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Eco-gastronomically focused health professional and school food advocate.
Dr. Susan Rubin | DrSuRu

Nutrition Education is Failing Our Kids - It's Time to Get Our Hands Dirty Instead

Aug 12th 2010 at 10:41 AM

Tell me and I will forget.

Show me and I may remember.

Involve me and I will understand.

~Chinese proverb

The latest research shows that nutrition education is not working! It is ineffective in creating behavior change in getting our kids to eat more veggies. So much time, money and energy has been spent in our schools to teach kids nutrition and we've gotten nowhere.

The pyramid is part of the problem. Why are we wasting time teaching our kids a government sanctioned official word on nutrition that just doesn't stick?

Besides being uninspiring, the USDA food pyramid is full of conflicts of interest with the food industry, meat and dairy lobbies. If we want our kids to really learn something beyond being able to regurgitate facts and figures for a test, we need them involved on a deeper level.

Much of what we've been told about nutrition has been misleading and has done more harm than good. This has led well meaning nutrition committees to focus on the details rather than looking at the big picture.

  • Counting calories results in many people obsessing over calories, some to the extreme of eating disorders and yo-yo dieting. This faulty over-emphasis on energy balance has led the food industry to create "100 calorie" products. After all, 100 calories of junk is still junk! It reminds me of the "light" cigarettes my mom smoked in the early 70's instead of quitting tobacco altogether. Focusing on calories takes us away from quality, all calories are not equal.
  • Believing that fat makes you fat has spurned many low-fat food products that are higher in sugar and chemicals. Good quality fat is essential for brain and nervous system development. Many foods need fat present for optimal nutrient absorption. That's why salad dressing needs to have fat in it. Once again, we must consider what good quality fat and oils are and work to stay away from poor quality fats.
  • A misguided emphasis on nutrients has resulted in useless products like granola bars and hyped up cereals which are nothing but refined grains sprayed down with synthetic vitamins.
Loading up our school cafeterias with 100 calorie packs, baked chips, granola bars, baked chicken fingers and oven roasted tater tots which many consider to be "healthier" fare does not create a higher Food IQ for our kids nor does it make them healthier.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"~ Albert Einstein

Clearly when it comes to nutrition education and to our children's health, we need a new approach. I suggest that we shift the emphasis away from nutrition and instead towards the four letter word that begins with F: Food! To build our Food IQ the right way, we must get our hands dirty and experience all that food has to offer.

We need to plant gardens everywhere: in schools, in childcare centers, summer camps, senior centers and in our communities. I'm thrilled that many grass roots school advocates have followed First Lady Obama's lead in planting gardens in schools. Gardens involve and teach us about food and the world on many levels.

  • When kids grow food, kids eat food! Gardens are a great solution to the epidemic of picky eating behaviors. Research shows that children who have been involved with growing food eat more veggies than young children who attend other schools and child care centers without garden programs.
  • You can't grow junk food! There are no artificial ingredients or significant allergens (gluten, dairy, soy) in a garden. You simply cannot become ill or obese from eating what grows in a garden.
  • Growing food cultivates an environmental awareness helping our children to become stewards of the land. As concerns about climate change and peak oil continues grow, we may all need to become more involved with growing food.
  • Gardens are the cure for nature deficit disorder. Keeping our kids away from screens and high tech for a while is useful. The garden helps us slow down; you can't force a green bean to grow fast, you have to wait! This is an important antidote to our fast paced lives.
  • With gas prices soaring and food costs following skyward, growing food makes more sense than ever for our wallets as well as our waistlines.
I am now hopeful that gardens will be the start of a positive shift in a school district's food culture. By cultivating garden projects which build Food IQ and ecoliteracy, perhaps cafeterias will shift further towards health supportive food that is better for our kids and for the environment. For instance, once everyone understands the environmental impact of New York school students eating apples coming all the way from Washington state( or further) vs. apples coming from farms in upstate NY, perhaps students will demand local sourcing of food. This roundabout way of impacting the cafeteria will help create a demand for fresh, local, real food, instead of low calorie fat free questionable food products.

It's going to be great to get our hands dirty and get growing. Mother Earth will be thankful as well.

Please to comment
Aug 13th 2010 at 8:34 AM by javagrandma
What a wonderful way to promote healthy eating. I love the garden idea...hands on learning is so much fun!
Aug 12th 2010 at 8:39 PM by GTBulmer
Hello, Dr. Susan: Your "Nutrition Education" article is well-presented and makes some very good points. I really appreciate the focus on planting gardens everywhere. Nutritionally, it can be a good process and a great lesson for kids, and it also promotes greater self-sufficiency in a changing world where that is going to become a valuable quality to possess! :-)

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