I’ve heard it all before: “Oh, they’re young, let them eat their junk food.” “Their metabolism will keep them skinny.” “Let kids be kids.”
These are just a few of the many excuses I’ve heard when it comes to parents discussing their child’s eating habits. But the truth is, as humans we develop habits early in life, and allowing your kids to go hog-wild on junk food is only setting them up for a life-long struggle with eating healthy.
Instead, from a young age, we should be teaching our kids about the benefits of nutrition and exercise. We should be helping them cultivate healthy pallets from the time they can eat solid foods. By exposing them to healthy foods consistently, and making them try foods multiple times, they will be less likely to be a picky eater and more likely to carry those habits with them for the rest of their lives.
Take your kids to the grocery store with you. Have them pick out what fruits and vegetables they want to try. Explain to them how the nutrients help their bodies. Educate them on why processed food isn’t good for them, and why it should be eating as a treat and not the norm. Have them help you in the garden. Have them cook with you and explain the process from start to finish. Involving them in the kitchen will make them more likely to want to eat the meal afterwards. The more you can incorporate them into the entire process, the more they understand and want to be a part of the healthy lifestyle.
Perhaps the hardest part of all this is that even if you do all of this in your home, your child’s school may be the bigger culprit in teaching bad habits. When I was in high school, lunches consisted of french fries, nachos, pizza, chicken nuggets, chocolate milk, and a whole lot of white bread and pasta. My sister is currently in high school, and I can tell you that nothing has changed in eight years.
When I had lunch with her a few years back in junior high, I watched as my sister bought a Powerade and chips. That was her entire lunch. 300 empty calories. I couldn’t believe that a 14 year old was given and allowed to make that kind of choice for lunch. What nutrients were going to help her focus in class, to nourish her body after gym, to tide her over until dinner? I looked at her friend’s trays and there wasn’t a vegetable or fruit in sight. And it made me angry.
But we cannot put the blame on kids. If the junk food is there, they are most likely going to choose it over anything else because to them it tastes better, and they are too young to really understand the consequences of a poor diet. Less than 25% of children receive any nutritional education in school, and thus, it is up to us to teach them.
So what do we do about school lunches? First of all, you can demand change in the cafeteria. Go to PTA meetings and go to school board discussions. Tell them that the food they serve is unacceptable. Tell them that fries and pizza sauce are not vegetables (even though the US government says they are), and that more fresh, healthy foods should be available. Ask them to take vending machines out of schools. While pop has been removed from most schools, kids still have access to all sorts of junk foods and sugary beverages at any time of the day. Do whatever it takes to make yourself heard.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there that just don’t care, and it may be difficult to get change enacted. So taking matters into your own hands and packing your child’s snacks and lunch is probably the only way to a better school lunch. It takes time, but it is so worth it.
Think of it this way. We don’t allow our children to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol because it is bad for their health, and it will harm their development. And yet, we often don’t think twice about letting them to chow down on sugary, fatty, chemical-ridden foods. It’s because of this that we are currently having a children obesity and diabetes epidemic. It’s because we aren’t doing our job in teaching them healthy habits at a young age. So start now, and set your child up for success in the future.