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Should Preschools Be Required To Teach Healthy Eating Habits?

I was disgusted but not surprised by a blog comment I read last week underneath an article about Michelle Obama’s new childhood obesity campaign.  It’s copied below or you can read it for yourself here: (all the way down,look for comment from saddle4545)  A parent stated the following:

“My daughter’s weight problem stated in pre-K. Her caregivers were giving her food and making a game out of eating. They fed her 7 hot dogs and brownies. They told her that she would win a prize if she could eat just one more! When I reported them to the state,their advice was ‘remove her if you don’t like it.’“

In these days and times do we really need to “make”childcare providers do the right thing and teach children how to eat healthy? Wouldn’t you assume a childcare center’s staff would encourage kids to stop eating when they’re full and not reward them for winning food related games? Must we spell out every scenario to be avoided –what happened to common sense?

Perhaps you think something like this is a rare occurrence.  Or that the details may have been blown out of proportion. Or,that teaching our kids how to eat right is up to parents.  It doesn’t matter,if it happens at all in a place where children spend most of their time and are expected to learn important habits.  The point is that these experiences make a permanent stamp on a child’s psyche.  Just like you can’t strike a comment from your ears that was already verbalized in a court room,kids are not going to disregard early experiences with food.  Even more so if they are frightening or confusing.

What’s it going to take?  Higher standards for preschool staff?  Fitness and nutrition requirements with stiff fines for violations? Or are we just expecting too much.  I was under the impression that teachers should be more on the ball than the students.

What do you think?  What’s your knee jerk response to this particular story?

3 comments to Should Preschools Be Required To Teach Healthy Eating Habits?

  • The truth of the matter is that children are mini adults therefore they too have motivating factors to inspire them to eat healthy foods. Us adults are in some way more stubborn than children,ironically however these five factors are true of all of us.

    1) Tasty choices. Many kids love plums,pears,watermelon,peaches,raspberries,blackberries,tangerines,cherries,blueberries,strawberries,and pineapples and it’s far too often kids’fruit alternatives are restricted to only apples and bananas,and maybe oranges and grapes too. Try corn bran,Spoon-Sized Shredded Wheat,or oatmeal with fresh berries. Instead of crackers or toast made from white flour try bran crispbread as a snack especially whole-grain pancakes,children love these. Children will develop their tastes the sooner they start in this direction. Butter on green beans makes them a lot tastier so during the preschool years,make butter a treat for vegetables. Raw carrot sticks go down very well because of the “crunch,”many kids like all by themselves.

    2) The limitation factor. If there are healthy foods readily available,children will pick their favorites from amongst those healthy choices.

    3) Presentation needs to be FUN. Multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns compete against us all the time when we are deciding what to feed our children. TV doesn’t always help either because there are many commercials that promote sweetened breakfast cereals which while reaching their right audience,sweetened cereals are not as healthy as the unsweetened variety. Add fruit to cereals which would take place of the ‘sweetners’. Where are the commercials for fresh fruit and veggies? That job is left to us to promote. Children love shapes and things more interesting in color. Preschool children often love food that is shaped like a clown,a face,favorite hero or cartoon character or even a dinosaur etc. Processed macaroni is manufactured this way because it sells. How do we make healthy food as appealing as the empty or harmful alternatives? Try a whole-grain pancake with a strawberry for a nose,kiwi slices for eyes,and banana for the mouth. Stand corn on the cob up right when serving it (pretend it’s a rocket ship),decorate food in ways that children can ‘see something else’ besides a plate full of veggies – think like a preschool child – let your imagination run.

    4) If that happens to fail,be a sneak and sneak it in. Make carrot muffins with zucchini bread. Add pieces of fruit or shaved vegetables to virtually any baked dish. While dried fruit is high in sugar,it is also high in fiber so dried cranberries can be a hit. Kids love smoothies! A great way to hide fruit and vegetables is in whole-food smoothies and juices. The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious are two recently published cookbooks that offer more ideas on how to hide the healthy stuff!

    5) Multivitamins are essential. In this day and age so many foods are processed so give a daily multivitamin as a safety net. Vitamins are compounds necessary in trace amounts for the normal functioning of children and adults alike.

    I have great respect for the longstanding relationship between humans and their natural foods. By eating whole foods (fresh fruit,vegetables and whole grains,etc.),your child can get the necessary vitamins in the healthiest way.
    In order to see the world around us we need these vitamins to grow as they help bones and connective tissue to grow,stop us from bleeding to death,heal wounds,fight infections and cancer,and keep our teeth from falling out.

    As we know most preschoolers and toddlers are often picky eaters. As children’s tastes change as they grow,and they do eventually get to eating a more well-rounded diet. So vitamins (the “safety net”) takes the pressure off feeding issues during the primary years. You can be free to be creative about increasing whole foods in your child’s diet,knowing that vitamins are present to help your child grow strong and healthy without pressure or worry.
    Now that we have mass advertising,children’s fun meals,and peer pressure makes the battle all the harder. Never push or force them,entice them,persuade them and most importantly teach them. Battle bad nutrition. The battle should never be with your kids.

  • Exercise should be a mandatory daily activity in pre-school. I initiated the creation of the “Active Start” study by NASPE,which states every 3,4,and 5 year old should receive one-hour of structured physical activity every day. NASPE refused to use the word exercise,but I will leave that discussion for another day. If consumers want to see exercise is a daily part of their children’s lives in preschools,they can use their power as a consumer,demand it or they will quite doing business with the school. Pre-schools are little health clubs,they are a fee based business. When a fee based business is faced with the loss of one,or ideally,a number of paying members,they react. I would like to see Americans stop expecting the government to step in and solve all our problems,as the lady says in her post suggests,when we as consumers literally hold all the power in our economic system. I would like to see the fitness industry lobby the accrediting bodies of the early childhood business to add exercise requirements to their accrediting process. This would mandate accredited preschools include an exercise program. The fitness industry has been absent in the promotion of fitness in pre-school and in K-12,and our industry has a financial interest is developing a new generation of exercisers. My early childhood product and program “Playtangle Jr” is used worldwide by Gymboree,hundreds of private schools,and is a preferred partner of the National Head Start Body Start program. Playtangle can be used in the classroom and at home.

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