Our 6-year old goes to kindergarten at a public charter school. When we moved to Indianapolis, the school question was a pretty big one — as it can be for most first-time-parents-of-a-school-aged-child. The thing about the education dilemma is that there truly are positives and negatives with all options (those being: public, private, and home — and we have good friends in all three). So, you’re in a position of choosing the one that has the least amount of negatives for you, while knowing that there will still be drawbacks no matter where you land — ones you might have to work at home to counter.
We have been uber-happy with our daughter’s school, as is she. It’s a great fit for her personality, and the teachers and administration are intelligent, motivated, and actually want to be there. But in any school setting where someone else is teaching your children, you know that at some point your children will be taught something you might disagree with. We know this; the key is realizing how to dialogue with your child at home to help them see that there might be more than one side to the story. But our daughter is in kindergarten — so in some ways I think I had a few years before I faced these potentially difficult conversations. And I expected them to be on more hot-button issues — things such as the origins of the universe or birth control. So I’ve been a little caught off-guard the past couple of weeks, realizing I was already needing to have a damage-control-type conversation with her. I was also a bit surprised at the subject that was starting off this whole give-and-take relationship with public education: the food pyramid.
I began prepping for dinner last weekend, and was about to start our typical Sunday-night catch-all skillet frittata by cooking some bacon. Since I knew I’d be cooking a separate omelet for my daughter, I asked her if she wanted a side of bacon. “Sure!” was her initial response. Then, a moment of hesitation, and she said, “Nevermind. Bacon isn’t healthy.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked casually (though my insides were already fuming).
“Well, the bacon part is ok, but it’s all the fat that’s not healthy,” she replied.
Oh, right. All the fat.
Tim heard this conversation, so he starts to counter by telling her that, for one, we don’t eat bacon at every meal, or even every day, for that matter (though I easily could). Then I start down the road of all-fats-not-being-equal, and trying to only eat animal fats that are from healthy, happy animals, etc. But immediately I realized this was falling on ears that had moved on to something else entirely. In a whimper of defeat, I found myself mumbling reasons to myself with no audience other than the bacon already sizzling in my skillet.
And, you know, it’s a difficult argument. The old food pyramid has fats way up at the very top — the pinnacle — and says we should “use them sparingly,” as if they are something not unlike the cherry on top of our menu sundae, and we should put a few drops on our food if we must. The new pyramid is a bit friendlier, telling us to “make most of our fat choices from fish, nuts, and oils,” but it’s even more confusing, with its awkward vertical stripes (are they supposed to make us all look thinner? or are they metaphorical paths to some sort of health heaven?). So here I am, having to convince my 6-year old that not only is it ok to have fats, but we really and truly need them — even those of the animal variety. We need them way more than we need that “one piece of candy a day” that the school health gurus told her was a “healthy” amount.
Really though. I do understand the battle that educators are up against in giving eating tips to these elementary-aged kids, many of whom might feed themselves dinner on a daily basis. But I was one of those kids, too — and I’m here to tell you that having the food pyramid handed to me when I was ten years old probably wouldn’t have made much difference in how I fed myself. Kids know that apples are healthier than microwave pizza — but that information doesn’t inform dinner because oftentimes the only apples they ever eat are mealy, out-of-season varieties shipped bruised from cross-country — and why eat an apple when the pizza is easy, tastes better, and fills your belly? All that to say — like many areas of education — exposure to information doesn’t necessarily change habits. The fact that this information is misleading only adds another level of misfortune to the situation.
But while I often ponder the challenge of educating and providing healthy food choices for kids who are feeding themselves at an early age, right now my responsibility is to feed my own kids. And it is disturbing to me that my daughter is worried about fat consumption at age 6. I had all of these flashbacks to the early 90’s, when in college, fat-free was king. If something had fat in it, I would pass, instead choosing to partake of copious amounts of sugar in its place (and I wondered why I managed to gain 20 pounds my freshman year). And, yes — I know my daughter is 6, not 19. So these things don’t have the power over her that they did me. But still — how early do these things begin?
It all just got me thinking (I hate it when that happens), about how to talk with her about why we eat the way we do. I’ve historically been a bit reticent to emphasize terms like “organic,” for fear that she’ll become a food prima donna, rejecting food that is offered to her because it is somehow below her. By the same token, I want to explain to her why I send her lunch to school rather than depend on the school cafeteria. I want her to know where her food comes from, know how it by turns can damage or nourish her body, know why we eat, know that it’s a gift to enjoy our food. I want her to know that all “grains” aren’t equal, that seasonality is important for nutrients and flavor, and that giving your body what it needs is key to eating the right amount. But truly — even before all that — right now, I just want her to feel free to eat bacon.
Are you a parent who is concerned about the challenge of teaching our kids how to eat? What solutions have worked for you?
This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.