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After much thought. I have come to the conclusion that it is time for some tough love at the table.

Elizabeth Tatham with her husband and 4 children. Elizabeth Tatham with her husband and four children.

As the mother of four, I have made it my priority to raise respectful children with life skills of self-sufficiency, and the ability to make healthy choices, and intelligent decisions, that impact their future and the future of others.

As much as I would like to think that every parent across the country has the same parental priorities, I have to accept that this may not be the case and ultimately our children will pay the price. I could not have imagined that tough love and serious focus would be required in the way we feed our children, but the truth is that this is what will give our children a more hopeful future than the one of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease they are currently facing.

My mother taught me that I was wealthy, because I was eating good food and I had my health.

I grew up under the poverty line in the poorest county in Kansas. I did not realize that my family was considered “poor” until I went to school and met friends who bought their bread and ice cream in a grocery store and had running water instead of an underground well with a pump. As the 7th child of 8, I’ve always had memories of following and helping my mother in the garden. It wasn’t a hobby to prepare soil, plant, weed, and harvest vegetables and fruits, without the garden we would not eat vegetables and fruits. As I got older I knew I was responsible for my allotted rows in the garden. I had to weed them before I played. And often I would play as I weeded. I was very connected to my food because I knew where my food was coming from. I also knew that the meals we ate were eaten together at a table. It didn’t matter what I, or my siblings, were up to when the dinner bell rang, we stopped what we were doing. If you wanted dinner you needed to be at the table.

Although this picture I paint may seem quaint to some, I remember it much differently. On the occasional Sunday, my mother would pack our meal for the adventure of a Sunday afternoon picnic. But most of the time my mother worked very hard, in between double shifts as a hospital nurse, to make sure her children were eating healthy meals. She made it very clear that we must make our health a priority because the costs of choosing otherwise would be much greater in our future. This is the biggest reason I didn’t realize I was poor by government standards.

I have continued to feed my children as I was fed. I understood the importance of sticking to mealtime routines, having them know where our meals were coming from, and eating together. I have had the benefit of always knowing that eating healthy food is not optional. My taste buds desire fresh fruits, vegetables, and small portions of meat (because those were much more expensive). As a child I knew that the occasional treat of soda required setting out 8 cups that my mother carefully eyed as she poured to make sure they were as close to equal as she could make them. Although I sometimes desired to have the sweet treats I saw in my friends’ lunch boxes, I quickly learned that the way my mother was feeding me was the way I would always feed myself and my family.

My children have not always appreciated my efforts to feed them  nutritious meals.

My husband and I made an agreement when we decided to have children that he would eat his vegetables to set an example for the children. He kept his commitment and told our children they had to eat their vegetables because he had to eat his even though he didn’t like them. The children ate their vegetables and ranked their favorites. And I learned tricks of hiding vegetables in foods they’d never suspect to find them in. By the time our children were in school, they learned that not everyone ate the way we ate. Many of their friends were allowed to eat whatever they wanted for dinner wherever and whenever they wanted. As much as I sometimes wanted to give in to my children, I wanted more for them to be healthy. The more they were exposed to and consumed the things that were not usually in our home, the more they realized that they needed to eat well to feel well and fuel their bodies.

Elizabeth Tatham's Son |

My youngest son was an outspoken critic of school lunches.

He complained school lunches were just one color and that the dinosaur chicken shapes didn’t seem like real chicken. For the most part, he noticed the food on his tray didn’t look like real food. After a few lunches in the first grade, he decided that he would pack his own lunch. Over the past couple of years, my son has noticed the soda machines have been removed from the school grounds and the snacks in the snack machine were switched out for healthier options. Yet, because he noticed the meals served in the school cafeteria had not become healthier, he continued to pack his own lunch.

This year, however, things have changed.

This is my son’s first year of high school and he feels he now has much healthier options to choose from. But we both agreed that this is only the beginning of what really needs to happen. Together we listened to the news stories about some schools who had decided to serve healthier lunches but were now going back to the unhealthy lunches. The schools said they were losing money because students would not eat the healthier choices.

Far too many kids, do not know what makes a meal healthy. He shared with me what foods were on the “Should Be Eating” and “Should Not Be Eating” lists in his health class. What seemed obvious to him was not obvious to many. When he is served a meal at home he doesn’t like, he always tries it. He says the students who do not like the healthier options need to try it more than once.

“If kids are hungry they will eat it. If I am hungry I will eat it and I know it’s better than it used to be.”

We are in agreement.  This tough love for America’s children was long overdue. Schools need to continue serving healthier meals.

We cannot ignore that our country’s children need healthier meals.

The complaints that the healthier options in our nation’s schools are not being eaten must be met with tough love. We have confused children about what is healthy by feeding them what is unhealthy for far too long. Many of our children are not learning healthy eating habits because no one is showing them healthy eating habits. They do not have a regular meal routine because they often eat apart from their family. I understand the busyness of life, but I also understand the preciousness of life. It is time to sit down at the table, to share a meal, with our children. It is time to include our children in the preparation of a meal. It is time to connect our children to the food they eat so they understand firsthand that it plays a vital role in their health and their future. It just makes sense to me that this is what parents must do, but until this happens we have to step up and show a little tough love at the school cafeteria table … a tough love that says,

“We care about you. We have a long way to go, but together we are going to become healthier and stronger. We start now. Sit down at the table and eat.”

We can change our children's habits by setting an example. We must make a commitment to teaching our children healthier habits.

This post is part of the National School Lunch Week with Healthy Food! A MomsRising Blog Carnival. Take a moment to read and comment on these thoughtful blogs, then tell us your story. Our stories are powerful and are what led administrators to set these rules in place.

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