Program offers kids healthful food choices
April 16, 2009
Last week the news hit, "1 in 5 preschoolers is obese, study says."
This should come as no surprise to pediatricians. They've seen the overweight preschoolers in their exam rooms. They didn't need another study to tell them many are off the chart when it comes to their body mass index.
The great thing about a child's body mass index is they have time and growth in their favor. Many times by simply maintaining their weight, a child's height will increase and they are no longer classified as overweight.
Slowing their weight gain is key. Families who've successfully supported their child's efforts at weight maintenance frequently benefit from the coordinated and combined efforts of pediatricians, public health nurses and WIC dietitians, as well as having the school environments in sync with the recommendations.
Through these efforts families learn to live healthier lives. They play more and watch television less. They quit offering Kool-Aid or sports drinks and begin offering water. They learn which foods are more nutrient rich than others and what to order when eating at a fast-food restaurant. They cut back on the amount of fat used to prepare family meals and offer at least two types of vegetables at the meal.
If the child is fortunate, their school food environment further supports these changes. It's estimated children consume 35 percent of their daily food intake at school, more if they are also relying on the school to feed them breakfast. What's on school menus matter.
Here in the Mid-Valley, preschoolers participating in Mid Willamette Valley Community Action Agency Head Start program enjoy menus in line with fighting pediatric obesity.
Food Service Supervisor Connie Davidson has worked hard creating meals that are low in added sugar and saturated fat that rely in part on USDA funds.
Lunch menus include vegetarian chili with cheese, cornbread, peaches with yogurt and nonfat milk, or beef stir fry, yakisoba noodles, Mandarin oranges, nonfat milk. Breakfast menus offer oatmeal, apple slices, and nonfat milk, or muffin, Oregon berry mix and nonfat milk. Chocolate milk is not an option, and cheeseburgers, pizza, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets aren't offered often.
A poster at one site shows the impact these menus can have on a child's palate. Kids listed their favorite foods on the poster. Believe it or not, they included foods such as broccoli, chicken, yogurt, banana, peaches, apples and rice. In addition the menus are well received by parents and staff.
Another example of school menus in line with the battle against pediatric obesity are those created by Evan Remington, president of Salem-based Organic Fresh Fingers for Trillium Charter School in Portland. Her menus include options like, Hummus Wrap, Organic Fruit & Organic Vegetable, and Exciting Eggplant Parmesan, Organic Fruit & Organic Vegetable. According to the school's parent newsletter, contracting with Organic Fresh Fingers as part of the pilot Farm to School program has reduced food waste by 50 percent. Kids really are eating eggplant and hummus when it's not up against pizza and chicken nuggets on the menu.
Unfortunately not all school environments provide these types of menus. Some offer traditional "junk" food such as cheeseburgers, cheese nachos, pizza and chicken nuggets as frequently as 25 times in 22 days.
Parents of preschoolers want to know what they need to do to raise healthy kids. Many are trying to do the right thing and seek out the support they need to improve their child's health. School menus should support their efforts.
The latest stats on preschool obesity make this all the more urgent.
Jeanine Stice writes about healthy living in the Mid-Valley. She is a registered dietitian employed by Nutrition Etcetera, is a member of the Oregon Dietetic Association and holds an Adult Weight Management certification. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.