How do we keep our children’s lunches healthy? According to the World Health Organization, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” So, we can rephrase our question as: how can we ensure our children’s lunches contribute to their physical, mental and social well-being and, by consuming them, they will not be afflicted by disease or sickness?
I recently watched a short documentary called Lunch, a film based on interviews about ‘Green School’ lunch programs, instilling healthy habits in kids and organic gardening in a school setting. It seems to me that most people talk about kid’s lunches from a single viewpoint: the food. They say: let’s improve food quality, organic is better, no more GMOs, add more fruits and vegetables, no more fried foods, add healthier options, grow a school garden, add nutrition to the curriculum… While I think these are all wonderful and much needed, the most important thing we can do is to empower children themselves to make the right food choices.
At the end of the day, the children are the only ones who can control what they eat, therefore it is not enough to simply create a healthy nutrition environment for them. Children need to be taught that any kind of food can keep us alive, but it is the nutritious food that helps maintain our body, mind and social capacities well. We need to teach children about a whole lifestyle that emphasizes not only nutritional choices, but also how the choices they make affect their own physical, mental and social well-being. When children are educated, when they understand, when they are given proper role models and when they are given tools to help them choose health, then the responsibility for parents and guardians to create a healthy nutrition environment for them becomes easier – simply because children will WANT it for themselves.
We can teach children the value of eating to live, not living to eat. We can teach them the value of maintaining physical, mental and social well-being (these are a few examples):
- show them what happens to their bodies when they consume junk versus nutritious foods, for example:
- what happens to teeth when they eat processed sugar (place a tooth in Coca Cola and see what happens)
- what happens to bones when people eat too much animal protein and cow’s milk (show rates of osteoporosis in different communities)
- teach them to look at their own poop and explain what healthy poop should look like
- teach them how different foods create different energy levels (discuss athletes and their diet)
- watch Wall-E and discuss why the humans are obese (foods they eat, exercise)
- show videos like Supersize Me and Forks over Knives to older children
- show them what happens to their minds depending on the food consumed, for example:
- discuss how mental performance suffers/improves due to diet (i.e. Food For the Brain study)
- show them that learning challenges and problem behaviors may decrease/increase according to diet
- discuss how exercising the brain is just as important as sports is for the body
- discuss how quality foods help the nerves in the brain function properly (memory, problem solving, etc)
- show them that their nutritional choices have social implications, for example
- discuss what “social well-being” means vis-à-vis proper nutrition within the community, the nation and the world (according to the United States Institute of Peace: “Social well-being is an end state in which basic human needs are met and people are able to coexist peacefully in communities with opportunities for advancement. This end state is characterized by equal access to and delivery of basic needs services (water, food, shelter, and health services), the provision of primary and secondary education, the return or resettlement of those displaced by violent conflict, and the restoration of social fabric and community life.)
- discuss composting, recycling, reusing and reducing in the community and at home
- discuss pollution and toxicity
- discuss what stress does to us
- discuss how the quality of food we eat affects our emotions and therefore our social well-being.
Other ideas here too: Top 10 Tips to Get Your Kids to Eat More Fruits and Veggies