It is almost time for school to begin and my thoughts have turned to the children who will be in my care this year. One of the things that we do throughout the year is talk about ways to take good care of our bodies. As part of our science curriculum we study how our bodies work, basic nutrition, good habits, and healthy foods. I hope that I will continue to lose weight this year and be a better example to my students. Unfortunately, even though I have a better diet than most of my students and their parents, my size is all they see and judge. I’m sure many parents think I live on ice cream and doughnuts.
I’ve also been reading about the concerns over school lunches and how they contribute to childhood obesity. Since most children eat breakfast and lunch and a snack at school, I have to agree that school food is partly responsible for the increase in childhood obesity. But are schools actually the primary problem? And do we need to play the blame game? Will it help our children if we spend most of our time figuring out where to point our finger?
I’ve said before that I never eat school food. I’ve always thought it had too much salt, fat, and sugar. Too much of it is fried. Too much of it is overcooked. Besides, I spent over twelve years eating it as a kid! When I got to be the teacher I also got to say “no thank you”. J
However, let me say a couple of things in defense of school food. Children have options. Children eat what they are accustomed to eating at home. Many of our students bring their own lunches on days when they don’t like what is on the menu. For the most part, what they have in their little bags is far worse than what is on the school tray!! Chips, cookies, and a peanut butter sandwich on white bread, without the crust, is the standard bag lunch. And don’t get me started on those “plastic food” Lunchables!!
Even when the cafeteria serves a fairly balanced meal, children only eat what they want to eat. So a child may skip the vegetables or even fruit, if he/she isn’t used to eating them at home.
Many of my students eat breakfast from the local convenience store, doughnut shop, or fast-food restaurant. They arrive with the remnants of a sausage biscuit or chocolate covered doughnut and a bottle of chocolate milk clutched in their hands and finish them at the table with the other children.
I know from previous experience that many of our children will arrive at school next month with extra pounds on their little bodies. Some of them have spent much of the summer snacking in front of the television. I didn’t even recognize one child last year because she had gained about ten pounds over the summer. That is a lot of extra weight for a young child!
I don’t want to play the blame game this year and be part of the problem. I want us all- parents, grandparents, teachers, students- to work together to get healthier and be part of the solution for our children. There are three key things I would like for everyone to work on this school year. Three is a manageable number and I think these three things can make a significant impact on our children:
1. Let’s wean ourselves and our children off sodas. We don’t have to have a big discussion about the negative effects of sodas. We know that they are harmful. We know we shouldn’t drink them. We know our children shouldn’t drink them. You have to ask yourself why you are giving something to a child that you know is harmful! Most schools have removed them from campus. Let’s remove them from our lives.
2. Let’s stop eating fast food in our vehicles. I know, I know. Everyone is busy. Children have sports and lessons and programs. But I can’t think of very many healthy foods that you can get from a drive-thru window and eat in the car. I once talked with a woman whose child ate in the car at least four times a week! That isn’t healthy for anyone. We need to make changes in our schedules, pack healthy snacks for our children, and think about what we are teaching them.
3. Let’s put down the salt shakers. We’ve talked about it. We know salt is killing us. The food industry is starting to pay attention. Let’s all make an effort to at least stop putting salt on top of our food. Children never see a salt shaker at school. Let’s take them off the table at home.
So that is your homework for the year. Everyone take a deep breath and decide which one to tackle first. We can do this!!