My husband has a very physical job, and our daughters, M and J, are incredibly active kids. It takes a little more effort on my part to fit exercise into my day, since I have a desk job, but I do my best. I will admit that I haven’t been good about working out since we moved to El Paso, so I’m thankful for Goddess in Progress‘s weight loss contest giving me the push I need to get back in shape. I like aerobics and Pilates, with the guidance of exercise videos in the privacy of my home. The twins and our cat join in with differing levels of effort.
Alongside intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, social responsibility, and self esteem, my husband and I believe that it is our responsibility to teach our children about physical well-being.
Unfortunately, our daughters’ school isn’t helping. Although they have daily physical education, they’re teaching the kids all about junk food. Cookies and slushies are available to purchase at lunch time. No carrots. No sliced apples or bananas. After school, there are cupcakes and cookies on sale, tempting the kids right before they exit the school and are handed over to their parents. On Halloween, each child was asked to bring a bag of candy for the school trick-or-treat event. Every classmate’s birthday heralds cupcakes with neon icing.
The other day, J volunteered to accompany me to the grocery store while M stayed home with Daddy. As I reached for the box of Cheerios M had requested, J asked whether she could choose her own cereal.
“Sure,” I told her, “But you have to choose one that has 6 grams or fewer of sugar per serving. Any more than that makes it a treat cereal instead of a breakfast cereal.”
I showed J the nutrition facts on the side of cereal box I was holding, pointing out where the sugar grams were. She picked one brightly coloured sugary cereal after another, rejecting each one for having too much sugar. I suggested that she’d have better luck if she looked at some granola boxes. She finally settled on Kashi Honey Sunshine.
She had her chance tonight at dinner, when M asked for a third serving of Welch’s sparkling grape juice. My husband told her that he thought she’d had enough sugar for the day, and offered her water instead. J showed M how to read the label and exclaimed, “38 sugars! That’s a whole bunch.”
“That’s true,” I told her. “This juice is a treat. We drink it for the flavour, not because it’s feeding our bodies. It’s fine to have a treat every so often, but it’s very important to make sure that we get all the different things our bodies need. We need protein to be strong, and fiber not to have hurty poops. Our body needs some fat to stay healthy, but not too much.”
For the rest of meal, the girls pored over the nutrition label on the juice bottle, asking about the different nutrients. My favourite was J’s reading of calcium as “Colosseum.” There was something quite lovely about the image of ancient architecture bolstering our bones.
I taught myself about healthy eating in my early 20s. Both my parents developed high blood pressure in their 30s, and I didn’t want to go down that path. Rich, fatty Bengali curries with massive quantities of rice must have contributed to their cardiovascular issues and my father’s subsequent Type II diabetes.
It certainly helps that both my husband and I love to cook. It’s hard to put too much junk in our bodies when we’re aware of every ingredient we eat. We don’t tend to count calories, and we’re not averse to eating out, but we try to be responsible, while allowing ourselves our treats. I’m fond of chocolate, and my husband of red wine.
I hadn’t planned to teach our girls to read nutrition labels at 5. I imagined that the model we set at home would show them how to make good food decisions. Peer pressure, though, is a strong force, and M told us today that she had bought 6 cookies at lunch to share with her friends. We don’t want the girls to feel like they need to diet or deny themselves the occasional sweet treat. However, we do want them to understand that while eating is a social and pleasurable activity, nutrition is the primary role of food. Food for taste alone is an extra, and to be taken in moderation.
Are you surprised to hear that junk food is being sold in elementary schools? What would you do if you discovered this in the school your children were to attend?