I had one of those warm and fuzzy moments this afternoon. I was part of getting five eight year-olds to eat all of their fruits and vegetables for lunch today. We live in the midst of a crisis. 1/3 of all children will be diabetic adults. 1/2 of kids in this country are overweight or obese. Today's kids will not outlive the generation before them.
Largely this is due to nutrition. So often I hear parents say, "My kids won't eat vegetables." Then how did I get five of your kids to do it in a matter of minutes? And guess what, they enjoyed it.
I went to my son's school today to have lunch, and sat with him in the cafeteria. As we quietly enjoyed our packed lunches of natural peanut butter and jelly with some fruit we were joined by five second graders. They all were eating the gourmet selections of the day from the old school lunch trays.
The first thing I noticed was the presentation. Any good chef will tell you its half the battle. The vegetables were your standard mixed stuff, wearing some of the blandest colors I've ever seen. The broccoli was that dark olive color it gets when steamed way too long. So wilted, so soggy, it appeared they were melting together into some cafeteria nightmare tannish color (maybe a new Crayola for 2010). The pears were clearly right out of the can, sort of a soggy gray.
The next section contained some of the most crisp, golden brown chicken-like nuggets the world may ever see. They were putting off a golden gleam, so plump, so tasty. I haven't had one of these toxic mixtures of who-knows-what in 5 years, but part of me wanted to trade my banana for one. I was able to resist.
No wonder our kids don't eat healthy. The bad stuff looks great. I was thinking, it can't take much extra effort to leave the nuggets in the fryer for an extra 10 minutes and serve them soggy and gray, the way they make you feel when eaten. Let's then get some healthier looking veggies, like the stuff I see at every farmer's market, on every Saturday. Cut them into really cool shapes and steam them just right. I imagine giving these gifts of nature the respect they deserve would light up that tray. I suspect some kids would choose them over the gray mush of manufactured protein.
The poor "vegetable" medley and embalmed pears sat lonely on the trays of these five kiddos and recess was about to start. So I asked what the deal was. "How could you guys leave the best part of the meal there?" The overwhelming response was, "They're nasty." "Nasty?" I replied. "How on earth do you expect to have energy for recess and to get through the rest of the day without your fruit and veggies?" So one brave boy took a big bite. "Holy cow, guys. Did you see that? His brain just got a little bigger." Another bite. "Oh man. Now he will be able to beat anyone in a race on recess." And one by one, they all dug in. No faces, no wincing. Just American kids eating the stuff God has provided us. Every single one of them cleaned their trays to high fives and "knucks", all the way out to recess.
That's all it takes parents. Teaching them why it's important. Getting excited when they do something truly good for themselves. Modeling the behavior you desire of them. And it wouldn't hurt to provide them with some prettier looking options.
Kids eating produce in the school cafeteria. Now that's a national healthcare reform policy.
Dr. Jeffrey Gladd graduated from Indiana University School of Medicine in 2001. He then went on to train in family medicine...View Full Bio »