October 5 2012

USDA Muddles Food Messages to Parents

Julie Gunlock

The U.S. Department of Agriculture appears to be missing the hot news story of the day: kids hate the new school lunch program.  What else would explain the agency's suggestion that parents use the school lunch program as a guide for their own home cooked meals?  Dr. Janey Thornton, Deputy under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services for the USDA said this week that "We recommend reviewing school menus with kids at home and working to incorporate foods that are being served at school into family meals as much as possible."

Oh yes, that's a fantastic idea. Replicating the grim meals kids are being served at school is a great way to keep kids healthy.  And what woman isn't interested in wasting tons of food, increasing food costs and basically making her entire family miserable? Sounds like sound government advice to me!

How about the USDA do this instead: encourage parents to use the time they would use "reviewing school menus" to pack their kids a lunch. I do it every morning for my two school-aged children and it takes me exactly 11 minutes (I've timed it). That would be a far better use of a parent's time.  And since study after study shows strong parenting helps reduce childhood obesity, the simple act of packing a lunch for your kid would go much further in keeping kids healthy.

In fairness, Dr. Thorton might have been trying to ask for parents’ assistance in making the "healthy" food served on the lunch line not look so foreign to the kids.  In other words, if your kid regularly eats sugar snap peas and lentils at home, they're less likely to reject these familiar items at school.  That's understandable but as usual, the USDA manages to muddle the message.

The message should be clear to parents: YOU are the solution to the childhood obesity issue in this country.  YOU should cook meals for your kids.  YOU should give them a simple breakfast in the morning and pack them a simple meal for lunch. YOU should sit down and eat with your kids as often as possible.  YOU should turn of the television and make them go to bed, in their own beds, at a reasonable hour.

These simple steps have nothing to do with government--which practically guarantees they'll work.

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