Friday, May 24, 2013

Nutrition and your (future) children

Today's children are predicted to die at an earlier age than their parents.


The obesity epidemic has been a popular topic in recent years. Doctor Oz, Michelle Obama, Michael Bloomberg, your elementary school principal... everyone is getting behind the anti-obesity cause. With good reason, too.

The post-war technology revolution of the mid-twentieth century gave us things like computers, the internet, a chicken pox vaccine, and food that lasts forever. These innovations can be seen as life savers. There is a great benefit in being able to prevent hunger and starvation with food preservation. But that's just a band-aid on the wound of malnutrition. That wound becomes infected by first world diseases.

Raised on a diet of Pop-Tarts, Wendy's, and Lunchables, children today can look forward to:
  • Diabetes (1 in 3 will develop it)
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • High cholesterol
  • Hypertension
Chef Ann Cooper said it best:

"We are feeding our children to death." 

So, what do we do?

At home you can provide your loved ones with meals like the ones described on this blog. Jesse and I believe in consuming food in its most natural state possible. This means that when we buy food, our vegetables look like vegetables, our meat looks like meat, and our cheese is really delicious. We make what we can and buy the best that we can't. Jesse does a lot of cooking during the week to make sure we both can eat well all day. 

Not everyone has the time or the money for this, though. For parents, the National School Lunch Program provides a cheap and easy way to meet the federally required nutrition minimums for lunch and, in some cases, breakfast. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

A well-rounded meal, according to many schools, consists of reheated pizza, a thawed soft pretzel (often coated in salt and slathered with mustard to give it flavor), salty reheated corn, a cup of fruit in corn syrup, and a carton of chocolate milk. The government and the cafeteria see grains, protein, fruit, vegetables, and milk. I see sugar, sodium, and nutritionally deficient food products.

Is it any surprise that students are bouncing off the walls or slumped in their seats, borderline comatose after eating this?

Would you eat a meal like that every day?

When you trust your children's health to the lowest bidder, this is what you get. 

How Do We Fix This?

Schools and communities need to stop looking at lunch as a place to cut costs. Our children are suffering as a result of this mindset.

There are several organizations out there that are working to improve nutrition and nutrition education in schools. Nationally, organizations such as the Edible Schoolyard Project and Let's Move Salad Bars 2 Schools are bringing fresh produce into schools across the country. Here in New Jersey, City Green and the New Jersey Farm to School Network are doing the same.

These groups are bringing salad bars and gardens into school. Students are learning what real food tastes like and where it comes from. These students know milk isn't supposed to be pink, vegetables aren't supposed o be soggy, and meat comes in more forms than just patty and nugget. These students are learning to make healthier choices because they are given healthier options. Students are growing their own food and they are excited about carrots and green beans! Imagine a world where kids learn to love fresh, whole food. I imagine it's a world lacking many of the diseases and health complications listed above.

What Can You Do?

If you are connected to a school, whether as a parent, student, or staff member, you can help change the way we treat food in schools. By reaching out to organizations like the ones above or modeling their programs, you can bring fresh food into schools and change the way students view their diets. You can also establish a wellness committee, comprised of students, staff, and parents, that looks at health and nutrition in the school.

We cannot let students' diets be an afterthought in schools. We must nourish their bodies as well as their minds.

Have you had any experiences with school lunch or wellness committees? How do you feel about the way we feed our nation's students?