Written By : Patricia Bardowell
Some of you may have read a recent article in the Toronto Star featuring Brampton high school students who have created a video about bringing back freedom of choice in their school cafeteria. Through the power of social media they have managed to garner quite a bit of attention from fellow peers and the media. This course of action was in response to the province’s healthy food policy imposed at the beginning of the school year to combat concerns about rising childhool obesity rates. This has resulted in the removal of all sugary and fatty foods and replaced with the likes of whole grain cupcakes, baked french fries and diet pop.
The students argue that the recent changes in the school’s cafeterias have only forced students to look for their “junk” food elsewhere and they have simply taken students freedom of choice from them, but have not curtailed the main issue–which is making healthier food choices. This article caught our attnetion for several reasons.
Albeit these students are asking for their “junk” foods back, but observed from a different perspective, I cannot help but be somewhat impressed with these students–their initiative, creativity and passion. Quite frankly, these are the characteristics of what future leaders are made of. I commend them for taking the time, focus and courage to speak out and stand up for something they truly believe in.
I also understand where the Ministry of Health is coming from. Rising rates of childhood obesity and food/weight-related health issues are not an easy burden for our health care system to support. From a long term perspective, there is no argument that our children and our society could benefit greatly from healthy food choices.
So where does this leave us? I see education as the solution. Let’s be clear, these high school students fully acknowledge that they are fighting to bring their “junk” food options back into the school. They make no illusions to the fact that they are not asking for any of the food options that fit into Canada’s Food Guide back into their cafeterias. They know these foods are not considered nutritious, but they want the choice back in their hands. In other words, simply telling, and then, plain forcing the issue of healthy eating on these teens is not going to fly. So, health education has succeeded in one respect–kids know “junk” when they see it. But would the Ministry be met with the same outrage if they suddenly took away all of the healthy food options and brought back their “junk”? I am going to take a leap here and say “probably not”. And why not?
Most teens only think about healthy eating when dealing with weight issues. But, what about all the other stuff nutritious foods do for us–what about the antioxidants, phytonutrients, omegas, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and multitude of nutrients that come from whole foods? Do they really get what the good stuff can do for them? And I mean beyond addressing weight–but what about the other stuff teens care about–skin, hair, energy, brain-power, immunity–that J-Lo glow or Lebron James’ jump shot? Do they get the value of counting nutrients versus counting calories–because in all honesty, I have seen the app that does the latter, but not the former? How do we inspire a genuine curiousity and interest in healthful eating today–so that we can open students’ minds and taste buds to real foods? We believe education is the key. Instead of just telling kids what and how much to eat–teach them why–explain how amazing the body is and what it can do when we eat whole foods. Let’s prevent our kids from having to face that word “diet” just to lose weight or in the face of another health issue. Instead, opening kids’ minds to new tastes and passion for new, and real foods is where we need to take nutrition education. That way, when they are making those cafeteria choices, there is a deeper understanding and appreciation for wholesome foods–and a taste for it as well–because nutrious food should be delicious as well!
The students’ video estimated that school cafeterias have taken about a $700K hit in profits since the healthy changes were implemented. If the government can afford to take that $700K hit, why not invest more money into nutrition education that will further back up their actions in the cafeteria? In other words, educate our kids so that when they are in that cafeteria line and are reaching for the salad instead of the fries, they know and feel that they have made that choice on their own–not forced. Afterall, how many teens do you know that will do something just because they have been told that they should do it?
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