School Lunch Self-Help Advice

Written by Jennifer Strailey

Do you want your children eating candy for lunch?  Here's what you can do about it.

Trix are for kids. Snickers really satisfy you. The Keebler elves are so cute, their cookies must be good.

Of the 10,000 food commercials American children watch each year, 95 percent are for foods high in sugar or fat, according to Mediascope, an entertainment industry watchdog.
Food for Thought:
Raising Adventurous Eaters
Big Portions, Big Problems

Our kids gobble these messages up. They've never lived in a three-square-meals-a-day kind of world.

After talking to your 10-year-old about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and drug use, "eat your peas and carrots" seems somehow absurd. Nutrition is no longer the priority it once was, and our kids are wearing this fact on their waistlines.

Recent reports put the number of obese children in the nited States at 17 percent; that's double what it was 20 years ago.

What do we expect? Adults are tipping the scales at alarming numbers too. And yet we have more information about nutrition than ever before.

And so do our kids. When asked how to tell if a food is healthy, the sixth-graders we talked to at one northern California school told us to look at the nutrition facts. "What do you look for?" we prompted. "Cholesterol, fat and sugar," they replied. 

But few kids use this knowledge to make smart food choiceswith their lunch money.

"Some people just get four cookies and two Twix [candy bars] and a soda for lunch," says one sixth-grader, whose observation was met with nods of agreement from his classmates.

"I think parents would be pretty appalled by the number of students who just have the junk," says Heidi Thompson, a sixth-grade teacher and guidance counselor who does triple duty as a cafeteria monitor.

While schools are required to offer healthful options such as salads and sandwiches, they aren't nearly as appealing as the pizza and candy bars sold from a snack cart that is also available daily. "I buy lunch every day and there's not really any healthy stuff except the fruits, but they kind of look disgusting. They're all mushy and stuff," says one girl, wrinkling her nose. "The only thing that actually tastes good is the fries."

The schools, malls and movie theaters are brimming with fast- and processed-food, but the menu at home isn't much better. We tell our kids it's important to eat right, but we're too harried to do more than microwave a frozen dinner, or hit the drive-thru on the way home from work.

A healthful routine becomes even more difficult for some children of a divorce whose time is divided between different households which often have different schedules and meal patterns, says Thompson.

So are our kids destined for a life of  "yo quiero Taco Bell; broccoli be damned?"

The kids we talked to seemed genuinely interested in improving their eating habits. The key to helping kids make smart choices may be in getting them in the kitchen.

Every hand in the classroom went up when we asked if they liked to cook.

"It's really fun when my mom asks me to make the sunny side up eggs and I get to flip them over," says one grinning boy, demonstrating his technique in the air. Moments later his smile was replaced with seriousness as he confessed, "I wish I could stop eating pizza and all those greasy foods."

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Photographer: Dana Fry

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