Here is the answer I gave the preschool director. I hope it helps you in your journey as a mother or woman who cares for, works with, or just loves children.
Hi Joan (not her real name),
I commend you for attempting to feed the children healthy food. However, it is tough to offer (and have them actually eat) healthy food if they aren't any at home.
As a physical therapist and health coach, I am also a long time teacher. If I could make a suggestion for your lesson plans - you might consider including nutrition as part of what you teach the children. Teaching healthy choices as part of your lesson plan may actually turn out to be what helps a child most in life...we need to help prevent chronic disease and debility in our future generations. Adults behavior easily imprints children at this age - and leading by example, which includes serving healthy meals and snacks - would go a long way toward ensuring the future health of our nation's children.
Epidemic Unhealthy Eating Is Creating Premature & Preventable Chronic Disease In America's Children
Childhood obesity, diabetes, and inactivity is now considered epidemic in America's children today. Our crops in America are laden with pesticides, genetically modified organisms, and harmful antibiotics and insecticides. These chemicals have been found in the bloodstreams of our children and in pregnant women, not to mention in cancerous tumors of the breast. Now the USDA is even considering including "organic" food as part of the food pyramid, because of all the serious health risks associated with non-organic foods.
On a personal note, it was not until the late 90's that I realized how toxic my daily diet was. I was consuming high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavorings, pesticides, and many unidentified artificial ingredients, now dubbed as "food technology," without even knowing it. Low-fat was all the rage, and I was a naive consumer of all those chemically laden, high sugar, high sodium products. (And yes all of those poisons are in many, or I daresay most, conventional high sugar cereals and snacks.)
High fructose corn syrup is being linked to childhood obesity, diabetes, and attention deficit disorder, to name a few. Many of those foods also contain parabens and propylene glycol - the later of which is a cancer causing petroleum (yes, oil) derivative. In addition, serving ware and storage containers made of plastic often contain BPA, a chemical known to alter hormonal function - especially in women, children, and pregnant women. read more on harmful effects of BPA
Raising Up A Food (and serving ware) Snob
It was through reading the following texts below, that I began to recalibrate my own palate. I eliminated all processed food - which meant basically anything that came in a box ready to eat. Today, if my children eat snacks or "treats," I make sure they have no high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavoring or preservatives. In addition, when possible and where necessary, all of their food is organic. I rid our home of dangerous plastic containers, and use food containers to pack snacks and lunches such as Lunch Bots and Klean Canteen.
I have studied western nutrition and holistic nutrition through Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (Indian medicine). Now, I counsel all of my patients and students across the United States about the dangers of consuming a typical "American" diet. Americans suffer from more chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, obesity and many cancers that are preventable with diet and exercise, than any other nation in the world. Our children do not need to inherit these diseases or our current nutritional (or lack thereof) habits.
Below I have a list of resources you might want to send home to parents, in addition to teaching the children about nutrition. It can also be a way to reintroduce a new food program that is holistically balanced. All of these changes can help parents create a clean (and discerning) palate for their children. Once children are accustomed to eating whole foods, the taste of artificially flavored and high sugar foods will become unpalatable. For example, my children used to eat sugar on their cereal (a well meaning family member started this trend). So last fall I took cereal out of their diet altogether and made a cooked breakfast each morning. This summer, when the weather lent itself more easily to cold cereal - I reintroduced the cereal (the organic version of Cheerios, of course). I did not offer them any sugar. The result? They have been happily eating non-sugared cereal all summer long, never once having asked for sugar.
As summer now gives way to fall, I also recommend eliminating cereal from your children's diet in keeping with Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine recommendations. I rely on making "warm breakfasts," rather than cold. I make whole grain (or gluten free for those with allergies) pancakes from scratch with maple syrup (grocery store syrup is one of the worst "food technology, high fructose corn syrup offenders. Just say no!), oatmeal, eggs, soy based breakfast foods, and the occasional meat. My children aren't vegetarian, but neither does our family rely on meat. I serve it only 1-2 times a week. The rest of the week they eat vegetarian protein(s) and are thriving wonderfully. And as a side note - it does not take that much time to prepare a healthy, whole food meal. Opening a box may seem convenient, but the health of our children is more important than convenience. In addition, I also get to teach my children about the joys of Slow Food and it is a wonderful way to create quality family time together (not to mention great memories and great food!).
Treats & Desserts
When I do bake desserts, we make organic versions. Cupcakes (yes, actually!), cobblers, pies, cakes - nothing is off menu for my children. I don't even restrict them from eating candy - but I have educated them as to what is in it and what it does to their body (not to mention their teeth!). I want them to be able to make informed decision(s), rather than me playing the eternal (and not very effective) role of the rigid maternal nutritional food police.
I use my own family as an example. My 4 year old declared he is eating no more candy or junk food - including his favorite - lollipops. (we'll see how long this lasts) However, to my surprise, he's kept this trend up all summer - and he shows no signs of dropping his new habit.
Instead of junk food, he eats fruit and the desserts that we make together; and, when offered what he labels "junk," which generally includes chips, snack foods, and all candy - he declines 99% of the time. I can recall 2 instances where he accepted a lollipop - and both times he declared to everyone in the car (we were at the bank where the teller, the world's sartorial lollipop dispenser, always tailors the treats in favorite colors), "I am only eating 1 lollipop today, because they don't make me big or smart and I don't want holes in my teeth." Of course, I smiled inwardly and outwardly ~ a mother's greatest dream (or at least partly) - I have created a food snob, or at least a foodie who can discriminate between high quality and low quality (or no quality) food.
He has learned about organic gardening, picking fresh fruit right out of the trees and off vines. He has aso learned about cooking from scratch with whole foods. As a result, he has a rather refined and sensitive palate for a 4 year old. (It took me almost 30 years before I started to develop one.) For example, before he could even speak he could taste the difference between jarred spaghetti sauce and our homemade organic version. (he wouldn't eat a second bite of the processed/jarred kind).
Expanded Resource List
I say all of this to encourage you, and to applaud you for your efforts to feed children healthy cereals and snacks. I am going to bet that if you institute a new nutrition program as part of your lesson plans - about balanced nutrition and the importance of eating whole foods as close to their original source as possible (i.e. eating locally, seasonally, and organic)- you will help change a nation's nutritional habits, one child at a time.
Here are the resources I give to patients, which you can share with parents:
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the American Meal - a well researched book about the underbelly of American fast food
Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About It
Food Rules: An Eater's Manual
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
Disease Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right
Food You Should Always Buy Organic
Seven Reasons Why Kids Should Drink Organic Milk
The Green Guide - a guide to living healthy, responsibly, and preventing disease
Lastly, for those parents already organically saavy in the healthy eating department - the next level to improve health even more is consuming an Anti-Inflammatory diet, endorsed by physicians, nutritionists, and holistic nutritionists globally. You can find an example of The Anti-Inflammatory Diet here.
The list of resources is certainly not exhaustive, but it is a good start toward empowering parents to help their children live a long and healthy life.
I hope this helps you in your teaching and passion for children's education and many blessings to you in the new school year.
*photo is of Michael baking his first organic apple cobbler with oatmeal topping, in a NC pottery crock gifted to him by his great grandmother. He insisted on wearing his bicycle helmet for the event.