When weekends are slow at the library, I become a random researcher. Meaning, I start to look up random subjects and browse through sites to learn more. I was looking up information on local farmer’s markets and one site led to another, until at ended up on the Get Kids In Action site. Mind you, I don’t have kids or small siblings/cousins in my family, but my mom works with kids and I have become increasingly aware of how awful school nutrition really is.
After going through my own issues with health and weight, I have become something of an advocate for healthful living and eating. I don’t make much of a fuss about it online, but I know I drive my b-chan nuts sometimes when I go on one of my food rants. I’m not a dieter, I’m just very aware of what I eat. I have healthy breakfasts, pack my lunches, and prepare my dinner at home. My family rarely bought prepared foods or ate out when I was a kid, aside from the occasional celebratory dinner on birthdays or holidays… and even then, we often just made something special at home. On average, I eat out 3 or 4 times a month, usually because my b-chan asks me out for dinner or because I’m in the mood for something I don’t know how to make (like sushi).
However, despite my generally healthy eating habits, I was fat. I developed a thyroid condition when I was a tween, but I think much of my weight gain was exacerbated by the food I ate at school. My mom, well-meaning though she was, didn’t know any better and believed I would get the nutrition I needed from school food. Frankly, I didn’t know any better either. I had free lunches from the school cafeteria all during elementary and middle school. Looking back on it, I know that things like pizza, chicken nuggets, and mystery burgers accompanied by chocolate milk and whatever manner of carb-based side was on offer were not the best options for a growing child. Then came high school and the glories of high fat, high sugar options. I was no longer eligible for free lunch, but that was ok, my school had choices. Burgers from McDonald’s and Checker’s, slices from Papa Johns and Pizza Hut, sandwiches from Subway, chicken and biscuit boxes from KFC, and lattes from Starbucks, along with a variety of snack items, vending machines, soda machines, and whatever sugary treat the football team and/or band was selling for funds. There were no fries to be had, but I am certain I was eating well beyond the daily calorie and fat allowances for a 14-17 year old girl as it was, never mind all the added sugar. Is it any wonder that I gained weight?
Good nutrition starts at home, but I think the school nutrition boards have a lot to answer for as well. My mom works at the elementary school that I attended and every so often she brings home snacks that are leftover from the aftercare program. These are given to the students after they are picked up from their classes at the end of the day, before they are taken to their aftercare classes. In the last year, the quality of the snacks has changed. Some effort has been made to introduce more healthful snacks, but some of these efforts are still somewhat misguided. One of the snacks that always make me laugh are the Super Donuts, cinnamon cake donuts made with whole wheat. Whole wheat they may be, but a donut is still a donut. I’ve tried them, they taste alright, and my dad has certainly felt the effects of the Super Wheat blend, but teaching kids that eating donuts on a regular basis is not the right way to teach healthy habits.
And that’s the rub. I like to indulge as much as the next person. I have my guilty pleasures (dark chocolate, ice cream, a properly prepared mocha latte, pumpkin anything), but these are occasional treats enjoyed in moderation. By giving kids things like wheat-based cakes (they have these too), donuts, high sugar cereals, and mostly gelatin-based yogurts, you are not teaching them to eat well, you are giving them mixed signals about what healthy eating really is. Yogurt is healthy; yogurt that lists gelatin, sugar, and an array of artificial flavors as the main ingredients… not so much.
So, yes, healthful habits should start at home, but the lesson should be reflected at school. Schools should not undermine parents efforts, but support them.
And now I shall step down from my soap-box.