Monday, October 04, 2010

What are they teaching our kids at school?!

At Julian's school, I know they talk a lot about nutrition and healthy food choices. They talk about go foods (things you can eat pretty much all the time), slow foods (things you can eat in moderation), and whoa foods (things you should eat very occasionally or sparingly). In theory, I'm good with this. I try to teach my kids how to choose wisely when they're eating, that fruits and vegetables are good and important for us to eat, and that it's not good for them to live on junk food or drink soda every single day. I want them to be strong and healthy, and I know a good diet is an important part of that. (I use the word "diet" here in the sense of what they eat, not in the sense of a restricted calorie eating plan. You shouldn't have to worry about that kind of diet when your oldest is just 8.)

But I wonder if perhaps this message isn't being taken a little bit too far at too young of an age. Julian has gotten very interested with looking at labels to see how much fat and sugar and calories something has, almost to the point of obsession. He seems to equate "sugar-free" and "zero calories" and "fat-free" with "healthy", not realizing that artificial sweeteners and whatever's put into the food to add flavor when the fat is taken out aren't necessarily any better for you than sugars and fats in moderation. (And not realizing that your body needs a certain amount of good fats to function properly.)

Take today, for instance. We went to the grocery store to get prescriptions filled, and while we waited, we picked up a few odds and ends. We were looking at the canned fruit, and I went to get a can of pears (something Julian normally likes, and something we're introducing to Rhys). Julian latched onto the can that said "made with Splenda" on the label, saying that he liked that one. I said no, let's get one made with pear juice, one that doesn't use artificial sweeteners. He just about threw a tantrum over those pears, insisting that the ones with Splenda were better because they had less sugar. I said, so you'd rather have one that uses fake sugar over one that uses the actual juice from the pear? He persisted in saying he would, because it has less calories. Later on, he saw a "sugar-free" label on something else and made a comment that that means it's healthy. Um, no, that doesn't necessarily follow. I'm trying to teach him that it's OK to eat things made with real sugar and real butter, just in moderation. If you want a cookie, have one made with real sugar instead of six that are sugar-free. If you want butter on your toast, have a little. I don't want him obsessing over calories and body image - not ever, and certainly not at 8 years old.

I know there are probably kids who hear the same things he hears at school and don't get the least bit hung up on it, and don't take to reading labels fanatically, but he's mine, and he is hung up on it, and he's the one I have to worry about. I may have to check to see just exactly what they're learning on this topic. Promoting good nutrition and offering healthier school lunches is one thing. Pushing some kind of agenda in the guise of good nutrition, if that's what's happening, would be something else entirely.

1 comment:

Midlife Army Wife said...

Our daughter watches labels too, but she helps us avoid the "sugar free" things because she knows the "chemicals" in those are bad for us. We avoid artificial sweeteners and colors as well as HFCS because of her ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder - makes a huge difference! Your son is on the right track reading the labels, he just needs to learn which things to look for. That calories aren't always the most important thing to watch, but that making sure it uses REAL food, is. Good luck!