I noticed immediately at the beginning of this school year that one of my slender kindergartners from last year had ballooned over the summer into a fat first grader. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but knowing the child and the family situation, I have my suspicions.
I don’t remember having many food “issues” as a child. I wasn’t really fat until later in life. We ate a variety of foods, including lots of vegetables grown in the garden. We worked hard. We played outside every day. We seldom had much money for junk food or treats. McDonald’s was just getting started and their burgers were 15 cents!
I suppose if my parents made any major mistakes concerning food they were the two most common ones: 1. They made us clean our plates. After all, food was expensive and children were starving in Africa. 2. They celebrated special occasions with food.
Apparently that first habit is still practiced in American homes because it was the first thing listed in an article I read recently about preventing childhood obesity. We have to stop demanding that children eat everything in front of them, especially if we are doing the serving! How can we judge what someone else needs to eat? Children need to develop that little signal that says “I’m full” and what we need to remember is that children need to eat smaller portions, more often, up to six tiny meals per day.
When I began teaching in my current school the practice was to insist that children finish their main dish first and eat their dessert last. I put a stop to that immediately for my own class. I am not the food police! If food is on a school lunch tray, then my assumption is that it is included in the weekly tally of nutrition requirements. My students are free to eat anything on their trays and in any order or quantity. The other teachers soon noticed that my students were eating as much of the main dish as their students, and without constant monitoring. Now all of our kindergarten students are free to make their own eating decisions. What is interesting is that some students do NOT eat dessert at all. Some students clean their trays, while others eat about half of what is served to them.
Instead of teaching that food = fun, we need to add variety to our celebrations. And we need to eat some “celebration” foods in moderation as part of “ordinary” meals. We need to stop rewarding each and every achievement with food. It is so easy to carry that attitude into adulthood and try to reward or cure our every mood and action with food!
The major problem listed in the article that did NOT affect my childhood was eating out. We ate 95% of our meals at our own table. However, our children and grandchildren often eat more meals in fast food restaurants than they do at home. Some of my students eat many of their breakfasts and snacks from the local convenience store! There are several ad campaigns now that encourage parents to feed their children at home- to encourage better eating habits, to increase communication, and to prevent drug and alcohol abuse. I also think it might teach our children table manners! Many of my kindergarten students don’t know the first thing about eating regular food. They have lived five years with finger foods!
I hope that if you have children or grandchildren you will take a long hard look at what you are teaching them about food and eating.
This week I’m trying to work on portion control. I’m trying to eat less meat. I’m trying to add more vegetables. I’m trying to add more movement to my day. I’m trying.