Saturday, November 19, 2011

"No child left...without a big behind."

In the car this morning, I was listening to Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me on NPR, and they made a crack about how apparently now pizza counts as a vegetable in school lunches. vegetable?

I'm not sure I can name anybody who doesn't like pizza. And made a certain way (i.e. with actual vegetables as a topping, lots of tomato sauce, a small amount of cheese, and a whole grain crust) pizza can actually be relatively healthy. But I've seen the pizza they serve in school lunches...It's not exactly vegetable-like.

For the record, I'm not even sure that pizza should be removed from the menu entirely. I've got a kiddo in the middle school who is on the spectrum, and that is the ONLY thing he will eat. Plus, half the time, he picks the fatty cheese off it anyway. I feel disinclined to take away the only thing he will eat for lunch. (But then the other part of me has a little bit of the tough love attitude...If it's not a choice, eventually the kids will get hungry enough to make another choice!)

I've been in meetings with the principal and vice principal at my school where they scoffed at all the new regulations about school lunches and how it's ridiculous what they can and can't offer kids at lunch, or how they can't have vending machines anymore. Again, I'm not sure that legislation and policy changes are the best way to tackle the problem of childhood obesity. (Plus, I recently saw a study that said kids drink about as much soda whether their schools have vending machines or not). But something has to be done. A major argument of the principal was that it doesn't matter what the schools do, because the parents will just give the kids junk at home, or send them into school with junk food. The message he was delivering was that it doesn't matter what the school does, the parents have all the power. Well...That's a little defeatist for me! How can we sit around the table and say that what we do in schools doesn't matter? If we are honest with kids, and really teach them about food and about balance and moderation, there's a good chance that they will bring that information home to their parents. Most kids have a decent amount of sway over their parents...If the kids are home begging for swiss chard, then I think there's a chance their parents will make some kind of change at home.

This also makes me think of the bit in Supersize Me, when they talk about an alternative school for kids with behavior issues in Wisconsin, and what a dramatic change they saw when they changed the food program in the school. I am skeptical that the food program was the ONLY thing that brought about these dramatic changes. I am pretty much never willing to believe that one thing can be a total remedy for any problem. It's likely that they also have a very strong positive behavior support plan, and other behavioral supports. But, I do think that what you eat has a strong effect on how you feel and how you act. Trust me, you don't want to be around me when I've come down off a sugar high.

Plus, after working with adolescents who struggled with obesity, I have a much greater appreciation for just how difficult it is to lose weight once you have gained it. I think the goal should always be prevention-focused. Let's serve kids healthy foods now, so they can feel better and learn better, and be able to enjoy all kinds of foods in moderation, without feeling guilty.

And seriously, guys? Pizza does not count as a vegetable!