Why is it that when it comes to kids’ health in America, there are some very big – or at least very loud – obstacles getting in the way? I hate to draw attention to one recent example, for fear of giving Sarah Palin any more visibility than she already gets, but here goes.
In case you didn't see it, read it or hear about it, Sara Palin accused Michelle Obama and her “Let’s Move” and kid’s healthy eating campaign of trying to take away parent’s rights to serve their kids dessert. On Palin’s “reality” show, Sarah Palin's Alaska, she served gooey, sticky s’mores to her brood while waving the smoldering marshmallow stick as a red flag to the First Lady’s anti-obesity campaign.
Even conservatives like Elizabeth Hasselbeck (The View) and Mike Huckabee defended Michelle Obama’s efforts. On Huffington Post, Huckabee said “Michelle Obama’s not trying to tell people what to eat or not trying to force the government’s desires on people. She’s stating the obvious, that we do have an obesity problem in this country.”
Palin asserts that it’s a parent’s responsibility to influence their children’s eating habits, not the federal government’s. Is this but another example of the Nanny State knotting the apron strings a little too tight? If it is, then Palin might as well wave that same sticky campfire stick at laws about car seats, seat belts and lead paint.
Jamie Oliver witnessed it firsthand with his Food Revolution television series – parents who have failed to take responsibility for their kids eating choices. While clever editing may have played some part in the story, Oliver’s biggest obstacles to improving the lunch program in a West Virginia town were the adults, for whom corn dogs, fries and pizza was the acceptable fare of choice both at home and in school. (If you haven’t yet signed Oliver’s petition to clean up the school lunch program, join the more than 600,000 others who have. Go to http://www.jamieoliver.com/campaigns/jamies-food-revolution).
Kids can learn to love ‘healthy’
Once a month, I visit a school in Denver to teach a fifth-grade class about healthy eating habits. The kids put on their aprons and get out their cutting boards and measuring cups, and get busy making and learning about healthier eating habits.
It can be a challenge to get kids to take at least one courtesy bite of Piccasso Pizza with tomato and broccoli sauce, or whole-grain couscous with corn and salsa, but by the end of the year, they get it. They understand that what goes in their bodies helps them think, learn and even look and feel better about themselves (an important motive as these kids enter middle school).
In 2010, the Denver Public School System (DPS) took a bold leap by offering free lunch – yes, free! – in 81 schools around the district. The move came about because even though many students qualify for a subsidized lunch, they weren’t signed up. Why? Embarrassment. Parents didn’t want their kids ridiculed because they couldn’t afford lunch. Again, adults were getting in the way of their kids eating a healthy lunch.
The DPS is outsmarting the adults with free lunches, and by switching out kitchen equipment so that cooks actually prepare fresh food in the school kitchens rather than heating up prepared food from a box. Even the cafeteria workers feel better about what they do. On the days I walk by the prep area, they proudly show off the food they’ve prepared. The cafeteria cooks have the same look in their eye as the students I work with: pride and accomplishment.
And as Palin insinuates, is this a bad thing? Healthy bodies and healthy self esteem from healthy food?
Kimberly Lord Stewart is an award-winning investigative food reporter, the former editorial director of Functional Ingredients magazine, and the author of Eating Between the Lines, The Supermarket Shopper’s Guide To The Truth Behind Food Labels.Complete bio.