The Truth About Healthy Food (and Kids and Schools)
First, let me just say, that I’m not advocating lying to children. I’m not proposing that moms and dads make up silly lies and tell tall tales just to get kids to eat healthier. I am absolutely not saying that. Lying to your children is wrong. And you get caught.
Because my (then) four year old, Jeremy, had a sweet tooth, and I got tired of fighting with him about why it just wasn’t good for him to be eating so much sugar and that diabetes runs in my family, and his teeth would rot but, I mean, I was worried about his health, and what else was I supposed to do? So.
I told him it was against the law for kids to buy a cereal with a cartoon on the box unless it was their birthday.
Because “cartoon” cereals are packaged to appeal to kids and in the box of 99.9% of “cartoon” cereals are little exploding sugar bombs. And Jeremy nagged me for them on every trip to the grocery store. But like any good four year old who loves and trusts his Mom, he believed me and just switched to asking me how many days to his birthday when we went through the cereal aisle.
Life was good. Right up to the day when he was shopping with Aunt Dee Dee and her three-year old threw a box of Fruit Loops in the cart and Jeremy, condescendingly as the older, more worldly cousin, fished it out and put it back on the shelf saying, “Alex, it’s not your birthday.”
His confused Aunt Dee Dee put it back in the cart saying in all innocence, “It’s ok. It doesn’t have to be his birthday,” condemning me forever as the Liar Liar Pants on Fire Mom of the Year.
But my point is, and I do have one, it’s wrong to lie to children because they will remember on their college graduation day and tell this story to people who have no business knowing your dark side. Oh. And the other thing. You still have to get them to eat healthy. If you’re a parent who’s tried to get your kids to eat what they should, you will not judge me on imaginary federal laws regarding Cap’n Crunch and Count Chocula.
Because now we actually have real federal help in getting our kids to eat healthy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture which oversees the School Lunch Program and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 are making sure that our school kids have healthier choices of more fresh fruits and veggies, more whole grain foods and low-fat milk. They’re making sure that kids get kid-size portions - in a world that supersizes all the cheap, fatty, sugary stuff and fluff like French fries, potato chips and soda pop.
This means that approximately 32 million kids who get school lunch get something quite a bit healthier. Childhood obesity is on the rise. Over the past forty years, we have quadrupled the number of obese children and tripled the number of obese teenagers, and it’s not rocket science to connect the growth in adult obesity to what’s going on with kids.
It’s also not rocket science as to why. As a country, we go out to eat fast food more often. Fast food is more likely fatty foods and sugary foods. We eat more pre-packaged, fast-foods at home. We’ve got to do better at every table where children sit down to eat. And to support the home, we’re going to do better at school.
Our school kitchen staff is up to it. My first job in a school was as a lunch lady. I’d scoop the peas and mashed potatoes into the trays and joke with the kids that drinking all their milk would make them Batman or Wonder Woman.
Our school lunch workers are getting training in the new nutrition guidelines, healthy portions for students, and how to encourage them to make those healthy choices. Classroom teachers are talking about healthy food choices in our health and science classes. Physical Education teachers are including healthy food choices in their exercise and weight-control programs.
School nurses are working with instructional staff to help connect the dots among healthy food choices and feeling good throughout a healthy life. Parent groups are working with schools to get information out to moms and dads about taking the important time to plan meals that won’t (literally) weigh your children down.
It took us years to develop into a culture that sits too much and eats too much of too much of the wrong things. It’s going to take some time to develop healthier habits in our kids. But we’ll start with the school leading the way.
As Mrs. Obama said during a visit to one school program, “Anyone who works with kids knows that they need something other than chips and soda in their stomachs if they’re going to focus on math and science. Kids can’t be expected to sit still and concentrate when they’re on a sugar high or when they’re stuffed with salty, greasy food… or when they’re hungry.”
Moms and dads and teachers and school lunch ladies will keep being creative when it comes to putting healthy food in front of their darlings.
We’re the adults, and it’s our responsibility to put something healthy in front of them at the table or they are going to have a lifetime of problems with weight, diabetes, heart disease and you-name-it.
We don’t have to tell them lies. The truth will set us free.
The truth is, this is our homework. Everyday.