School lunches

School children will by and large eat what they are given, the lunch we prepare for them should be healthy, tasty and rich in nutrients. But the reality is “in 2007-08, one quarter of Australian children (or around 600,000 children aged 5- 17 years) were overweight or obese, up four percentage points from 1995.” Thankfully, in response to the growing demand for better health amongst our children, recent years has seen a rise in the number of influential people launching campaigns to give school children access to well balanced food.

One well known example is that of British chef Jamie Oliver’s school manifesto released in October 2011.  Jamie’s challenge is to fight against the obesity epidemic in the UK and has chosen to promote a healthy school meal stating that it is the “great foundation for a kid’s education and future health”.

We all know that trying to combat any Modern lifestyle disease will take a long time and it will be challenging because the remedy requires people to change their way of life and not only their food. Having said that, Jamie is out there challenging people and he is not the only celebrity who is out there doing so.

During President Obama’s first term Michelle Obama launched a campaign against childhood obesity, one which you may have heard about. This public service initiative, teamed up with the Sesame Street crew was launched in 2010 to “unite the country around our kids’ health and create real support for  families to live healthier lives”.

Well. This hasn’t been receiving much of a “positive” feedback from the kids, who found the size of their school lunches to be shrinking too much!

Here in Australia, the Healthy Living Pyramid is still used as a guide to nutrition, whereas in America the latest campaign has shifted away from the traditional pyramid to showing people the types of food that should be on one plate. What’s the underlying message that both of these diagrams are trying to show? It’s balance of course!

myplate

Here is how Nutrition Australia defines a healthy school lunch:

“… include mainly breads and cereals (bread,  rice, pasta etc) and fruit and  vegetables, and moderate amounts of dairy and meat or meat alternatives. Bread is the most  common lunch food for kids. Remember that a range of breads such as sliced bread (white, white high fibre, wholemeal,  multigrain, rye), pita bread, kebab  bread, bread rolls, and  English  muffins are available and can be used to vary the lunch you provide.

Use a variety of fillings to keep children interested. Dairy  products are particularly important, so  be careful that your  children are not continually replacing milk  with juice. Encourage  children to  drink water throughout the  day.

Save sweet and fatty treats for special occasions. Most children  attend enough  birthday parties  and holiday celebrations where these foods are readily  available. Choose healthy snack food  options including cheese sticks, canned or fresh fruit, rice cakes, pikelets etc.

Don’t forget that water is the most ideal drink for children.

That approach seems fairly balanced, and would be a great base to tackle child obesity if these simple principles were adopted by all parents and kids.

Chiaki Hashimoto has written two books about raising children. In one of her publications, she had raised the point “Macrobiotics isn’t about being strict and having rules”, “it’s about fostering that flexibility and acceptance of differences that exists”. I was reminded of this after talking to a parent of a teenager who was asserting their will to break away from the rules of their parents. There is a Japanese proverb “Children grow as they look at the back of their parents”. It means everyone would like to move forward in the direction that they each believe in and wouldn’t it be nice to follow that path without triggering any denial of other people or of any differences. As we recall back to our teenage years it would be hard to say that we didn’t deny our parents’ point of view to establish our own, but we do eventually come to realise that our perception of the world is shaped by our parents very deeply. Our only option is to have conviction that our lifestyle is right and be a positive influence on those around us, most importantly our children.