Brain Food: How Oreos, Fruit Gushers & Lunchables Shaped Me (And You)

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.




What types of foods did you eat as a kid?


My childhood was practically defined by packaged and processed food.


Kids Cuisines, Hot Pockets, Dunkaroos, Pop-tarts, Lunchables, Fruit Gushers, Ritz Crackers, Capn’ Crunch, Peter Pan peanut butter sandwiches, Doritos, and Oreos were regular staples in my diet (i.e. not a lot of real food).


You Were A Cool Kid If You Brought A Lunchables Pizza To School!
You were a COOL kid if you brought a Lunchables Pizza to school!


Heck, the only ‘real’ food I remember was the chicken and rice, and spaghetti and matsauce my mom would occasionally make at night. Otherwise, we ate a lot of packaged foods as well at dinner: boxed mashed potatoes, Stouffer’s Lasagna, Rice-a-Roni, and frozen broccoli with cheese sauce.


I believe like the health-consciousness of our society today was completely absent back then.


Amazingly, I lived to tell about it…and more than likely, so did you!


Knowing now, what I wish I had known then (and my mother), is that processed foods really weren’t all that great for anyone—outside of convenience.


So it was super intriguing to me when I read this news story from last week about a teacher in Colorado sending a note home with a 4-year-old girl from school for her mother to read:


Essentially: the little girl’s Oreos were banned, and parents at the school were all cautioned not to pack non-nutritious eats in their kiddos’ lunchboxes.


(Check it out here).




And, interestingly enough, there was an uproar.


How dare the school tell us what to pack our kids for lunch?!


I think the parents were arguing over the wrong battlegrounds.


After all, kids REALLY don’t know better. And as the parents, the teachers, the guides, the mentors of the next generation it is up to us to teach and instill good habits early on—to potentially save lots of heartache in lifestyle changes in the long run.


I work daily with many adults who have ‘lots of heartache’ when it comes to changing their poor relationships with food, as well as improving their own health, on all ends of the spectrum:

  • ·      Addicted to caffeine
  • ·      Insatiable sweet tooths
  • ·      Can’t give up the Diet Cokes
  • ·      Living off of protein bars and shakes (convenience)
  • ·      Regularly heating up frozen Lean Cuisines and calling it food
  • ·      Overeating
  • ·      Restricting
  • ·      Vomiting their food
  • ·      ‘Working’ off the calories eaten
  • ·      Low-fat, no-fat diets
  • ·      Processed-food-like-product ‘convenient’ based diets
  • ·      Fearful of carbs
  • ·      Reaching for the packaged: crackers, bread, cereal, bars by default
  • ·      Consuming very little, if any, veggies
  • ·      Chronic fatigue from poor energy balance
  • ·      Blood-sugar handling issues
  • ·      Weakened immune system
  • ·      Etc.


Are these ‘heartaches’ potentially a byproduct of the way many of us were raised as kids?


Did we develop these habits and relationships with food over time, due to our affinity for convenience foods, sugar, improper balance and nutrient deficiencies?


What if instead of Rice Krispies for breakfast, Oscar Meyers bologna on Iron Kids bread and Cheetos for lunch, and Dijorno frozen pizza with Nestle chocolate milk for dinner, we had nourished our bodies (and brains) with more real foods?




What if we had become less sugar addicted (and dependent) from a diet rich in products with added sugars for flavorings?


What if we had learned how to keep listening to our bodies, like we were born to do?


Instead of training our taste buds to decide when and what to eat; or letting slogans and campaigns tell us that low-fat products or fake foods ‘enriched’ with vitamins determine what was best for our bodies…What if we knew how to just give our body what it wanted all along? (i.e. it was not wired to thrive off of bars, shakes, frozen meals, etc.)


Ok, so that is a lot of “what-ifs”—the point being two things:


1.     Kids deserve just as good of nutrition as you and I do (if not more so)—in other words: There is no such thing as ‘kid foods’ and non ‘kid foods’….and, in the same breath…

2.     Recognition that a ‘little dirt never hurt’ (80/20 ‘rule’ here people)


I was raised on processed foods…and all things considered, turned out pretty OK (and more than likely, so did you).


That being said, knowing what we know TODAY, we as parents, teachers, mentors, guides to the ‘next generation’, have an opportunity to both educate and change the unhealthy relationships and repercussions poor food quality can invoke.


As a pediatric occupational therapist in addition to my work I do in Lifestyle and Nutrition, I work with kids—and their families on improving the child’s quality of life-be it their sensory processing (the ability to tolerate ‘uncomfortable’ textures, lack of control, social interaction, etc.), their gross motor and fine motor skills, their handwriting capabilities, their problem solving and more. And, often times, the topic of food—and the impacts a child’s nutrition has on not only their health, but their behavior and these key areas we are targeting in therapy–eventually comes up.

Speaking with a dad the other day about his daughter’s ‘diagnosis’ of ADD/ADHD, I asked him about her nutrition.


What is she eating?


“She’s pretty picky. No veggies really—some salad she will try. She loves grilled cheese, chocolate milk, ice cream, bread, pasta noodles, breakfast cereal, chicken nuggets and French fries, crackers. That’s basically it,” he said.




Is she allergic to anything? I asked.


Nope. Ha. I think it’s silly when parents think their kids are allergic to things like gluten or dairy. If they aren’t exposed to it when they are little then of course they are going to be ‘allergic’ to it,” he said.


What this parent did not realize is that ‘allergies’ are not necessarily the only repercussions of a non-nutrient dense diet.


Essentially: gut inflammatory foods, such as gluten, dairy and sugar, not only lead to inflammation in the gut or ‘leaky gut syndrome’, but also leads to systemic inflammation throughout the body, including inflammation in the brain—along with symptoms such as pendulum highs and lows in energy, poor attention, outbursts, hyperactivity, mood swings, scattered or sluggish brain function, and more.


How so?


Science lesson 101:


When your body encounters a particular inflammatory substance (such as gluten in wheat, sugar in breakfast cereal, or casein in dairy), it produces cytokines (chemicals that signal an ‘inflammation’ response in the body). These cytokines cross the blood-brain barrier (the brain’s ‘gate’) and take a toll on the brain, blocking the production of neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers of the brain) including serotonin (“happy” neurotransmitter) and oxytocin (“love” neurotransmitter), while binding to and activating the immune cells in the brain to create a ‘protection’ of inflammation against such foreign substances (“May day! May day!”). This inflammation, in turn, causes the body to create more cytokines (and so the vicious cycle continues).


An injured knee does not function to its fullest ability if an immune response is evoked; and nor does an ‘inflammed’ brain.


Research has shown that gluten-and-sugar-laden diets inhibit neuron (brain cell) growth and strengthening [1].


And, if anything, there is no question that there is a distinct relationship between vitamin/mineral deficiencies and problem behaviors, poor academic performance, cognition, social development, motor development, and physical development [2]. If a child is consuming the majority of his or her nutrition from breakfast cereals, Little Debbie Snack Cakes, commericially-enriched breads, yogurts, granola bars, etc., deficiencies are bound to occur.


Why don’t we save kids some heart ache, in both their health and relationships with food…and instill better eating habits and body image early on?


This doesn’t necessarily mean being 100% perfectionistic about your kids’ food either (see point #2, above)…but it does mean, more often than not, making the healthier choices for them—on their behalf.


For instance: making your own homemade almond-flour-based crust pizzas on Friday night; replacing the Quaker quick oats with marshmallow ‘Dinosaur’ eggs with regular, good ol’ fashioned steel cut oats, sweetened with diced fresh peaches, vanilla extract and a crunch of almond slivers.


They will never know what hit them.


If you need some inspiration for kid friendly foods for your little one…or a walk down memory lane for your old staples, check out a few of these fun recipes.




Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffins (PaleOMG)




·      2 medium bananas, mashed

·      ¾ cup sunflower seed butter

·      ¼ cup honey

·      3 medium eggs, whisked

·      1 teaspoon vanilla extract

·      ¼ cup coconut flour

·      ¼ teaspoon cinnamon

·      ½ teaspoon baking soda

·      ½ teaspoon baking powder

·      pinch of salt

·      about ¼-1/3 cup homemade raspberry blueberry jam (or other jam of choice)


1.     *Prepare jam if you do not have some already.

2.     Preheat oven to 350 degrees

3.     Mash bananas in a large bowl. Add sunflower seed butter, honey, eggs and vanilla extract and mix together.

4.     Then add coconut flour, cinnamon, baking soda and powder and a pinch of salt and mix well.

5.     Using a silicone muffin pan or greased and lined muffin pan, scoop a large spoonful of the muffin mixture into 9 cups, filling the cups about half way. Then use a small spoonful (a little over 1 teaspoon) of the jam and put in the middle of each cup. Use the rest of the batter to cover each jelly filled cup.

6.     Place in oven and bake for 35-40 minutes.

7.     Remove from oven and let cool completely before eating!



Chocolate Chip “Mickey Mouse” Pancakes


My Fav As A Kid On My Birthday!
My FAV as a kid on my birthday!



•   1/4 cup nut butter (pecan, hazelnut, roasted almond, doesn’t matter)

•   1/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce

•   3 pastured eggs

•   3 tbsp liquid (I’ve used coconut milk, water, whey drained from yogurt, whatever…)

•   2 tsp pure unsweetened vanilla extract

•   1/2 tsp cinnamon

•   1/4 tsp sea salt

•   3 tbsp dark chocolate mini chips (I use Enjoy Life), optional

•   4 tbsp coconut flour

•   ghee or clarified butter for cooking


1. Mix the nut butter and apple sauce in a bowl until a smooth consistency is achieved.

2. Mix in the eggs one at a time. Add in remaining ingredients as listed.

3. Heat a non stick frying pan on medium heat. When preheated, add in a tsp or two of the ghee and let that get hot.

4. Spoon out a couple of tablespoons of batter at a time into round pancake shapes (or squares, Mickey Mouse, whatever).

5. Let the pancakes cook for 1-2 minutes, then flip and repeat.

6. Remove from pan and serve however you want!



Cauliflower Crusted Hot Pockets (Going Cavewoman)



•   1 Head Cauliflower

•   3 Cloves Garlic – Crushed

•   1 Organic Free Range Egg

•   6oz Chorizo

•   1 Onion/Splash or Spray Oil

•   1 Large Tomato – Chopped

•   ¼ Cup Grated Mozzarella Cheese – Optional

•   Freshly Ground Sea Salt and Black Pepper


  1.  Blend cauliflower to fine breadcrumbs in the food processor.
  2. Place in a bowl with egg and seasoning and mix. Add a little cheese if you like.
  3. Roll out the size of the pocket you want and place on a baking tray with parchment paper. 6-8 inches square.
  4. Bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes, until golden and fully cooked. Test that it is solid so it doesn’t fall apart.
  5. Chop Onion and brown in a skillet with a little heated oil. Add chorizo and cook for a few minutes. Add chopped tomato.
  6.  Add chorizo to half of your baked pocket and fold over. Sprinkle a little cheese on top and broil to brown. You can also add some cheese and brown before you add the chorizo.


Sloppy Joes



•    3lb ground beef

•   1 medium onion, diced (optional)

•   2 14.5oz cans of diced tomato

•   1.5 6oz cans of tomato paste

•   10 fresh basil leaves, diced (optional)

•   8 cloves garlic, crushed

•   2 Tablespoons of coconut oil

•   salt to taste


•   Place 2 tablespoons of coconut oil into a large stockpot on high heat.

•   Add the diced onion and cook until translucent.

•   Add the ground beef and cook until the beef is browned.

•   Add in the diced tomatoes and tomato paste and stew on medium heat with the lid on for 1.5 hours – stir regular to make sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot.

•   Add the crushed garlic and diced basil leaves and cook for 5 more minutes.

•   Add salt to taste.



Chicken Nuggets (Ancestral Chef)



•   2 chicken breasts, cut into cubes

•   ½ cup coconut flour

•   1 egg

•   2 Tablespoons garlic powder

•   1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

•   ¼-1/2 cup ghee (or coconut oil) for shallow frying


1.     Cube the chicken breasts if you haven’t done so already.

2.     In a bowl, mix together the coconut flour, garlic powder, and salt. Taste the mixture to see if you’d like more salt.

3.     In a separate bowl, whisk 1 egg to make the egg wash.

4.     Place the ghee in a saucepan on medium heat (or use deep fryer).

5.     Dip the cubed chicken in the egg wash and then drop into the coconut flour mixture to coat it with the “breading.”

6.     Carefully place some of the “breaded” chicken cubes into the ghee and fry until golden (approx. 10 minutes). Make sure there’s only a single layer of chicken in the pan so that they can all cook in the oil. Turn the chicken pieces to make sure they get cooked uniformly. Depending on the size of the pan, you might need to do this step in batches.

7.     Place the cooked chicken pieces onto paper towels to soak up any excess oil.


Pizza (PaleoLeap)



Crust ingredients

·      ½ cup coconut flour;

·      1 cup almond meal;

·      1 tsp baking powder;

·      2 tsp garlic powder;

·      4 eggs;

·      3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil;

·      ½ cup coconut milk;

Topping ingredients

1.     A few tbsp tomato pesto or of your favorite tomato sauce;

2.     8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped;

3.     3 artichoke hearts, chopped;

4.     8 button mushrooms, sliced;

5.     1 tbsp coconut oil, for cooking;

6.     2-3 oz. chicken, nitrate free ham or turkey, shaved (amount depends on your preference);


•    Preheat your oven to 375 F.

•    Always begin your pizza making by preparing the crust. This is necessary for this recipe, as the crust requires some cooking time without the toppings.

•    In a large bowl, combine the coconut flour, almond meal, baking powder and garlic powder.

•    Using a whisk to eliminate any clumping, start mixing in the wet ingredients. I usually continue to whisk as I do this, because it helps prevent the dry ingredients from clumping. You will reach a point when your whisk becomes useless and your hands are necessary, generally when the mixture starts forming a batter.

•    The batter will seem quite soft and much different in texture than the usual pizza dough, but once cooked it will take the right form.

•    On a well greased and rimmed pizza pan, pour in the batter and spread it until it’s covering the complete surface. It’s important to use a rimmed pan so the batter doesn’t spill off.

•    Throw just the crust in the oven and allow it to bake alone for 15-20 minutes.

•    Meanwhile, prepare all of your toppings so that you just have to put them on once the crust has baked.

•    For the mushrooms, simply heat a pan of a medium heat and cook the sliced mushrooms with the coconut oil for 3 to 4 minutes, until they are well-cooked.

•    Spread the sauce on the surface of the crust, as much or as little as you like. Sprinkle on the sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and cooked mushrooms and then top with the ham.

•    With the oven still at 375 F, bake the whole pizza for another 10 or so minutes, just to allow the toppings to cook.



Chocolate Shake



•   2 frozen bananas

•   1.5 tsp organic dark chocolate cocoa powder

•   1/2 cup coconut milk

•   1/2 cup cold water

•   1 tbsp almond butter

•   Pinch of cinnamon


In a large cup (if using an immersion blender) or a blender, combine ingredients and blend until smooth. Add more water if necessary to reach desired consistency. Serve immediately.




[1.] Nakajo, Y. et. al. (2004) “Genetic Increase in Brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels enhances learning and memory,” Brain Research: 1241.

[2.] Herbert, A. (2012) The Autism Revolution: Whole body strategies for making life all it can be. New York: Ballentine Books

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