Monday, February 16, 2009

Teachers! Stop the cupcakes!!

Poverty often dictates that parents often have to purchase cheaper, more filling food to work within their budget and their limited hours in the day. There are some excellent programs that help parents plan their shopping lists so that they purchase more nutritious food for their children. Unfortunately, for parents who are taking the bus to jobs or are working more than one job, they don't often have the time to take the time to prepare food in the way that this new shopping list dictates.

I have been known to be critical of parents who feed their children junk food or provide the kids with money to buy chips and a soda from the corner store. Unfortunately, it's sometimes the parents who are at home, but have other concerns, that are the least educated...and possibly the least concerned...about what develops their children's brains long-term.

At our After-School Academy, though, we are not just struggling with educating the parents, we fight the influence of the schools and other community organizations. Schools, these days, justify nachos as providing a milk product and a well as other absurd justifications of the four food groups. But beyond that, teachers dismiss kids with cookies, cupcakes, chips, and other high fat, high sugar junk food.

The latest issue of Edutopia quotes Jan Pruitt, from the North Texas Food Bank that provides much of our food at Central Dallas. Pruitt says teachers are often surprised to learn that a "problem" student is really just hungry: "They will say, 'Oh, my gosh. I never thought of him being hungry.'"

I'm guessing the teachers in our area recognize that kids are hungry. However, maybe we need to start educating people that just because a child's "hunger" has subsided, doesn't necessarily mean he/she will be equipped to learn. In fact, that much sugar creates an adverse affect. When the children come home eating their cookies and cupcakes, they are not in the right mindset to sit down and do homework...and then attend enrichment classes. Their after-school sugar high creates hyper-activity, irritability, and other behaviors.

I'm a very big sweet tooth. However, I've learned that eating sweets leads to wanting more sweets. I've always been a pretty healthy eater, thanks to my mom. But until I got into my late 20's, I was perfectly satisfied having a brownie sundae fill me up...or cookie dough...or any homemade dessert. I justified the 5 cookies I might eat because they filled me up and I figured they were about the same amount of calories as a larger meal. What I didn't realize was that my body and brain functioned much better on a bigger, healthier meal. When I finally started leaving out the sweets, the craving wasn't so strong.

I'm convinced that our charitable acts of giving poor kids cookies and junk is the reason when they do get a free meal, they throw out the sandwich and soup and eat the cookie and chips. Let's educate those providing lunches and snacks for our children. They need fruit and vegetables. As my mom did us, they need to be encouraged to taste two bites of everything so that they can develop new taste buds.

We have got to do better by our children.
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