For a short time, I had a humorous/observational column in a local magazine called Upstate Women. Unfortunately, the magazine is no longer being published. I enjoyed the experience of writing a column so much, that I would like to continue writing in that vein. So once a month, I will offer a new column about something that bugs me in some way that may strike a chord with you, too.
Several of the columns you will see have already been published; the others were written after the demise of the magazine. The column will be called "Inanities" because I feel that is the word which aptly describes the things that make us want to smack our heads in frustration. Please let me know your reactions to these columns as I would enjoy hearing what bugs you, too. You can reach me at email@example.com.
by Nancy Rechtman
There is an obesity epidemic in our country. It is growing as fast as our children. In fact, it is our children. The media trumpet the fact that the number of our kids who are overweight now rivals the national debt. But how can that be? We try to teach our kids to eat right, donít we? We try to set good examples at home. We vow to cook from scratch at least once a week. We swear we will only stop at McDonaldís two or three times a week on our way home from our kidsí soccer practice or dance lessons. We even try to throw something green on the table along with those hamburgers or that pizza - and I donít mean moldy macaroni salad from last month. I mean vegetables! Salads! Broccoli! Anything that might help us feel better about the fact that we are not our mothers and our meals are either provided by fast-food chains or conveniently pre-packaged at Bi-Lo or Publix. At least if we throw something in the oven that came out of a box, it still smells like we cooked it, doesnít it? And that relieves some of our guilt. Shake some salad out of a bag, whip that Stoufferís out of the oven and weíve got a home-cooked meal on the table. Well, sort of.
So when we send our little darlings off to school, we feel that they are prepared to make the right choices when it comes to what they eat. After all, weíve provided the perfect framework for proper nutrition at home, havenít we? And in elementary school, there is at least the possibility that might actually happen. There are two fairly healthful choices each day, fruit and vegetables are standard fare, as is milk, although I canít vouch for the actual eating of these lunches. And if they donít like what the school is offering, our progeny donít even mind bringing lunch from home in those cute little lunch bags that we have so painstakingly picked out at Wal-Mart or Target to match their blossoming personalities. We make sure we cut their sandwiches just the way they like them, add that oh-so-nutritious juice box and maybe some baby carrots or applesauce or even yogurt to show that we are thinking HEALTHY. Even if we throw in a Twinkie or cupcake, thatís OK, because we have a nutritionally balanced lunch for our sweethearts. Either way, buy or bring, we canít go wrong.
Letís move on to middle school and high school. Our control over what is happening to our children is slipping through our fingers like a plug in Niagara Falls. As we know, once out of elementary school, cute little lunch boxes are definitely out and buying lunch is almost a requirement. Lunch which is mainly comprised of fast food franchise fare (say that five times fast). And we think with relief, if our older darlings get hungry, at least they can buy a healthy snack during the school day. But wait! The powers that be have come up with a new food pyramid for our schools - let's take a look, shall we?
In the old food pyramid, the base was made up of healthy foods (often classified as rabbit food) to be eaten as many times a day as possible or until the fiber content of your body equaled that of a paper mill. Once again, think green. The Snickers bars and potato chips and M & Mís were microdots on top as a consolation prize for eating the other stuff the rest of the day. In the new food pyramid, we have the inverse of this logical formula using some sort of new-fangled math where the pyramid is flipped upside down in a blatant attempt to cajole our children into parting with their (meaning their parents') hard-earned cash.
So using this new logic, why not offer sustenance throughout the school day in the form of ice-cold bottles of Pepsi and ooey-gooey chocolate bars? And, after speaking to my friendís son Greg who is in middle school, I discovered that small cans of soda are no longer an option in the vending machines. Oh no - now, only the super-sized soda bottles are available to add that extra dose of sugar and hundreds of empty calories which are considered necessary in our new food pyramid. Isn't that a brilliant solution to keeping our children fit and trim? Not to mention really heightening their attention spans? Not only do our schools feed our children's minds, but their insatiable appetite for junk as well.
But, you may remark, the kids have minds of their own. They can choose not to buy this garbage and opt for the healthy stuff. And salmon can choose not to spawn upstream. The only healthy option available in the machines is water. What would be your guess as to how many of our kids are walking the halls with water when bubbly colas are enticing them from giant icy bottles in those machines? Let's face it, eating healthfully is not exactly an innate behavior. Imagine if the first time you fell and scraped your knee your mom took you into the kitchen to comfort you and said, "Here, honey, have a yummy piece of celery." Wouldn't that have sent you screaming to Grandma's house begging for ice cream and pleading for a spare bedroom where you could camp out until Mom came to her senses? I can personally vouch for the fact that chocolate chip cookies are the Neosporin of the soul.
If we're going to educate our children, let's educate them not only in the ABC's, but also in how to take care of themselves and their bodies. We all know our schools need money desperately. But canít we provide our kids with healthier choices? Some good ones like...oops, I just broke a nail! Where in the world is my box of Entenmann's?(A version of column originally appeared in the September 2002 issue of Upstate Women magazine.)
Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved. Small excerpts of the column may be republished as long as appropriate credit is given. To request permission to publish larger portions or the entire column, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.