What our children eat matters as well
The older I become the more aware I am of what I eat. Mainly, truth be told, because it is no longer possible to eat and drink willy nilly without consequences. There was a time when the weekend binge meant nothing, but soon after my 35th birthday things began to change. Now, 10 years later I eat too much, drink a bottle of wine and bam there you have five pounds. The rest of the week that is spent eating carefully and abstaining from wine means it goes but still it’s annoying.
Of course, when you start thinking about what you eat and where it comes from, I mean really think about it, you end up not eating much at all. From engineered meat products to miserable animals and inhumane practices to genetically modified seeds to too much sugar and or salt in everything it is no wonder that the western world has a problem with obesity and cancer.
But I digress. What got me thinking about this was lunchtime at school. Over the last week I have been substitute teaching and supervising the children’s lunch is part of that. When I was teaching before there were dinner ladies and so I was never really conscious of what my students were ingesting. I was still of an age where my metabolism was coping with anything I was throwing at it and so food wasn’t, embarrassingly, a consideration. But now after a year of conscious eating I am more aware than ever of food. Not just the quantity but the quality. I have to say with a few exceptions, the students I have seen are not eating well. So why is this important?
Before I go further I should say that this is not an exercise at finger pointing. I know the effort it takes to eat properly. Not only effort but money and knowledge. Our own family meals sometimes fall short, even knowing what we do, and having more money than many families. So it is no surprise that many hard working parents find it difficult to put together a balanced lunch with the recommended nutrients that can be eaten in 25 minutes. As educators we need to consider the fact that more and more of the research suggests that what we eat really matters. Not only in terms of physical well being but in cognition and mental health as well. So this really is something that we should be concerned about.
What do I mean by not eating well? I mean a lot of processed foods, sugary drinks and sugary snacks. Students pack lunches that I saw lacked evidence of fruit, veg or much that looks unprocessed.
Why is this bad? The most obvious is we know that processed foods and excess sugar intake are a big part of why there is an epidemic in obesity. (You can see some alarming stats here from the Childhood Obesity Foundation.) But more than that there is a growing body of research out there that is linking diet to mental health as well as cognition. There is a great article from the people at the Mental Health Foundation in the UK that can get you started. But in short it’s suggesting that eating a balanced diet is central to a persons mental well being. It goes further to suggest that there is evidence,
WOW – just think about that for a moment and what that means for students and educators.
How many students after their lunch are “off the rails” how many of them come into school in the morning not having had breakfast? Those students, in all probability are the same one’s who are not getting much if any proper nutrition at all. Because if they are not getting breakfast or a balanced lunch then the chances that they are getting a wholesome dinner are slim to none. This has consequences for them as a student, obviously, and for the school as well.
What can be done about this? Well school meals are one possible avenue and done properly would at least ensure one decent meal a day. A breakfast club is another. But of course this takes money and to do it properly lots of money that is not available, especially in these days of frugality. So we are left with educating the students and encouraging parents to provide nutritious and eatable meals that don’t take longer than 30 minutes to consume. So in that vein here are several links to websites that will provide you with ideas. I have to say some are better than others and these are only there as a reference – I’m not endorsing them in anyway and nor are they in any specific order.
- From BonAppetite.com 25 Quick and Easy School Lunches to Pack for Your Kids. Some of the nutritional benefits of these may be a little suspect but there’s some good ideas too.
- BBCGoodFood.com A little bit gourmet perhaps but they definitely look delicious.
- Some great ideas from womansday.com not only on what to pack but how to get your child more engaged.
- Pinterest is an amazing resource and this collection of ideas for pack lunches is no exception.
- Eatingwell.com also has some neat ideas on what you can pack for your child that are nutritious and look tempting.