Do as I say, not as I do

The New York Times’ article today about school lunches in Britain reminds how the debate about what kids eat, at home or in school, usually misses the point.

The article reports on one school where kids refer to new, healthier meals as “rubbish” (translation: I won’t try it) and quote parents at one school who say you can’t get kids to eat food they don’t like. Later the reporter references another school that changed its menu gradually and lowered fat content over time, probably resulting in higher acceptance by kids consuming the food (although the evidence is anecdotal).

The debate about getting kids to eat healthier food is usually framed as how can we cater to children’s palates. That so misses the point. What we need to talk about is how we should form their palates. As a parent, it’s my job to help form my child’s food tastes and habits, just as it is to help him learn other responsible behaviors. Part of accomplishing this objective requires me to serve healthy food and to lead (or, in this case, to eat) by example. I can’t expect my child’s school to shoulder that whole educational responsibility just as I don’t expect it to teach him everything he needs to know about math, manners, or morals. It’s also my responsibility to say, eat the good things I’ve prepared or you’ll be going to bed hungry. It’s not, eat this or I’ll make you something else. No wonder many parents think preparing dinner is a big chore; if you make a variety of dinners, IT IS.

Wake up, folks, and help your whole family eat better. But do it slowly, by changing habits little by little, such as reducing “bad” fats in cooking methods, gradually reducing portion sizes, and making dinner prep a family activity. Schools can’t do it all, nor should we expect them to.

– Helene York, Director, Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation