What did you eat at school when you were a kid? Times are certainly a’ changing if the latest news reports from Canada are anything to go by. Apparently schools in the Windsor-Essex area are suffering as a result of the new food rules that came into force for school cafeterias late last year. This is a local story that applies to a specific area of Canada, of course, but it is part of a much wider story that is starting to become apparent in other countries as well.
Basically the crux of the matter is this – provincial rules were created in the case of the Windsor-Essex area that meant healthier foods had to be added to school menus to replace unhealthy ones that were already there. So out went the French fries (replaced with baked ones instead) and in came fruit and all manner of other healthy snacks.
Unfortunately the legislation did not account for the views of the students. After all no one forces the students to eat in the cafeteria. As it turns out attendance has declined sharply in the months since the new rules came into force last September. Since then students have decided that they need to go elsewhere to continue eating the same foods they were having at the cafeteria before.
What’s the deal with kids and healthy eating?
Oftentimes our eating habits are formed when we are kids – and I’m talking about being young kids here, not teenagers. I don’t know about you, but by the time I got to be a teenager I’d already figured out what I did and didn’t like and I already had habits that are still with me today.
Personally I think a love of junk food starts at a young age. How many kids do you see (toddler age, sitting in strollers) eating fast food bought for them by their parents? I never even had a burger until I was in my late teens, although part of that was due to the fact that we really never had the range and choice of burger joints that kids have today. The worst thing we ever did as kids was to sneak out of school and grab a serving of French fries – maybe once a month. It felt like a real treat but we never would have considered doing it on a daily basis. It just wasn’t something we were used to.
Okay I admit I may not be qualified to comment on how kids are brought up today. But I know that my mom and dad served up good home cooked meals every day and we’d all sit down and eat together. Sure we had home cooked fries from time to time but we never had them every day. And yes, we did eat our vegetables but it was never a big deal to do so. It’s just what we ate. And I’m pretty sure we didn’t have the ‘five a day’ thing drummed into us every day either. I think I’d remember if we did.
We definitely never had cafeterias where the food had to be healthy or else. How times change.
Will forcing the issue work?
I’m not the parent to any teenagers but I know people who are. And if there is one rule that pretty much applies to the majority of teenagers, it seems to be this – whatever you tell them they will probably want to do the exact opposite.
I can see how this legislation was meant to be well meaning and was done with the health of the kids in mind. But I’m an adult. I’m secure in my own skin and I know why they’re doing it. On the other hand the teenagers are at a very fragile stage in their lives. They’re at that stage where they’re forming their own opinions about things around them. They want to strike out on their own and make their own decisions too.
Sure, some kids will probably eat at the cafeterias affected by these rules and they’ll probably eat more healthily as a result. They might appreciate this new legislation and grow up better as well. But the majority of students will probably think it’s nothing more than interfering and being told what to do. And when kids are told what to do… well, we all know what can happen next, right?
I’m kinda surprised that the people behind this new legislation didn’t see this coming. Put rules and teenagers together and it’s never going to end like you think it will.
Banning certain types of foods only makes us want them more
If you’ve ever been on a diet you’ll probably have found that most of them tell you to ban certain foods. This could be anything from an entire food group – like carbs for example – to specific things like chocolate.
I’ve tried these diets before and believe me when I say the banning theory doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in diets and it doesn’t work in cafeterias either. When I’m told I cannot eat something – like chocolate for example – I just want it all the more. It’s like the teenager who is told what they can and cannot eat in the school cafeteria. I can totally understand why they’re heading elsewhere to get their burgers. They’re reacting against the rules being put in place by someone else. They’re reacting to someone else telling them “you can’t eat that. You shouldn’t be eating that.”
It’s interesting to note that the approach Paul McKenna uses in his “I Can Make You Thin” book and hypnosis program is to ban nothing. Literally NOTHING. You eat what you want to eat, when you are hungry for food. Just like I find with chocolate, if I know I can have it, I don’t want it anywhere near as often as I would if I knew it was ‘banned’.
This idea of everything in moderation is how we all used to eat many years ago. But we got out of the habit of doing it. It doesn’t take much to get the habit back again, and to be honest it’s the best way to live. Telling kids they must eat certain things and avoid some others is not the best way forward. This is panic – it’s a reaction to the obesity epidemic and it’s understandable, but it’s a kneejerk reaction and nothing more. Kids should be taught that nothing is bad in moderation. Moderation is the key word and it’s one we don’t hear often enough.
Would a more balanced approach work better in the long run?
I think it would. I’d like to see school cafeterias providing healthy choices alongside some favorites like burgers and fries too. Giving kids control is all part of the process. By choosing what they can and cannot eat we’re taking the control away from them. This will only lead to disaster in the long run.
We shouldn’t be making decisions for our kids. We should be educating them – after all isn’t that what school is all about? Of course they should know that too much junk food is bad for them if they eat it all the time. But you know what? They won’t suffer if they eat an occasional burger and fries instead of having lean turkey and vegetables for lunch. They might even embrace the idea of fresh natural foods and how to enjoy them more than they are at the moment.
We need to stop butting heads with these kids. Instead, we need to involve them in the process. We need to get them excited about food and show them just how amazing it is to cook your own versions of burgers and fries. Personally there is nothing better for me than to cook homemade oven chips – big chunks of fresh potato with a little olive oil and seasoning and cooked at a high temperature for the perfect crispness. No French fry can beat it.
If we just devoted some time to getting together on an even playing field with the kids of today, we could change our future. We could turn this obesity epidemic around, I’m sure of it.
Of course I could be wrong and the kids could suddenly realize how cool their new cafeteria is, thanks to the efforts of the food police…but somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.