The food kids are served in school cafeterias is, for the most part, junk.
That’s what celebrity chef Jamie Oliver thinks, anyway. And I happen to agree with him.
I have watched with rapt fascination the ABC television show ”Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” and while very little about the state of this country’s nutrition surprises me anymore, what this show is documenting has.
He sets up camp in Huntington, West Virginia, recently named by the CDC as the “Unhealthiest City in America,” and heads into the school system to see what the kids are served in the cafeterias. He finds the elementary school kids being served pizza (eggs, sausage, and loads of cheese) for breakfast, and processed, breaded chicken nuggets and french fries for lunch. The students wash down their meals with chocolate and strawberry milk, which the kids overwhelmingly choose over plain white milk, and which contain more sugar than a can of Coke.
He finds virtually the same scenario in the high school cafeteria. French fries are in huge demand there, and when Jamie yanks the fries in one episode, the teenagers are not happy.
There is a complete dearth of freshly prepared food available for the kids to eat in school.
Perhaps more frightening than what the kids are eating is their inability to identify even the most basic of vegetables. Jamie enters a first-grade classroom armed with broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, and other produce. When asked to identify these veggies, the kids are completely stumped.
And this? Makes me want to cry.
Yes, Jamie Oliver chose a region of the country that struggles to overcome cultural stereotypes. And yes, there is not enough talk of exactly WHY the kids are eating pizza for breakfast and processed nuggets with a five-page, completely unpronouncable ingredient list, and iridescent-pink milk for lunch (much of it boils down to the lack of money for fresh-food initiatives and a completely convoluted USDA food classification system where French fries are considered a vegetable), but the bottom line is this:
This kind of food is what is contributing to the childhood obesity problem in this country, and it needs to stop. Now.
Jamie Oliver is shining the spotlight on Huntington to expose a problem found in every school in the country. He is attempting to completely revamp school cafeteria food, so that students are offered healthy, freshly prepared meals every single day.
But the problem is bigger than school lunch food. We have to change not only what we’re feeding our kids in school and at home, but also the way our kids think about the food they eat.
Midtown member Christina Le Beau, author of Spoonfed, a blog that focuses on ways to help parents empower their children to make healthy-eating choices, says, “We shouldn’t be treating our kids like mindless eating machines who aren’t worthy of real food. Children need nutrition, not government-subsidized calories disguised as nutrition. The only reason kids get stuck in the rut of eating so-called ‘kid food’ like chicken nuggets and colored milk is because that’s what adults think kids eat. And adults think that because food marketers have made it so easy to turn off the common sense and reach for the quick fix.”
It doesn’t have to be this way.
My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter has never eaten a chicken nugget. She eats edamame by the handful, and recently recoiled at the chocolate chip cookie the nice woman in the Wegmans bakery offered to her, because she wanted the fruit flats she was used to receiving instead. Kids can learn to make good food decisions. I won’t say it’s easy (and my children certainly do not eat 100% healthfully every single day), but we can guide them in the right direction and help them understand why potato chips and deep-fried Twinkies are not good for their little bodies.
I recently read Bean Appetit: Hip and Healthy Ways to Have Fun with Food, written by Shannon Payette Seip and Kelly Parthen. This pair founded Bean Sprouts, a kids’ cafe and cooking school in Middleton, Wisconsin. The authors are on a mission to encourage kids to get excited about healthy eating by offering them nutritious food in a fun and hands-on atmosphere. The book is fantastic because it teaches parents how to involve their children in making their own healthy food that’s so appealing kids are certain to gobble it right up. My older daughter loves the dragonfly sandwich made from whole wheat pita, one baby dill pickle, slices of turkey breast, fresh fruit, and other yummy ingredients.
We can’t afford not to make the effort for good nutrition. Our children’s lives are at stake.
As Midtown members, you’re undoubtedly committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle for yourself and for your family.
So I’m curious. If you’re watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, what do you think about the show?
If you have children, what are your thoughts about the school lunch program in their school? How do you feed your kids when they’re at home?