I clearly remember in junior high school eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches* practically every day for lunch, mixed in with a slice of pizza on special occasions. This was partly due to the fact that lunch meat grossed me out (and after eating deli sandwiches from on-campus eateries my freshman year of college, this is still the case) and partly because I didn’t know any better. I’d eat an apple or an orange if my mom sliced it up for me (chomping on a whole apple with braces is a highly dangerous affair), but I wasn’t one to actually ask for produce. My eating habits have turned around, but not before I spent many years eating a rather unhealthy diet and suffering the consequences of being reluctant to step on a scale, much less go swimsuit shopping.
My little sister just started her sophomore year of college and is in her very own apartment with her very own kitchen. I sat down with her before she left and talked to her about food. She’s blessed with good genes (tall and willowy, minus my gigantic sweet tooth), but I wanted to talk to her about how to cook and eat. I explained to her the reason I was having this conversation with her was because I wish someone had talked to me before I was left to my own devices in the cooking and eating department. We talked about how a balanced diet incorporating a variety of whole foods, minus highly processed foods, would give her the foundation for a healthy life.
Wouldn’t it be better if this discussion happened much earlier?
Thankfully, it’s starting to. I recently read about the success of Berkeley Unified School District’s School Lunch Initiative. According to the San Francisco Chronicle article, the five-year old experiment aims to teach “a generation raised on junk food about good nutrition, where their food comes from and the environment.” A study released last week shows that these students have significantly better eating habits than children who don’t get fed a steady curriculum of gardening, cooking and nutrition.
This integrated approach to food education is working. The students increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by 1.5 servings a day, requested more produce with their meals and preferred in-season produce. Sixty percent of the parents of these kids said the curriculum changed their child’s knowledge about healthful food choices.
Changing eating behaviors of the entire country is going to be a long battle, but with skyrocketing obesity rates we can’t afford not to. Learning about healthy food choices in school, and having those healthy choices supported at home, is a step in the right direction. Hopefully Congress agrees and will pass the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The legislation would include a six-cent increase in the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches, mandatory funding for Farm to School programs and national nutrition standards for food sold on campus.
Ideally all schools will adopt an integrated approach to food education and the next generation will start with a good foundation for healthy eating.
Picture credit: http://www.amihealth.com/healthy-balanced-diet.html
*On peanut butter and jelly sandwiches: I don't think peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are "bad for you," but now I subscribe to the "everything in moderation" approach to a balanced diet.