Getting kids to eat right may take more than simply replacing junk food with healthier options. That’s what the Los Angeles Unified School District has learned this year, according to this article in the L.A. Times. Swept up in a Michelle Obama-led tide of enthusiasm for healthy eating, the school district kicked off this year by banning nachos and chicken nuggets from the cafeterias, and feeding the kids healthy and often vegetarian food. Many kids seem to be responding by skipping lunch entirely, and eating bags of chips brought from home instead.
The problem seems to be a combination of factors. One problem is that it’s simply easier to make edible junk food than edible healthy food. Anyone can deep fry a hunk of low-grade meat and pass that off as food kids will like. The kids, however, don’t appreciate a pad Thai that’s got the same sad near-food feel that school lunches have had since the beginning of time. Kids who reported liking the foods at the taste tests conducted over the summer are now complaining that the food is soggy and watery. Soggy and watery are easy to overcome qualities if food is also salty and deep-fried, but not so much when it’s a pile of veggies and noodles. Schools looking to improve their students’ diet should take note, and seek ways to actually provide food that tastes like food, even if doing so means spending more money on supplies and labor.
The other problem, however, is more intractable: the snotty little brat factor. Your average kid is not compelled by the desire to seem daring and cosmopolitan, and therefore their reaction to new and interesting foods is, “Gross. Give me a corn dog.” Which would be fine, of course, if not for the fact that once they actually get old enough to acquire those desires, the excess corn dog and ice cream pounds are much harder to work off. Merely reading this article filled me with embarrassment on behalf of the children, for their nakedly manipulative attempts to shovel junk food into their maws instead of learn to like something with a reasonable amount of fiber in it. Kids are making claims that their health can only be served with deep fried foods, claiming that healthy stuff is giving them “headaches, stomach pains and even anemia.” Anemia is the 21st-century homework-eating dog, it appears. Not that I’m sitting on my high horse about this. By my estimates, I consumed about 350 meals that consisted of a grilled cheese sandwich and fries in 1995, so I know how kids can get this way.
I wish I had a solution for the snotty-brat problem, but alas, the district’s solution of replacing the new foods with healthier versions of the old familiars like hamburgers and pizza seems to be the only way to get around this. It’s not like you can have their parents show up and tell them to clean their plates. Maybe on the high school level, you could put together an ad campaign of photographs of ridiculously sexy people saying their biggest turn-off is a picky eater, in order to kick start the process of obtaining that adult realization that you want to be seen as the kind of person who tries new things.