On Friday night I watched a back to school episode of 20/20. One of the stories was about the reaction students are having to the new nutritional guidelines for public school lunches. The new guidelines require at least a cup of vegetables and a cup of fruit with every meal, a limitation on carbs and proteins, with the meals making up approximating 850 calories. Gone are the mashed potatoes and the big, white roll. Needless to say, student reaction has been somewhat negative, encapsulated here in a music video put together by a teacher and some of her students in the video “We Are Hungry.”
That a teacher helped these students make this silly video doesn’t bother me, however what she said in her interview with 20/20 did. She argued that students were not getting enough carbohydrates at lunch to make it through to the end of the day. I understand that to a population that has grown up on refined flour and sugar and potato products that the concept of getting one’s carbs from fruit and vegetables and whole grains may not be initially appealing, but to say that kids need their potato and sugar products is irresponsible. The energy they get from those low-quality carbs may get them through the next period, but it also leads to a crash not long thereafter, feeding a vicious cycle of even more bad calories.
Look, change is not easy, I get that. If it were, everyone would have the exact body that they wanted and the fitness industry would be out of business. But change IS hard – that’s why it is so satisfying when one reaches his or her goal.
I get why the students would prefer the packaged crap. Hey, I’m guilty of consuming more often than I would care to admit, but good habits have to start somewhere. Do I believe in the government controlling what we can and can’t eat? No. But at the public school level, educating about healthful eating is just as, if not more important than learning World History or Calculus or Shakespeare.
Public schools are in place to prepare our children for the real world, and how we fuel ourselves has a big impact on the economy and health of our nation.
Simple, Life. Skills. Simple life skills that we as a Nation seem to have lost somewhere between 1950 and now.
Some might argue that we don’t need anybody telling us what or how to eat. How’s that working for us so far? We are an obese nation that can’t seem to grasp the reality of weight related disease. In 2030 Mississippi is going to have a 60% obesity rate. Colorado will be our healthiest State with a 45% obesity rate. Despite knowing what they are doing to themselves, the majority doesn’t seem to care or have simply given up. That attitude spreads to our kids and the cycle not only continues, but, forgive the pun, feeds on itself.
But there was one line on Friday’s show that really caught my attention. The reporter said that as he moved down the grades to the younger students, the complaints became less frequent; that the habits of the students trended healthier the younger he went. While older students would fill their lockers with potato chips and fruit loops to snack on because they wouldn’t eat the lunch they wanted, the younger students simply went back for seconds at lunch.
This, to me, is encouraging for the future and should be a clarion call for all parents. Habits start from the moment our kids come into the world, and the older our kids get, the harder it is to break the bad ones.
Sometimes it’s not as simple as making the decision to make healthier choices. There are food deserts even in this country – places where families do not have access to fresh vegetables and fruits, whether because they are not available or too expensive. That is where the government may want to concentrate some of their energy.
Are the new standards perfect? No. There is definitely some tweaking to be done, but that doesn’t mean we should toss out the idea of educating our children about healthful eating and its benefits.
Habits are called habits because, well, they’re habits. But habits can be broken. Change is hard, but it can be done. Whether for yourself or for your children, it’s time for a change.