I read Katie’s post about having to re-teach some of the lessons her son is learning at school with particular interest, because I am also running into this, and having to do some reprogramming at home, something that is frustrating me to no end.
My childrens’ school is a K-8, and this year they won a grant to provide nutritional training as part of the curriculum. In theory, I support this, because I think America is a country that is so disconnected from food at this point that nobody even remembers what food that doesn’t have high-fructose corn syrup in it tastes like, and where it is easier and cheaper to eat crap than it is to eat healthy. But – in reality, I am so frustrated with the worksheets that my kids bring home every other day from this new program.
For the little ones, the emphasis is on ‘go foods’ and whoa foods’, a nice, simple little dumbing-down of eating strategy. There is no in-between, early on in the program – just foods that are ‘good’, and foods that are ‘bad’. Right away, this got me frustrated. Why are we training children to assign a moral state to food? Is the goal to create a nation of emotional eaters? I guess so!
But my biggest irritation is the idea that foods are just a simple yes/no decision. Whoa foods? You aren’t supposed to ever eat them. I already have very picky eaters, and for kids like mine, whose nutritional needs were unable to be met appropriately both prior to birth and afterward, all this program does is teach my children that everything I am teaching them, about intuitive eating, about grazing, about making informed choices based on personal needs, is wrong. Instead, many really good foods end up as Whoa foods, and many terrible foods are identified as Go foods, for very arbitrary reasons. And, this program assumes that every child is struggling with their weight, or will be, and that that struggle will be that they will be too heavy, not too thin, and that their nutritional training should be akin to dieting choices, and that limiting fat intake is the most important strategy.
Unfortunately, it isn’t our strategy. My kids still drink full-fat milk, and eat full-fat and 2% cheese, partly because really good cheese doesn’t come in skim, and I want them to enjoy the buttery nuttiness of a good Havarti, the cream in Brie. I want them to eat real cheese, not processed skim milk cheese product. I want them to eat all the food – all of it – birthday cake, broccoli, warm whole-wheat bread, rich pasta sauce, the flavourful joy of a strawberry and spinach salad, and the flavourful joy of strawberry shortcake. We don’t make moral decisions about food, in this house. Instead, we group food into always, and sometimes. Always foods are all white milks and all non-processed cheese, any yoghurt in the house, all the fruits and veggies, nuts, whole wheat bread, peanut butter, eggs, enriched pastas, wild rice, any kind of meat or fish we can trick them into eating, and whole-grain crackers without high fructose corn syrup. Basically, all unprocessed foods, and some slightly processed but reasonably healthy foods, and peanut butter because my kids don’t get enough fat or protein in their diet.And because this list is the vast majority of what I serve my kids, they like it.
Sometimes foods are … everything else. Sometimes foods, and almost never foods. Birthday cake, doughnuts, chips, juice, etc. The good stuff. The stuff you want to eat, but don’t need to eat. Sometimes a cookie is just a good idea. Sometimes six cookies are a better one. Sometimes it is okay to have a slice of cake, some juice, or to fire up the fondue pot and get lost in some crusty french bread and hot Gruyére. You wouldn’t do it every day, or even every week. You wouldn’t want to. But no food is off-limits, morally bankrupt, or a guilty pleasure, if you have learned in advance that it is okay to eat things that aren’t super-healthy for you, as long as the vast majority of your diet is based in healthier choice-making. Nothing is a ‘no’ food. Instead, we recognize indulgence has its place, too, in life.
My kids are obsessed with pointing out ‘whoa’ foods, now, taught to do so at school. My diet coke? Whoa! Most cheese? Whoa! Every cereal box in the cereal aisle, including the super-sugary ones? Go! No delineation of categories, at all. All bread is a Go food – white flour rolls, whole wheat toast, all the same thing. All juice is bad, and now my children feel badly when they ask for it. The last thing on earth I wanted my kids to have was a complex about food, or feelings of guilt about what they consume. Thanks so much, ‘nutrition curriculum’, for reinforcing disordered eating idealization on my 4 year olds. And thanks for doing so in a school where snacks are served every day, processed food, high fructose corn syrup snacks. My kids learned what Doritos were at school, and Cheetos. So, thanks for that, too.