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Remember how simple school lunches used to be? You'd have something from every major food group, run around the playground for a while, and you looked and felt fine. But today it's not so simple. Schools are actually feeding the American crisis of childhood obesity and malnutrition. Most cafeterias serve a veritable buffet of processed, fried, and sugary foods, and although many schools have attempted to improve, they are still not measuring up: 78 percent of the school lunch ...
Remember how simple school lunches used to be? You'd have something from every major food group, run around the playground for a while, and you looked and felt fine. But today it's not so simple. Schools are actually feeding the American crisis of childhood obesity and malnutrition. Most cafeterias serve a veritable buffet of processed, fried, and sugary foods, and although many schools have attempted to improve, they are still not measuring up: 78 percent of the school lunch programs in America do not meet the USDA's nutritional guidelines.
Chef Ann Cooper has emerged as one of the nation's most influential and most respected advocates for changing how our kids eat. In fact, she is something of a renegade lunch lady, minus the hairnet and scooper of mashed potatoes. Ann has worked to transform cafeterias into culinary classrooms. In Lunch Lessons, she and Lisa Holmes spell out how parents and school employees can help instill healthy habits in children.
They explain the basics of good childhood nutrition and suggest dozens of tasty, home-tested recipes for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. The pages are also packed with recommendations on how to eliminate potential hazards from the home, bring gardening and composting into daily life, and how to support businesses that provide local, organic food.
Yet learning about nutrition and changing the way you run your home will not cure the plague of obesity and poor health for this generation of children. Only parental activism can spark widespread change. With inspirational examples and analysis, Lunch Lessons is more than just a recipe book—it gives readers the tools to transform the way children everywhere interact with food.
Basic Childhood Nutrition
When it comes to nutrition, children are not just miniature adults. Because they're growing, they have different dietary needs. When they start school, even preschool, it becomes more difficult to keep an eye on what they're eating. Since it's impossible for most parents to be with their school-age children at lunchtime during the week, the best you can do is send them to school with a healthy, well-balanced lunch. Start educating them early about what constitutes good nutrition so that when they're given the opportunity to make their own lunch choices they'll choose the best foods available to them.
Tips for Healthy Children
Eating habits are learned behaviors; they're not intuitive, so what your children learn to eat at home early in life sticks with them well into adulthood. Today we are disconnected from our food sources in a way that is unprecedented in human history. Fewer and fewer Americans cook meals from scratch because it's easier and faster to throw a frozen dinner in the oven or grab something from a fast-food restaurant on the way home from work. And the guerilla marketing foisted upon us by fast- and processed-food companies isn't helping. Most parentsknow that their kids are under continuous assault by corporate food advertising but feel frustrated by and even powerless against it. In reality, a few simple tools combined with a mantra of "variety, moderation, and balance" will provide you with all you need to ensure the long-term nutritional health of your child.
1. Be a good role model.
Most of the parents we know complain that their children refuse to eat healthfully and come to us in search of magic recipes that will put an end to mealtime madness. The real problem most often lies with the parents, not the kids. Most of us are so accustomed to eating out and buying prepared foods in the grocery store that we don't even know what good food is anymore. We can't line our cabinets with packaged cereals and sodas and expect our kids to eat like they were raised on a commune in rural Vermont. In order to be good role models we must educate ourselves first and then practice what we preach.
2. Take your kids shopping with you.
Unfortunately we don't all live near farms or farmers' markets, so it's not easy for us or our children to feel a connection with good, whole (unprocessed) foods. One way to help them learn is to make a point to take them grocery shopping with you. Of course it's probably easier to go alone when there's someone at home to watch them or they're at school, but it's important for them to see foods in their raw states so they can explore and ask questions. Take them when you're not in a hurry and spend a lot of time in the aisles that contain unprocessed foods--the produce, meat, and fish departments, for example. If your child appears to be interested in a certain type of fruit or vegetable, encourage him or her to explore that item; don't just assume that your child won't like it. Take it home and let him try it so he can make his own decisions. When Ben, Lisa's son, was a baby he liked to ride in the cart holding an avocado. Every time they went shopping he'd point at the avocados until Lisa gave him one. When he was three he asked if he could bring some mangos home. He was also intrigued by the spiky orange exterior of the unusual kiwano fruit (also known as the African Horned Melon). He carried it for the duration of their shopping trip and insisted it be cut the minute he got it home. Its green, seedy interior was a bit off-putting to him, but he tried it anyway. Exploring food this way gives Ben and his mom a chance to talk about how something is cooked and where it comes from. It also allows Ben to feel like he's making choices about what he eats.
3. Be flexible!
Remember, anything in moderation is okay. Of course, if you eat doughnuts in moderation, followed by potato chips in moderation and soda in moderation, it is no longer healthy. Having a cookie every day and balancing it with healthy foods is a better practice of moderation. While we always want to make the healthiest choices for our children's bodies, a special treat once a week or even once a day won't do any damage. On the contrary, it will help make eating a more enjoyable experience and will help your child build a good relationship with food.
4. Make mealtime special.
There are all sorts of fun things we can do to make mealtime special. First and foremost, sit down and enjoy your food. Take time to savor flavors. Children should never eat while walking around. We understand that some young children have difficulty sitting for the entire meal. In those cases we recommend allowing the child to get up once or twice, while encouraging the child to sit--not stand--at the table when he or she comes back to eat. For children who are able to understand, explain to them that mealtimes are special family times and it is important to the family that everyone sit down to eat and talk together. Make a ritual out of dinner and give everyone a special task--maybe even let each child have one night a week to plan and help make dinner. Have the kids set the table. Cloth napkins and real glasses set a more formal tone and are better for the environment. Candles aren't just for adult dining--they can set a calming tone for the meal and will show kids that mealtime is special. Make a point not to allow mealtimes to degenerate into family argument time.
Excerpted from Lunch Lessons by Ann Cooper Copyright © 2006 by Ann Cooper. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted July 19, 2006
Although this book contains good ideas and recipes for kid's lunches, it goes way beyond that and calls for parents to become activists in the public school system. It's the first book I've seen to address not only nutrition but also things like waste prevention, the importance of educating kids about food, as well as introducing them to gardening at home or in the school setting. I have a collection of lunch books and this is the only one I put into action as soon as I finished reading it.
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