Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Breakfast of Champions

If you are feeling apathetic about the world, do not go to Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning.

My current apathy can be traced back to yesterday. Yesterday, I spent over 12 hours at work planning for a class about nutrition for preschoolers. I know what you’re thinking, but you work at a plant museum. Exactly. It is my opinion – and I’m ready to force this on 20 educators next week – that proper nutrition starts with plants.

It’s the whole ‘eat a rainbow’ idea. Look back on what you ate yesterday. Was it a rainbow of colors (ROY G BIV) or was it all white? Did you eat from the ground up or did everything come out of a package? It’s no mystery that the less processed your foods – meaning the less places/processes it goes through before reaching your plate – the healthier it is for you.

This is easier said than done. And that is why I am educating educators on proper nutrition and how to deliver this message to children and their parents. You see, educators are very, very powerful people. They stand in front of your child every day and tell them things. Then your child comes home and tells you things. Chances are, the educator tells you things to tell your child too. And that’s they key – figuring out how to deliver the message to the parent as much as you deliver it to the child so that the magical moment of synergy occurs where they not only learn about it at school but put it into practice at home.

My planning began with my usual process – first, check my curriculum resource books for nutrition activities, songs, lessons. Then, I checked my usual internet sites for thematic planning and ideas. Eight hours later, I had printed out a pretty sad pile.

It is no doubt to me why we are so fat in the world. There was an absolute dearth of information on teaching preschoolers proper nutrition. In fact, most of the lesson plans, songs, storybooks, and ideas out there were about teaching preschoolers how to make pizza, how to sing about ice cream, or eat pancakes, or make muffins. Yum!

I had a lot of work to do.

Every once in awhile, I’d see something about the Food Guide Pyramid. But even that was useless – what exactly will a 5-year old learn when they stack different foods into a triangle. That the bread is below? That all the tasty stuff is on top?

After awhile, I concluded that our world is fat because we are not teaching our children how eat right. We are teaching them that food gets put in a pyramid and sugar is bad – so brush your teeth! Cognitively, I am not sure a preschooler can assimilate these messages and apply them to their daily life. Think about the math involved. Think about the abstraction. Again, the 5-year old will not sit there and say mom I need to eat 1 more serving of bread because according to that giant triangle in my classroom I need 6 – 7 servings per day and I’ve only had 5.

So, I have concluded that an entirely different approach is required. I’m not saying it will be a successful approach but at least it’s a start. The approach will be three-fold. First, simply teach them to eat a rainbow of colors. Most are learning their colors and most enjoy colors. Most like rainbows. Second, teach them to try new things. We all know preschoolers are picky eaters but they are also imitators – if they see you trying new things they will probably try the new things and if they get into the habit of trying new things they will learn that there are lots of great foods out there. Third, make the parents more accountable and more educated. I’m tired of hearing “I don’t have enough time”. There are ways to choose and prepare healthy foods that do not involve much time. Furthermore, at some point, parents need to decide at what cost they are willing to sacrifice their health and their child’s health. If you cannot afford the time, then are you willing to pay the price in your child’s overall well-being – are you willing to say "time" is worth more than the child's health.

Enough said.

And so, apathetically that is where I found myself this morning in Dunkin Donuts. Before you get your panties in a bunch, I wasn’t there for doughnuts. I was there for the coffee. I woke up with a killer headache courtesy of killer dose of antibiotics and felt a cup of Coconut Coffee with Cream would make me barely tolerable enough at work to avoid disciplinary action.

The fact that I sat in a line of traffic a mile long to even make the turn into Dunkin’ Donuts is not what I’m barking about. It’s what I stood behind in the line at the store. There in front of me was a young woman – probably no older than 25 – ordering what appeared to be breakfast.

“I’ll have a sausage, egg, and cheese bagel, extra sausage,” she said.

Yikes. Somebody pull out the food pyramid for this one. Considering most of us only need 2 – 3 servings from the meat, cheese, and egg group per day she does met her daily allowance in one meal – and then some.

It didn’t stop there.

“And, a chocolate glazed doughnut,” she added, “and a coffee, with cream.”

I’ll let the coffee with cream slide. I won’t even get into the doughnut. But while she was waiting for her coffee, she grabbed – and I am not kidding – at least 20 packets of sugar to go with it. How ‘bout a little coffee with that sugar?

As if that wasn’t enough to fuel my apathetic fire, the next guy in line – about 50 years old – ordered 3 chocolate glazed doughnuts and a strawberry smoothie. Part of me wanted to read him the story about Mr. Sweet Tooth where we talk about all the sugar “Greg” eats in a day while scooping teaspoons of sugar into a bowl. I hope he brushes his teeth after that one.

I’m not saying I’m better than these people. I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m not saying that I did not shove a fistful of red gummy goldfish into my mouth everyday last week. What I am saying is that there has to be a better way. At what point will we start caring. What will it take? Just how far will we let this go?

There is where I sit right now. At work, with the task of teaching preschoolers about nutrition to hopefully avoid the tendency to stand in the line of a donut franchise while ordering 10 lbs of sugar with a side of meat and coffee – a real breakfast of champions.

Interestingly, most of our preferences, tastes, and behaviors concerning food are formed by age 6. Think back to your early childhood, sitting around the dinner table. What happened? If you can’t remember sitting around a dinner table, that in itself is a very powerful indicator of how you learned your food behaviors. If, like me, you remember sitting at the table being told you cannot get up until you eat your beets – again, that left some lasting impressions. But again, think back to mealtime when you were younger and you will get a good look at why you eat the way you do today.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I’m not even sure I need to go anywhere at all. I’m hoping that if I just plant the seeds (get it?) in your mind to be more mindful about the way you feed yourself and your children that one day they will arrive at adulthood better equipped to make better decisions.

Again, it’s about the cost involved. If not now, then years from now someone will pay the price of our bad decisions about nutrition or lack of education for how to eat right – in a way that makes sense to children, in a way they can understand and apply to their daily life. There just has to be a better way. It has to be worth our time, our money, our brain power to find a better way.

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