Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Getting Children to Eat Healthier

Recently I read the article School food workers grapple with new USDA guidelines and how to get children to eat healthier that was in the Star Tribune. It focused on schools who are "implementing the biggest update to federal school-food guidelines in 15 years."

Although I homeschool Sophia and Olivia, this article was interesting because it provided insight into the type of food that children need to stay healthy. School lunch menus now will be including "a wider selection of fruits and vegetables and other healthy options."

Broccoli Tomato Salad
Broccoli tomato salad that I made.
(Taken on March 4, 2011.)

The new Department of Agriculture guidelines, which take effect this fall, are good ones to follow at home as well:
- set calorie and sodium limits
- offer dark green, orange, or red vegetables and legumes at least once a week
- offer one vegetable or fruit per meal
- ensure flavored milk is nonfat
- eliminate artificial, artery-clogging trans fats.

Thai Peanut Chicken
Thai peanut chicken that I made.
(Taken on May 19, 2010.)

Although this sounds good on paper, the challenge is getting children to eat healthier food after they are use to eating more processed and/or unhealthy food. The concern is that children will not try the new healthier food, and end up throwing it away.

Making Rainbow Parfaits on St. Patrick's Day
Making rainbow parfaits with fruit on St. Patrick's Day.
(Taken on May 17, 2008.)

What surprised me was a school district in the Twin Cities has parent volunteers come into the elementary schools to be "food coaches." The volunteers distribute vegetables and fruits to the children as well as "demonstrate eating them. Food coaching may seem silly, but kids who have had chicken only as nuggets or patties may not know how to eat bone-in chicken and need to see how a grown-up eats it before trying it themselves."

Sophia Making Applesauce
Sophia making homemade applesauce.
(Taken on October 1, 2010.)

It did make me laugh to think about "food coaches," however, in reality it is no different than what I - as a homeschool parent - do each time Sophia, Olivia, and I make and try new food as part of the curriculum.

I think of all the different recipes we have tried throughout the past few years as we have explored different countries by doing an A to Z study of the world; and are now making recipes that represent each of the states in the U.S. as we are doing a multi-year geography study.

French Green Bean Recipe
Sophia holding French green beans that she made
when she was learning about France.
(Taken on October 13, 2007.)

In essence, I am a "food coach" who guides the girls to not only sample healthy food...but I teach them how to make the food. If they just eat the food, but never learn how to make it, then I'm doing a disservice to them as both their teacher and parent.

Blending the Strawberry Smoothie
Olivia and Sophia learning how to make a strawberry smoothie.
(Taken on April 20, 2009.)

What I also found interesting in the article was that the Department of Agriculture encourages cafeteria workers to "stop thinking of lunchtime as a break from academics, but a crucial part of a child's school day."  This is equally relevant, in my opinion, for families who homeschool.

Olivia Harvesting Rhubarb
Olivia harvesting some rhubarb.
(Taken on June 8, 2009.)

An idea that was mentioned in the article was that "just like supermarkets place impulse buys like candy and chewing gum by the checkout, lunch lines should place easy-to-grab fruits and veggies by their own cash registers. Her study saw cafeterias double their sales of fresh fruit when they placed it colorful bowls in a convenient place."

Placing fruit and and other healthy food in colorful containers could be done as well at home - either on the counter and/or in the refrigerator.

This article was an interesting and timely one...especially as we start the new homeschool year.


The Knitty Gritty Homestead said...

This makes me shake my head, ruefully. To some of us, these guidelines are a no-brainer. I teach Kindergarten and regularly send home notes with ideas for healthy snacks; when we have a class party, even at Halloween, any "treats" sent in from home need to be healthy. There are so many things that kids will eat if it is attractively displayed (and if there is no "junk" in sight, of course. I think our generation of parents saw the beginning of the "normalization" of junk food, so it's no wonder many parents feed their kids junk. It seems sad to me that feeding your child healthy food needs to be regulated by the government and/or schools...shouldn't we, as parents, do it because we know it's best?
Your daughters are beautiful, by the way! Love your food photography...the beans look so delicious!

crunchyfarmbaby said...

As a public school teacher, I am so glad that people are bringing the issue of school lunches to the news! It's abhorrent what some of the crap looks like that kids are being served! I am currently a SAHM, but one of my goals when I go back to teaching full-time is to start up a school garden that could eventually be sustainable enough for the cafeteria to use for lunches. It's a big goal, but I think with enough support, it could work. Everyone has to start somewhere, right?

Sarah @ Made in USA Challenge said...

I think the "food coach" idea is wonderful. So many American children go to school hungry and eat anything they can get their hands on- which is usually far from healthy. If they do not have a role model exposing them to healthy eating habits at home, school is the next best place.

Laura said...

Thanks so much for your comment on my blog! Your girls are beautiful!

AH said...

This is such an important post! As a teacher I was amazed at what came into my classroom for snacks, lunches, and parties! As a mom, I'm trying really hard to help my kids understand why we eat the foods we eat as they help make decisions. Teaching kids when they are young is so important to their health as they get older. Thanks for stopping by my site!