Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Schools should set the example for healthy eating

A few months ago, while volunteering for a literacy program at a local elementary school, I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar with a room full of kindergartners.

It's a classic children's book by Eric Carle with a classic lesson: You'll feel a lot better if you eat what nature intended — leaves and fruit — than if you load up on ice cream and cupcakes.

After a discussion and drawing exercise that seemed to get the kids fired up about healthy eating, the teacher rewarded them each with a Starburst — a waxy little square of sugar and chemicals that immediately undid an hour's worth of teaching.

I guess the schools in Hernando have tried to cut down on junk. Juice and sports drinks replaced Cokes in vending machines six years ago. More snacks are sold late in the day and fewer during lunch hour. Offerings in the cafeteria are slightly healthier. Little Debbie snack cakes, for example, can contain no more than 35 percent of calories from sugar and 30 percent from fat.

But it's still junk. And there's a reason I didn't name the school where I read about the caterpillar: I know it's not the only one promoting, however unconsciously, crummy eating habits.

As a parent, I judge this partly on the after-school contents of my kid's pants pockets and lunch boxes. On a good day, it's just the remnant of sugar-packed granola bars. More often, there are wadded-up candy wrappers or empty bags of Mini Oreos.

We don't give them this stuff. They trade for it in the cafeteria, which is why sandwiches on whole grain bread usually come home uneaten. They get junk from coaches who encourage them to have a snack before competition. And, though doling out candy seems a strange way to ensure an orderly classroom, nearly every year at least one of my children's teachers has used candy as a bribe for good behavior.

So, I guess it's clear by now that I'm all for Michelle Obama's call to eliminate junk food from schools. In fact, I think it's long overdue, and even hold the extreme view that diet is to us what lead pipes were to Rome — a long-term, unaddressed drag on public health.

At least Romans had the excuse of ignorance. We all know about the diseases — from diabetes to heart ailments — linked to eating sugary, fatty processed foods. There's even evidence that the height of the average American, which in recent decades has been surpassed by Europeans, has stalled or declined partly because of our junk diets. Is it a coincidence that the second-grader I see sucking on a lollipop at the bus stop in the morning is tiny for her age and still talks like a toddler? I don't think so. Where is she getting the nutrients she needs to develop?

Maybe, in fact, we're too aware of the dangers of junk food. Maybe you're sick of hearing about them, and maybe you don't like the idea of blaming our schools, which are certainly not the main source of the problem.

But they are one place where we can control what our children eat and the one institution most responsible for reinforcing the lessons of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Here's a similar lesson from a pithy new book called Food Rules, by Michael Pollan: "Eat only foods that will eventually rot.''

I don't think Little Debbie snack cakes qualify.

Schools should set the example for healthy eating 02/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 13, 2010 11:14am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Suspect arrested in fatal shooting of Virginia special agent

    Crime

    RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia State Police special agent died Saturday after being shot by a man sitting in a car in Richmond, police said. The shooting suspect fled on foot, sparking an overnight manhunt that ended with the man's arrest about an hour after the agent's death.

    This image provided by the Virginia State Police shows law enforcement investigating the scene of a shooting early Saturday in Richmond, Va.   Special Agent Michael T. Walter, a Virginia State Police special agent died Saturday after being shot by a man sitting in a car in Richmond, police said. The shooting suspect fled on foot, sparking an overnight manhunt that ended with the man's arrest about an hour after the agent's death. Virginia State Police said in an emailed statement that Travis A. Ball of Richmond is being held without bond on charges that include malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. (Virginia State Police via AP)
  2. Mayor Rick Kriseman says St. Petersburg mayoral election is about going forward, not back

    Blogs

    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman christened his campaign office Friday evening by telling his supporters that the mayoral election was about moving forward, not backward.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally
  3. Forecast: Lots of sunshine, low humidity to start Memorial Day weekend

    Weather

    The start of your long Memorial Day weekend is all sunshine this Saturday, according to WTSP 10Weather meteorologist Rick Kearbey.

    WTSP seven-day forecast on May 27, 2017.
  4. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting

    Blogs

    UPDATE, 12:45: Cash said Robertson was taking better swings Friday and so he wanted to move him up today, liking the idea of having three straight right-handers vs. a LHP they don't know much about. ... Souza was still smiling this morning about his failed dive attempt last night, and the reaction it got. .. The …

  5. Global computer outage grounds British flights

    Airlines

    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports Saturday as a global IT failure caused severe disruption for travelers on a busy holiday weekend.

    British Airways planes are parked at Heathrow Airport in January. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, file)