Recently, the media has reported new findings about the rise in childhood diabetes and its dire consequences. This news has once again sounded the alarm about the growing obesity epidemic among our children and adolescents. The problem is so serious that experts are recommending drastic changes in our children’s diets. But could complacency, denial and ignorance in the adult population prevent our young people from getting the help and education they need to make these drastic changes?
dining tables and school cafeteria trays
During a recent school visit by one of my daughters to a high-ranking college in the east, I had the opportunity to ask questions about the quality of the food available in the campus cafeteria. Was the food served at your school pesticide-free? Was it non-GMO? What about meat sources? Were the students who were served factory farmed animals injected with hormones and antibiotics? Did the cafeteria have natural, healthy, and organic food options like those adopted by some of the most progressive schools across the country like Yale, UC Berkley, Duke, and Oberlin Colleges?
The question seemed to stun the college staff. She said she wasn’t sure about the quality of the food in the cafeteria. She didn’t know if there was any emphasis on providing students with natural, vegetarian, or organic options. It was not clear that the school offered nutritional fare that addressed some of the serious health issues Americans are facing at an increasingly younger age…visions of an array of fried foods, processed starches, and sugary desserts covering cafeteria trays, swam before my eyes.
This reaction seems to be somewhat typical of school professionals at all levels of education. I recently had the opportunity to interview food service directors at our local educational institutions about nutrition quality and education in elementary, middle and high schools. I was told that kids wouldn’t eat healthy looking food and that they just wanted the kind of food you could find at any fast food restaurant. In addition, they indicated that it is not the school system’s responsibility to provide healthy eating options for children. That is the job of the parents.
While I agree that healthy eating habits start at home and that parents must model them for their children in the kitchen and at the dinner table, that doesn’t absolve our education system of its responsibility to teach good nutrition. Our schools must provide information and education on the elements of good nutrition and lead by example. That means clean, healthy canteen food. And healthy does not and should not mean “unattractive to children’s taste buds.” Healthy, natural food, prepared with good recipes, can be much more delicious than the fast food that now reigns on the school canteen lunch menu.
Unfortunately, political concerns have hampered the progress of the Better School Food Campaign. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this important issue and allow big food companies to simply dominate school canteen food by default.
Healthy nutrition from onesie to retirement
A foundation for a lifelong healthy diet begins in early childhood. When we introduce children to healthy, natural foods, teach them about nutrition, and teach them how to prepare delicious meals, they are more likely to carry good eating habits into adulthood.
Taking kids to the local farmer’s market to shop for produce is one example of how we’re expanding the way we learn about food and shop.
We need a revolutionary approach to transform our food system. Canteen food intake is vital if we are to ward off obesity, malnutrition and diseases caused by poor diet for our youth. The evolution of food on our planet depends on a gentle but decisive revolution in the market, in the kitchen and in the cafeteria.
Thanks to Diane Hoch