When Kids Won’t Eat Healthy School Lunches: Should Parents Get the Blame?
|September 26, 2013||Posted by Stacy under Healthy eating at home, School food, School lunch|
Since the new school meal nutrition standards went into effect last year, I’ve seen countless articles about how students won’t eat the good-for-you stuff. Fresh fruits and veggies? They just end up in the trash. Even in my own school district, administrators have complained about how school meal participation suffers when healthy cuisine is served. Kids love pizza, mac and cheese, and chicken nuggets. And whose fault is it? Their parents’, of course!
It’s true: Many parents could be feeding their kids healthier. Some aren’t well educated about nutrition; others opt for highly processed packaged food because they’re busy; still others just give their kids whatever they want to avoid a fight. Then there are parents like me who go to great lengths to teach their kids to eat right. I prepare a fresh healthy dinner almost every night. I serve fruits and/or vegetables at every meal and snack. Even their treats are usually homemade. I often let them help me cook, even though it can be time consuming and horrendously messy. And guess what? Despite all my efforts, they still would choose a hot dog and chocolate milk over the salad bar at school.
I have three kids with very different food tastes. My oldest (age 7) has a very limited diet. He doesn’t eat ANY vegetables (at least not in their whole form) and doesn’t eat much fruit. He won’t drink smoothies. He refuses nuts and beans. He even hates pizza. I keep putting fruits and veggies on his plate day after day after day and try (REALLY try) not to push–to no avail.
My 5-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is a very open-minded eater. She’ll ask for seconds on veggies and she’s never met a piece of fruit that she didn’t like. One of her favorite packed-from-home school lunches is a wrap made with red-pepper hummus, quinoa, spinach, steamed broccoli and shredded carrots. On the side, I might give her snow peas, red peppers and mangoes. She gobbles it all up.
Two different kids, two different personalities and palates. I have tried to teach them well. And while I unequivocally have influenced their eating habits, I shouldn’t get all the credit–or the blame–for their food choices. If they are offered a choice between a hot dog and a salad, they will take the hot dog. Is it my fault?
I don’t profess to have all the answers on what to do about the school food dilemma. But I think getting students on board with healthier meals may require creative solutions. Kids are not just going to learn to like it on their own. Instead, let’s try integrated food education in the form of school gardens, food tastings, cooking classes and demos, and classroom lessons.
I understand that schools lose money when students don’t buy school lunch, but offering more “kid food” like pizza and nuggets isn’t the answer. So here’s what I propose: Let’s work together to get the kids eating the healthier school food. Let’s incorporate food education into the curriculum at every school. Let’s put it in the same category as reading, writing, math and science–because eating well is a skill that they’ll need long after they’ve forgotten algebra and how to dissect a frog. Let’s devote more time, effort and resources to getting kids to eat well at school–to benefit their health and their academics.
In a perfect world, parents would teach their kids to enjoy healthy food. But as a mom of three, I know it just isn’t that easy. Sitting around and blaming the parents is counterproductive, as is throwing up our hands and saying that the kids will never eat it. When a child is struggling with a core subject such as reading, we don’t give up on them; we work with them and try to get them up to speed. The same needs to be done with eating. It doesn’t matter whose “fault” it is. What does matter is that school meal programs are part of the solution, not the problem.
Do you think food education should be part of the curriculum at all schools? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please scroll down to leave a comment.