most other healthy nutritional elements, soya is recommended as part of a balanced diet, where preference is always given to food sources over supplements.


    Clinical studies indicative of the health benefits associated with soya, have typically used between 50 and 100mg of soya-derived isoflavones. This is equivalent to 15-20g soya protein (3). Fry’s products generally contain 8-10g soya protein per serving, which is reflectively a perfectly moderate level in accordance with the current science for safe and regular consumption.
    Fry’s products incorporate a blend of vegetable proteins, including, but not limited soya. We’ve done our research and we believe in balance, moderation and variety.
    Adding to this, we strongly recommend choosing soya products that are GM-free! (which is the start of another story, altogether  ?)


    (1) Hasler CM. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Functional foods. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2004;104(5): 814-26.
    (2) Mahan LK and Escott-Stump S; Krause’s Food, Nutrition and Diet Therapy; WB Saunders Company; 2000; pg58,548,275-6.
    (3) Messina, M; Insights gained from 20 years of soy research; The Journal of Nutrition. 2010; 140(12) 2289S-2295S
    (4) Messina, M; A Brief Historical Overview of the Past Two Decades of Soy and Isoflavone Research; The Journal of Nutrition. 2010; 140(12) 2289S-2295S
    (5) Setchell KD, Phytoestrogens: the biochemistry, physiology, and implication for human health of soy isoflavones; The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.1998;68(6)1333S-1346S.
    (6) Setchell KD; Fertil Steril. 2010 May 1;93(7):2095-104. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2010.03.002. Epub 2010 Apr 8.
    (7) Setchell KD; Fertil Steril. 2010 Aug;94(3):997-1007. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2009.04.038. Epub 2009 Jun 12.