Eat less calories, sodium, sugar, sat and trans fat and eat more plants and drink water instead of sugary sodas. Oh yeah…and Move! That’s basically the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans distilled down to a sound-bite. So, for those of you who just wanted the “low-down”, you are free to bail on me now. For all others, behold! For here they are in all of their glory…
Enjoy your food, but eat less.
Avoid oversized portions.
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.
Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
This may surprise you but I embrace these new guidelines…I really do. In fact, I also believe they are based on good science and NOT the result of special interest lobby groups’ efforts (oh how we love a juicy conspiracy story!).
Take the dairy message for example; I’m not too sure how the dairy folks feel about “Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk” as part of the new guidelines. I know I’m thinking “How many people are getting in too much saturated fat and calories because they are drinking 2% or whole milk?” According to 2005-2006 NHANES data, only 60% of Americans consume the recommended amount of milk and milk products. And out of all milk products consumed, only 1/3 is consumed as a milk beverage. So it seems that whole milk as an ingredient may be more at issue and not because people are buying too much 2% and whole milk. Anyhow, I digress…a little…
What I really like about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is that it establishes dietary goals for better health. Who can’t get behind ”Make 1/2 Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables”? But what I really loathe about the guidelines is that in their history, the majority of the population has never achieved all of the recommendations! Yet every 5 years, we are compelled to “raise (or lower in the case of “nutrients of concern”, i.e. sodium, sat and trans fat, cholesterol) the bar” despite how successful we as a society were in achieving the prior guidelines. Ah, but should we shoot the messenger? Is it the guidelines that I loathe or our inabilities to achieve them?
Guidelines without real teeth for implementation will always be just “guidelines”. It’s how we tackle them as a society that will change lofty guidelines into a roadmap for health. So I want to present for discussion how we might just go about making these guidelines “real” for everyone concerned. And I like approaching health “one delicious bite at a time” so let’s tackle what I consider the most important guideline of them all.
Task:. Make Half of Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables.
I turned to blogger friend Jenna Pepper for some help on this one. You see, Jenna is a mommy blogger who has a kid-focused blog called Food with Kid Appeal. She already has been working on this project for as long as her kids could eat solid foods. What’s more is that Jenna also has taken her mission from the family kitchen table to the school cafeteria in the “Eat to Learn” program at Sherwood Elementary School in Houston Texas. She shared with me how this program is really making a difference in her community.
Q. What is the Eat to Learn Program?
Jenna: Eat to Learn is a year-long food education program that strives to make a connection with kids between food and learning, as well as increase consumption of fruits and vegetables in the school cafeteria. The program is not only for students at school, but also involves parents in several events. Eat to Learn was a grant proposal submitted to National Parent Teacher Association for a $1,000 grant award. Sherwood did not receive a grant award. We were able to fund the program with parent and community donations. Events in the program include:
- daily morning announcements that connects 21 fruits and vegetables served in the cafeteria to learning
- a parent meeting to educate parents on the nutrients a learning brain needs
- Turkey Trot that links physical activity to improved learning
- Lunch tray evaluations – students get to grade their lunch tray or lunch box selections
- Taste Off – a campus wide food tasting competition
- Monthly Eat to Learn flyers sent home with students for parents to read the content contained in the morning announcements.
Q. Why Sherwood Elementary?
Jenna: My sons both attend Sherwood Elementary. Our school principal, Stefanie Noble, is supportive of building better eating habits in the student body as well as increasing student success by way of real food. Without a principal who believes in educating the whole child; including academics and wellness, the students at Sherwood would not be receiving education about real food and how it helps them succeed at school. Ms Noble was receptive to the program from the beginning.
Q. Tell me about the “Taste Off” competition.
Jenna: The Taste off Competition was a campus wide event, where each Sherwood student received a punch card with 9 foods listed: celery, cucumber, carrots, green beans, pears, oranges, beans, broccoli and spinach. Each child was offered 9 types of produce and given an opportunity to taste them. Tasters received a punch on their card. After the tastings, students got to decide their favorite and least favorite item tasted by placing a sticker on a poster to build two Decision Charts for each grade. After the tastings, students got to jump rope, dance, hula hoop or play soccer. In the weeks following the taste off, each class room will receive their punch cards to build graphs and interpret the tasting data. They will also be writing journal entries and essays about the Eat to Learn program. The Eat to Learn program was designed to tie into math and language arts curriculum.
Q. Of the 400 kids, how many tried the various produce offerings?
Jenna: 82% of the students tried all 9 items. I saw a couple of punch cards with 3 tastes (the lowest), but of the 18% who didn’t taste all the foods, most tasted 7-8 items. Surprisingly, raw spinach and broccoli were tasted by 95% of kids.
Q. What were the results?
Jenna: 48% selected one of the vegetables as favorite, 52% selected a fruit as their favorite. 25% preferred a green vegetable out of all nine foods offered.
Q. How do the results of this project apply to kids across America?
Jenna: Many kids do not eat vegetables, and many kids do not prefer vegetables. Liking a vegetable and preferring a vegetable are two different things. Many kids never learn to eat items they don’t prefer. The vast majority of their diet on a daily basis is made up of various preferred items. Training taste buds starts with mindset. If mom believes that her kiddo can learn to like vegetables, and she follows up that belief with similar thoughts (jr tasted broccoli today, that’s progress.) and actions (serving vegetables on a regular basis) and expectations (I expect that my child will learn to eat vegetables because we value food that nourishes the body) then in most cases a child will learn to eat vegetables. What happens with mom’s mindset is more like this “Picky eaters don’t usually like vegetables.” What do her thoughts, actions and expectations look like? What are the results? I’m not saying that an open mindset enables every kid to eat every vegetable, but that mindset sets kids up for success with healthy eating habits.
Studies have shown that kids have more taste buds than adults. This means they taste “bitter” much more intensely than adults do. Some bitter vegetables are often unloved by kids until they are older and have lost some of their taste buds. If a child has a strong reaction to a bitter vegetable at age 3, that broccoli or leafy green may forever be labeled as “unacceptable” by the child. When in reality, that same flavor could be adopted with practice or in time, as taste buds decrease, become palatable. Another issue is mindset. How many parents would end up with literate kids if we doubted our child’s ability to learn to read? Kids learn to read because we know they are capable of it, we expect it and our actions are in agreement with our mindset. The results (literacy or adventurous eating) fall out of the mindset.
- Mindset matters. Believe that your child will learn to like vegetables the same way he learns to ride a bike, read or write. With lots of practice, with parents who believe he can.
- Control of the menu. Remove processed food from the menu, and see what kids eat. When crisp steamed broccoli sits next to boxed macaroni and cheese, it’s hard for a palate to appreciate the broccoli.
- Make vegetables relevant to kids. Kids want to eat foods that help them grow, learn and move. What is it that your kids do with their mind and body? Make sure they know that vegetables help them do what they love.
- Be consistent with your actions. Offer a variety of veggies often and in a variety of ways on a regular basis. Some kids will eat raw spinach vs. cooked spinach. Some kids prefer carrots cooked to raw. Try lots of veggie salads, lots of veggies sides, roast veggies, steam them, and serve raw veggies with dips like salad dressing or hummus. If you don’t cook, make sure you expose your child to lots raw veggies in their lunch box and select vegetables in restaurants. Menus are full of delicious salads and side vegetable items.
- Communicate your expectations to your kids. Let kids know that nourishing their body is a value your family holds. Let them know you expect them to nourish their body with plenty of wholesome food. Teach kids they don’t have to love vegetables or prefer them to eat them. They can just be “acceptable”, or “not yucky.” With so many processed foods that are chemically engineered to taste amazing, it’s hard for young eaters to accept a food item that doesn’t create a party in their mouth.
Q. I heard a poem was written about the health benefits of eating produce and was shared with the kids at Sherwood Elementary. Can you share it with us?
Spinach makes memorizing math facts a breeze,
B vitamins bring oxygen to the brain helping it breath.
Antioxidants prevent brain cell death by the hour,
more brain cells = more spelling power.
Folic acid has the brain instruct your face to smile
while you put facts and figures in a huge brain file.
The iron in spinach will fuel you with energy,
run, swing, climb, slide and be done with lethargy.
Eat the spinach sitting there on your lunch tray
you’ll grow a big brain the Sherwood way.
Thanks Jenna! I like the “…and be done with lethargy” part. Hopefully this new set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans will inspire all to work together to improve the health of our nation. And maybe we will finally be done with apathy, too!
I’d love your thoughts about the new guidelines and want to hear about your efforts on the home front, at schools, in industry, etc. to make them come alive deliciously on the plate. Comment away!