Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pointing the Finger

This article is also available on Nutrition in Motion's blog NIM Dish

Pointing the Finger
Sarah Reid, RHNC

It’s Friday night, and just like every other Friday night you find yourself at the local drive-thru or pizza joint picking up dinner en route from getting the kids from school. It’s been a long week, there’s not much in the fridge, and it seems like the only way to stop the whining and begging for the weekly indulgence (with it’s obligatory litre or two of soda pop) is to give in. The same thing tends to happen at home – some brightly coloured ad runs for a new processed cheese snack (“high in calcium!”) or variety of brightly coloured, “kid friendly” cereal and all of a sudden it’s a “must buy” item and it comes onto the regular rotation. Macaroni and cheese from a box is a staple weeknight dinner, and if it gets the kids to drink their milk what harm is there in the chocolate variety?
The "Healthy" Kids Meal
But look at where all this thinking and acting has found us. Not only are we embodying bad eating and lifestyle habits (and a larger dress size to boot), we’re passing everything along to the kids. Meals, cooked at home and shared with family and friends, and even brown-bag lunches have become the exception rather than the rule, and more children in the Western world recognize the image of Ronald McDonald than Jesus or the President of the United States. While nobody could ever profess to being a perfect parent and nutrition guru their entire lives (myself included), not passing on the ability to make good choices for themselves and value the time spent buying and preparing a real meal is as bad as not performing it yourself. Convenience foods were invented as just that – a convenience for occasional time crunches – but now it seems like we never have the time or energy to feed ourselves properly. Food production companies lap this up, of course, and continue to make millions off of empty calories, bright labels and catchy slogans targeted at both young and old – the kids to do the whining and the parents to do the payout.
So we know there’s a problem with the way we eat... but who’s to blame? We’ve tried lobbying the food companies, launching lawsuits and demanding changes to the laws. We’ve pushed the “5-10 a day” rule to it’s breaking point and blame television, reduced gym classes in schools and unsafe streets for our child’s lack of activity. However, at the end of the day (at least until the offspring leave home), it really is the parent’s responsibility to instil the behaviours in their children that they will carry throughout life. After all, the main purchasing power is still in their pocket, and no amount of 1 hour gym classes or bans on TV time can effectively counteract a steady diet of pizza and pop.
While I may not go as far as Michelle Bridges of Australia’s paper Sydney Morning Herald, I do believe that her message is one to think about: “If we accept that we all pretty much know what we should and shouldn't be eating to maintain a healthy weight, then isn't regularly feeding a child junk food and not teaching them how to eat well at some level a form of child abuse?”. It’s not to say that an occasional dinner out or a popcorn at the movies should translate into a call to the authorities. Rather, I believe that fostering an awareness about the choices we make for both ourselves and our children go a long way to making us all healthier overall. Overweight children start developing larger fat cells from about the age of two, distinct adoration for the sweet and salty taste of food even earlier, and as any parents know – a set of powerful lungs by the time their born.
Start slow at home. Start saying no to those drive-thru pizza nights. Instead, planning ahead for enough food for dinner through the week until the next shopping trip – you can even buy pizza dough in the refrigerated or frozen section of your grocery’s bakery. Make the meals out a treat, and emphasize them as such, so that both you and your children grow to appreciate them for what they are, and allow that occasional indulgence. If you’re children are clamouring for an ice cream cone come mid-July, make it a trip to the local parlour (if it’s a reasonable distance, walk or bike) for single scoops of a good-quality product rather than buying a pint at the grocery store.
In the store, pick quality, in-season and local produce, and take a Saturday morning once in a while and take the kids to a local farmers market. Get them involved in the menu-planning, too. If they want burgers and fries one night, they can help cut the potatoes, toss them with the oil and seasonings and arrange them on the pan. The younger ones can mush up the ground meat and whatever veggies you might want to add in too. You may be surprised at how much they want to help you out once you let them help you out. Sure, it takes more time than delivery, but one day these children will be in your shoes, and you’ll be coming to their house for Thanksgiving dinner. Wouldn’t you prefer something other than Chinese takeout with canned cranberry sauce and chocolate chip cookies for dessert?

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About Me

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I started my "working life" as a holistic and allopathic nutritional consultant with a love of cooking. Teaching the value of wholesome meal choices to families became close to my heart after I battled a long history of struggles with weight and health, and the passion for teaching led me into where I am now. My blog, which focuses on "bringing good taste to healthier food" through creative use of whole grains, fresh produce and acknowledging the importance of the occasional treat, also features a wealth of "specialty diet" friendly recipes for gluten-, egg-, dairy- and sugar- tree nut-free items that everyone can enjoy without alienating those who need them.

Overall, I want to bring back the desire for good quality, homemade, (mostly) healthy food into the hearts and kitchens of families so that the next generation will be less box-reliant than mine. I firmly believe that any “homemade” food, even when labelled as "naughty", is a more wholesome treat than pre-packaged, cookie-cutter junk. With the knowledge of good food (and how to cook good food) as a base, a healthy lifestyle can follow, and then anything is possible!

Today, my love for teaching is branching out even further - I'm in Montessori training to solidify my love for the system and working with children and families!