Why I’m suddenly the “crazy” one.
“Ooh, what’s that?!” They ask me. “That smells amazing! Is it Mexican?” Sort-of, I reply. “Cauliflower? That’s my favorite vegetable!” She exclaims with a squeal. “I’m going to ask my mom to make that for me!”
The New Kids on my Block.
Ever since I started working for my city’s Parks and Recreation Department, I’ve been amazed–no, blown away actually–at the kids’ reaction to my foods that I bring in for lunch and snacking each day. You see, I’m used to being around high schoolers all day, so helping with the summer camp here–where the kids are all between the ages of 5-12, it’s really REALLY different. But the most shocking aspect that I’ve encountered thus far is literally the difference in food preference between seven year olds and seventeen year olds.
“Eeww!” “O-M-G. What is that SMELL!?” “Did you eat cat food?!” “That’s DISGUSTING.” “Why do you eat that crap?” “Avocado? Gross.” “Does that even taste good?” “What IS that?!”
Highschoolers really can be rude, cruel, and mean. Not a surprise to you, probably. But a teacher being bullied about her own lunch each day? I actually started eating in Erik’s classroom a few years ago because he didn’t care what the teens said about the smell of our foods. I shouldn’t have cared either, I know, but it’s really bothersome to watch growing teens fuel their bodies with Pop-Tarts and Dr. Wham! and then let them criticize me for actually eating my veggies.
How many negatives make a positive?
I tried to use their harsh critiques each day as an opportunity to teach about nutrition, proper fueling, hydration, etc. But it never really worked. I typically received eyes rolling with turned up noses, and on good days, a few random questions about certain foods. Occasionally I’d have a couple girls ask me what to eat to lose weight, but they never really listened. And every now and then an athletic student might ask about recovery or pre-workout fueling, but most of the guys didn’t want to be told how to improve their athletics by a “girl.” Even if I did beat them all in a push-up contest. 😉
What I really wanted to say.
“If I didn’t like my lunch, do you think I’d actually eat it?! It smells like tacos, you idiot–it’s freakin’ awesome! Nothing smells like cat food! Avocados are amazing–have you ever even tried one?? Do I sit here and criticize your fried, processed, sugar-coated foods every single day?? What gives you the right or the guts to even tell me I’m crazy?!? I’m trying to improve my life while you’re destroying yours and you laugh at ME? Do you think for a second that I want to end up a fat, lazy, worthless human being for the rest of my life? What the HELL is wrong with eating turkey, cauliflower, and avocado for lunch????!?!!??”
You tell me…am I really that crazy?
I know I cannot be that nuts because of the little kids here at the Rec Center. They’ve justified, in a matter of weeks, that my food choices are actually good ones. (Good smelling, at least. I know they’re nutritional!)
But what I want to know is, why is there such a discrepency between what little kids and then the big kids, think tastes good? I mean, I don’t have kids of my own, but I just thought the little ones all loved hot dogs, ranch dressing, and ice cream. I thought all kids were supposed to be picky. And I thought that it was supposed to take years of “taste-bud changing” before people actually “liked” eating their vegetables. That doesn’t really seem to be the case. I literally have to fight off some of the “littluns” each day because they honestly want to try all my food! But something is going wrong somewhere because in ten years of teaching high schoolers, I’ve only met a small handful (I’m seriously talking less than five kids) who enjoy healthy foods.
But I have an idea. Let me paint you one last scenario.
“Ooh…what’s that?!” She asks me, looking at my lunch, but diving her fist into her bag of cheetos.
“That smells so good! Is that Mexican?” He says while dunking his mini-oreos into his chocolate milk.
“Cauliflower? That’s my favorite vegetable!” She tells me after licking the last of her ketchup off her french fries.
“I’m going to ask my mom to make that for me!” I’m told as I stare with wide eyes at the lunch boxes full of candy, pretzels, syrups, goos, chips, chips, chips, sugar-filled yogurts, desserts, jelly-stuffed white-bread sandwiches, cheesy-poofed orange fingers, and donuts, cakes, icing-stuffed cookies galore.
I WOULD KILL TO BE ONE OF THESE CALORIE-BURNING CHILDREN FOR JUST ONE DAY!
I know that right now you think I’m going to start blaming, criticizing, and judging parents…but I’m NOT.
I do actually see a few kids with veggies, hummus, fruit, and whole wheat wraps…one kid even brags about his chick-pea salad sandwiches, grapes, and carrots with hummus combo. There ARE healthy families out there.
But I’ll ask the question again and this time a little differently:
WHY do unhealthy eating habits develop amongst our children?
I’m not going to blame parents. I’m not a parent, and I have no right to judge one. Instead, I 100% place blame on our government…or more likely, the FDA or USDA. Eating healthy is TOO DAMN EXPENSIVE! If they truly care about obesity maybe they should give all those subsidies driving up the production of high fructose corn syrup to healthy food.
Crap food is cheap food and there’s nothing really left to say. How much does it cost to buy a snack pack of chips and cookies vs. a week’s supply of fresh fruit? How many Hostess cakes and Little Debbie brownies, pinwheels, and oatmeal cream pies can you buy at the discount food mart instead of fresh, orgainc fruits and vegetables, hummus, and cheese cubes? A pizza lunchable vs. a homemade wheat-bread sandwich with nitrite/nitrate-free deli meats and from-the-garden lettuce and tomatoes?
No one wants to know how much I try NOT to spend eating healthy. Organic is expensive. Fresh takes several grocery trips. Preparation takes time. And I’m guessing that when you have kids–and more than one kid especially–that you have a lot less time and money. So by the time the adorable, cauliflower-loving seven-year-old turns into a teenager, she’ll have spent so much time shoveling down “crap food” that she’ll sooner than later think that I’m the crazy health-nut!
So how can WE, the COMMUNITY, our CULTURE, or better yet, our mostly obese COUNTRY fix this problem?
If you’re a parent, I’m thinking you probably agree with me in saying that you’d LOVE to feed your kids healthy foods, but it’s just too expensive to support an entire household of organic-eating-health-nuts. Could it really be possible to somehow eat a little healthier and still have money and/or time left to spend? It’s a challenge…believe me, I know. And I’m only feeding me. But it’s a challenge I’m taking head on at the moment and I’m REALLY trying to figure out ways to keep eating healthy foods, but at a lower cost. I’ve got a few tips that I’ve come across or come up with…but I’m hoping there might be some experts out there who can supply more.
So far, here’s what I’ve got:
- Teach kids to make their own healthy meals! What fun, and it’ll save you time!
- Make fun veggie chips from kale, sweet potatoes, carrots, peppers, etc. Usually all it takes is a few minutes in the oven with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper.
- Buy different foods each week so that your children get used to variety. Don’t be afraid to try fruits and vegetables you’ve never had before! You have no idea how many people I’ve met who have never even tried an avocado.
- Buy in BULK! This is one of the best tips I have for saving money. And you wouldn’t even believe what all you can find at places like Costco, Wal-Mart, etc., that sell very healthy bulk items.
- Prepare all lunches and snacks for the week. One of my Sunday habits is to spend a couple hours prepping food. I usually throw meat, veggies, and tomatoes into a crockpot or a huge skillet and simmer for a while while I pack up some easy snacks like hard boiled eggs, veggies, hummus, cottage cheese, tuna cups, etc.
- Take or pack water for you/your kids! Why load up on sugar-filled, no-nutrition, insulin-spiking beverages when the body NEEDS water to function? One kid told me the other day that she would get in trouble if she didn’t drink her entire bottle of water within her day at camp. GO MOM!!
- If you aren’t packing a lunch for the kiddos, encourage them to make their own healthy choices at school! Most all schools that I’ve seen offer several different food items. No one HAS to eat dessert, and usually there are plenty of veggie sides or salads to pick from. They may not do it, but you can always teach them how, and of course, lead by example.
- Buy local. It will help your economy and from experience, will become cheaper over time. If you stick to one or two little markets, usually those people get to know you and give you discounts or even free stuff. And in case you haven’t tried your local produce yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s ALWAYS tastier than the mass-produced!
- Plant a small garden…and let the kids help. I remember planting corn, watermelon, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc., with my dad and to this day, I love helping in the garden and take pride over the beauteous veggies grown. What a great opportunity to teach and pass down something pretty cool to your own kids!
- Can’t buy fresh? Can’t grow it on your own? Buy it frozen. Most people have no idea that frozen fruit and veggies contain more nutrients than the fresh, store-bought ones. Flash-frozen foods preserve the nutrients. Cauliflower–my favorite–is an EXCELLENT substitute in dishes that would normally contain pastas, potatoes, or other starchy foods. Not to mention it’s full of nutrients, cancer-fighting properties, AND it fills you up. Score!
- Recipes that use chicken, beef, canned tomatoes, and frozen veggies are quick, filling, and you can use any spices you want for added flavor. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t loved this simple, alter-as-you-will, dish.
- All kids love cheese and grapes. Buy both in bulk from local farmers and you’re set for snacks.