When my son was in second grade, he managed to get a spiral fracture of his femur. The indescribable need for young boys to jump. On skis. Over nothing, over a bump, over a person, it doesn’t matter. They’ll jump just thinking about it. Needless to say, an external fixator (like a towel bar) was drilled into his remaining bone, and mom got to carry him from class to class till we finally (out of disgust) bought our own crutches for him.
|Lucien doesn't need to be encouraged to eat dessert.|
The first few times I sat at his lunch table, I was amused. This quickly turned to concern. I sat next to an overweight child that downed 2 apple juice cans and the cream cheese off a bagel. Not the bagel, mind you, just the top. Not that the bagel would have been much better, but the apple juice sugar and yeast was enough to make me wonder how he was able to do any school work. The third or fourth day was even worse. It was ‘burrito’ day. They had wrapped Taco Bell tacos on their plates, those that chose to eat. I picked up the wrapper and read off the ingredients. The kids were all scrunching up their noses, and I think it was the first time they realized they could read the ingredients of what they ate. This was such an eye-opener for me.
At first, I was in shock. I confessed to other mothers I was not at all happy with our childrens’ lunch menu, not the least of which was the cheapest food possible, but the fact that they could choose anything they wanted (only dessert, only cookies, etc) was really upsetting. The more I looked, the worse it got. While it’s true the teachers and other moms would walk around and advise, most kids would choose a healthy looking tray, then toss anything they didn’t want before anyone was the wiser.
Not only did our children eat whatever they wanted, but they ate as much as they wanted. No one said no seconds on potato chips or cookies. Eventually the problem was rectified, but after many months (almost a year) of parents professing disbelief. The class was about 25% overweight, and we moms actually counted the kids we thought overweight as they jogged around the gym perimeter. We came up with 10 out of 40. It was a horrible feeling.
Here we were paying an astronomical figure for a year of private school, dressing them in expensive clothes, driving them to school in expensive cars, tutoring them in languages of our choosing, raising money for special programs, and dumping the most hideous foods into their bodies. Our precious children, eating so poorly turned my stomach.
After making an appointment with the headmaster, I made up a list of things I wanted to talk to him about, among them the need to teach these boys about nutrition. I mentioned the East Bay school district (PUBLIC school!) doing a great job with Alice Waters - why couldn’t we do that? After all, our kids were worth it too. All I got was a blank look. "Where do you think I could put that in the curriculum?" he asked. "There isn’t any time to teach that." He was obviously obstructionist. He wanted no part of the dialog. I was shut down from the moment I walked in. I had even mentioned the girls' schools teach this stuff in third grade, why couldn't we teach it too? And about how the roof, it would be perfect for growing some plants - lettuce and science experiments, and art class drawing the delicate leaves…there were so many options besides just eating the healthy produce!
|Fresh from the garden|
Some ways we thought would be better:
1. Grow plants to eat: Start simple, with fast growing foods. Lettuce, arugula, flowers (edible?). There are so many ways to use them as a learning tool. Have the science class germinate them in different conditions. Give them different light sources. Let the art class draw them in different stages of growth. Outside light, inside light. Paint, pencil, charcoal. Talk about soil and it’s importance to the plant, much like fuel in the human being food. How the quality of food makes a difference to the plant.
2. Have a system of dots on the food: Green dots mean you can have as many as you like, yellow means just one or two. Red means you get only one of these, and that’s it. You can’t have 2 red dots on your tray, but you can have 2 yellow. Potato chips and cookies are examples of red dots. This way kids get to know what food is unhealthy in large quantities from kindergarten.
3. Teach the kids in the first 3 years what nutrition means. Calories, protein, fat, carbs. Sugar and its problems, disease you might get from eating poorly. What a healthy body looks like. Activity and why it’s good for you, and what fuels it. Most schools probably already do something like this, but to have the girls’ schools do it and not ours, you have to wonder about sexism!
4. Have a person assigned, possible surreptitiously, to keep an eye on the eating habits of the kids. If they take a healthy tray, it doesn’t mean they’re eating it. Watch for kids that consume other kids’ leftovers, throw away good food, and don’t eat well, and I guarantee you’ll find a child with attention problems, performance problems, or social problems in school. We don’t eat in a vacuum, it reflects in everything we do.
Twenty years ago doctors didn’t believe food made a difference in our health. How wrong they were!