Sunday, September 28, 2008

school nutrition

In this day and age parents are in one of two camps: vigilantly control the nutritional intake of their children and those who have given up the battle. I laud the former, and pray for the latter.

What is unfortunate is that in the lunch room at school all falls apart. I have seen children trade, share or exchange food with one another. I have seen kids bring in a full, large bag of chips and share it with their friends in an attempts to buy peer friendship. I am always amazed at this. During class parties, at Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving for example, we worked at having shared lunches, rather than junk food. My guidelines included only bringing enough of a treat for 5 students,
a whole cake or 24 muffins were too much!

We began to organize class parties in our Teacher Advisory Groups (TAG), which a group put together a healthy menu, created placemats in art, figured out table decorations, table cloths, devised a financial plan to manage these luncheons. Those with good nutritional backgrounds were role models. To accommodate various psychosocial issues the groups were created sing playing cards distributed by myself in a random fashion. No pop, no chips, and all 4 food groups must be met!

In my last few years of teaching, after a career teaching good nutrition to stu
dents, I decided to limit the crap kids ate during their first recess, or 'nutritional break' as it is now called. We had lunch rules. The best rule was that all garbage had to be taken home. I would sup
ervise this and it meant that parents who wanted vigilance, were aware of what their child did or did not eat!

My rule was that they had to eat something healthy during this first break. Boy did the proverbial chips hit the fan! I had phone calls from a parent who had sent her daughter with a sprinkle donut and chocolate mile for lunch. She didn't like me telling her child what she could eat. She explained that they were a low income family and she couldn't afford fresh fruits for her child. The child was a teeny, undernourished little thing, with an obese mother who was on welfare. I was terribly shocked. My principal was not supportive, and it was hard trying to educate the parent without that support. The child was embarrassed and knew that she was not eating healthy food. We had to work around this issue.

We know that apples, for example, cost less than those donuts, but I knew I would make no headway. I began bringing in granola bars for hungry kids. At one time in my career I had a jar of peanut butter and box of crackers, but that had to go by the wayside with the prevalence of anaphylactic allergies. This is why me must start with the children. Eating habits and patterns are built into a family dynamic. They live what they learn and eat.

I believe it up to the teachers, already run off their feet at recess and breaks, like most professionals, to monitor nutritional intake. Many schools still sell bags of chips and pop as fundraisers, and this, too, must be stopped. Some schools are putting in much more nutritional and edible cafeteria food in an attempt to ameliorate this health crisis. It is happening in L.A.(2008), Ontario high schools (2006), with the Canadian government creating a farmer to table plan to improve nutrition, their Grow Up Organic program.

I am hopeful, especially with the growing tend towards organic farming (and the prerequisite regulations for labelling standards) that we will make a difference - as long as your child's peers do not jeopardize the process.

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