This is not to start arguments about what government "should or should not be able to do." One of the schools' points is that the kids don't want the healthy options, so let's talk about our kids and food.
We all generally agree that many of the foods made available, especially cheaply and fast to all of us including our children, is not as healthy as it should be for a variety of reasons. You would have to live in an alternate universe to be able to deny that fact. The multitude of factors blamed for this include rising power of the food industry in lobbying and subsidies which lead to lower-cost foods that don't necessarily have more nutritional value, heavy marketing towards kids and parents, and decrease in time spent by families cooking their own meals. In this country child hunger is a real problem and also one of the contributing factors to less ideal dietary choices when it comes to nutrition. These are larger issues that affect us all, but in the end the choices do start at home, and outside of situations where food is scarce and choices therefore very limited, there is still often some room for atleast not-as-bad choices even if the ideal ones are not options.
As I have admitted in a prior post, I hardly claim to have a perfect approach to healthy eating.But I put in a good deal of effort towards this goal, and as a parent one of my main concerns every day is what my kids eat. Sometimes I feel like I am fighting for my kids' nutritional welfare. A walk through the grocery store is a minefield for me.There are some days I purposely avoid the cereal and cracker/cookie aisle because I simply don't have the energy to repeat the word "no" as many times as I sometimes need to in response to my kids asking for all sorts of yummy-appearing cereals and snacks. The trick of course is teaching our kids to choose healthy, or healthier options, when we are NOT around.Because when the cat's away the mice will play, right?
Part of the key to this lies in something I learned at the Healthy Kitchens course I took a few years back, where they said that healthy food needed to be "cravable", because otherwise folks would tend not to choose them over non-healthy options. Spinach that looked and tasted like yucky green slime would never win my kids over, but slightly wilted spinach sauteed with garlic just might, and spinach salad with pears certainly would(and has).
I am still working on the magic formula on my end. I find myself pushing a boulder uphill some days, like when I pack a healthy lunch but my kids come home laden with candy from school, some given as "rewards" for good behavior or success in a subject--why oh why can't something besides sweets be given????? But it is getting better. Here are a few approaches I have been trying:
First, teach moderation: I found a moment of parental pride when another parent pulled me aside at a birthday party and said, "I was inside dishing out the cake and your kids just turned down ice cream on top of their cake, they said the cake alone was enough.How did you do that?" Indeed I wasn't sure of the date or time but somewhere along the line I had communicated to my kids that there was such a thing as enough and another such as excess. And they got it.
Second, remove the cache of the illicit foods: A friend of mine alerted me to this issue years ago. She said, "We are going about this all wrong, making it look like a special thing to be given sweets! It should be an everyday thing so the kids don't attach special status to them and want them more." When I thought about it, that's exactly what I had been doing, saying stuff like, "we have cake on special occasions." I instead started treating them as ordinary foods and explaining they didn't work as well for making our bodies strong, so we should have less of them to make room for the foods that DID make us stronger and healthy. In the face of brownies or ice cream this argument is not always welcomed but we all know it is true.
Third, make those healthier foods cravable. Heck yes, kale can taste amazing!!!! As can eggplant and okra, which I actually don't even like myself. We try to find recipes and ways of preparing healthy food options that will make us WANT to eat them, and if we start with small amounts that is fine.Baby steps do count.
Fourth, I aim for healthy each time but cut myself some slack. Are waffles the absolute healthiest breakfast I could make? Probably not, but I pile them with fresh fruit and use only small amounts of syrup. Imperfect but not bad, and a lot better than a pop tart.Sandwich made with Hawaiian sweet rolls: ideal? Maybe not but, accompanied by lean ham or cheese and again those fresh fruits or veggies, it is a good option for an easy-to-pack school lunch.
And last, yes I put my foot down on some things. After explaining it every way I can, my kids sometimes do still launch the all out attack in the cereal aisle for Lucky Charms(which are never entering my cupboard outside of a foot shortage and there being no other options). I simply say, "No."
As a parent being the gatekeeper is my job too, and my responsibility. Given that I co-hold the purse strings with my husband, we both decide what enters the kitchen, not our kids. I can bear with some sulking on their part.
Is my approach perfect? No, by any definition you can think of, it is not. And yes we eat some typical "junk food" like pizza and hamburgers, but not often. My hope is that in the end my kids enjoy healthier options so that they prefer and choose those automatically over the less healthy versions. This may be part of issue with supposed student push-back the schools are talking about, claiming that the kids WANT those less healthy versions. Maybe those kids don't realise halthier food can taste fantastic. So let's start at home showing them how and explaining why those healthy versions are better. Because one day they will walk the cereal aisle without us, and put their own money where their health goes.