Saturday, September 12, 2015

Kids+Food: Closing Thoughts

I promised to end this series of posts with some positivity and encouragement about how to move forward from here...

So far, we've covered these things:
1. The health of our kids in this country is not improving - many are overweight, inactive, and struggling with preventable diseases.

2. At every turn, adults in our culture are offering kids the very foods that have ruined their health - candy, soda, too many sweets, fast food, and other just plain bad foods.

3. We can make a difference by working to change our kids' food environment for the good, with the goal of eliminating the foods that make our kids sick and adding the foods that improve our kids' health.

Embrace True Quality Time. The first thing each of us can do is to reject the idea that there won't be any fun at events involving children if there isn't a ton of candy, soda, treats, and junk food. We have to shift the thinking in our culture to what truly makes for fun and meaningful time spent together. There are many ways to enjoy genuine quality time without it being centered around junk food. Maybe you grew up eating donuts every Saturday morning as a family tradition, and now you do the same with your kids. Think about how you can implement another way to spend time with your kids without eating donuts. Maybe you get up and make the breakfast together? Maybe you take a family bike ride on Saturday mornings? Maybe you visit your local Farmer's Market? It may be time to seriously consider how even regular family activities can include food and actions that actually improve the health of kids.

Be Reasonable. Many people might read my previous posts and think I am anti-junk, all the time. Not so. As a family, we enjoy visiting grandparents at their homes. We do NOT request that others eliminate certain foods from their home, nor do we deny our children some of grandma's famous cookies. That's unreasonable and steals joy from others. We also still make Christmas cookies at home, celebrate birthdays with cake, and do our best to celebrate normal cultural events. It is impossible to reject any and all treats and some of these are important traditions. We still encourage moderation at these special times and if we can help it, we celebrate outside of the home (so the leftover gallon of ice cream isn't left in the freezer!) These are special times and we try to keep them so. As far as regular events (weekly sporting events, birthday parties, school, school lunches, after school snacks, etc), we still work to provide healthy food and good choices. These events are regular parts of our life and not considered "special events" because of their frequency.

It's OK if Progress is Slow - Persevere. The commitment to change our kids' food environment is a long term one. It may take years for it to catch on that bottled water should be the drink kids enjoy after team sports. Or it may take many school holiday parties with downsized treat selections and upsized fruit and veggie options for parents to see the difference. I'll be honest: Other adults are your biggest hurdle. It is best to build a strong community with the parents of other kids around you and figure out how to work together. Remember - other parents don't like to be educated about what is "healthy" - but you yourself can implement change and see who joins you. Probably more parents will support your efforts than you think. And they may also start gradually changing their practices. I have seen it happen. The change is slow, but it does happen.

Talk to Those in Charge.  There is another level of change you can approach. Think about how you can request a time to talk to those in charge (Directors of Sports Program Concession Stands, Principals, Teachers, School Event Planners) about making positive change to the food and drinks that are offered. Does it bother you that your local Y concession stand only offers candy, soda, and other junk food? Ask around about who's in charge and chat with them about if there is a way to start offering fresh fruit. This may require work on your part - you might even have to BRING the bananas for a few weeks! - but try it as an experiment to see how receptive the community is. Maybe even go so far as to chat with them about a progressive change to a "healthier choice" concession stand with a marketing strategy, goals, etc. Come at it from the angle of a parent (or even a business/marketing person if this is in your skill set!) - the ones who hold the dollar bills the kids spend at the concessions - and help them to see that they may actually make more money than they think if they offer healthier options.

Your school may also have some "rules" about sweets and junk at school. In Texas, the schools only allow three parties a year where non-nutritional food can be offered. Other times, it is not allowed. But you may find that many schools fudge on this. They allow teachers to create math lessons counting Smarties, or a treasure box containing candy. For me, this means it's time to talk with people in charge about how we can honor the rule all the time, which was made with the intention to keep bad food out of the school environment. If your school doesn't have a rule, see about how you can work with other parents to lobby for one. Again, people will say, "Really? It's okay to count Smarties!" But in my experience, these things creep in more and more and before you know it, your kids are getting rewarded with candy every day.

You might ask if it is worth it to work so hard for a candy free/soda free/junk food free school...? After all, your kids are only at school part of the day, etc. But you know what? They are there A LOT. It is worth it to try to make changes for a good food environment there as well. Good choices should be provided as much as possible to our children, so they can see that the adults around them are serious about implementing the things being taught in health class.

Others may argue that it's hard to be "that parent" who is complaining about this issue, and it is easy to get branded as a difficult parent. A good rule of thumb for me is to ASK about and OBSERVE the policies of the teacher, the team, etc. and gather information from other parents before you rashly march in and demand that sweets be outlawed. Yes, that will make it difficult for you and maybe even difficult for your kid. But, it is worth it to work for change, especially if your kid is in a school environment you pay for (which is basically everyone, right?!)

It is worth it to try to implement change for better food for our kids. Again, this starts at home. But, for me, I saw the need to start moving out to the other regular places my kids are. This means sports events, parties, and other times when food is offered. Let's face it: Food is a huge part of our culture! We eat it to celebrate, gather together, reward, and even grieve. It's everywhere. So it is absolutely worth it to think about how to create healthier options for our kids. Perhaps it will be a way to help set this generation on the right course to good health.

I think you will find that MOST parents are totally supportive of changes that benefit our children. So why not be the one working for change and inviting others to join you?

There are a few books/movies that are great resources if you are interested in learning more:
Documentaries concerning food environments and kids:
Fed Up
Two Angry Moms

Books that are great:
100 Days of Real Food by Lisa Leake (if you need a book to get you started at home!)
Disease-Proof Your Child by Joel Furhman (if you are already making good progress at home and want to make even MORE changes for good nutrition and promote your children's health)

Hope that is helpful!

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