Thursday, January 16, 2003

Broccoli 101

A banana for the teacher


Mrs. Boger, a formidable woman, insisted that we second-graders choose one hot and one cold dish in the cafeteria every day. So - like the little brown nose that I was - I followed teacher's orders. Lunch was an ice cream scoop of mashed potatoes, spewing butter from a generous pat inserted moments before by a woman in a white hairnet. For dessert, I ate Jell-O.

Nutrition was not my best subject. And, by now, we are grading on the curve. An ever larger curve.

We're a big, fat bunch of people in this country, despite years of worshipping at the twin altars of Jenny Craig and Dean Ornish and stuffing ourselves with bacon and sirloin in honor of Dr. Atkins.

Fat R Us

We've Slim Fasted and Weight Watched. We've counted calories and fat grams. We have carbo-ed ourselves into a stupor. We've sucked our lipos and tucked our tummies.

But enough about us. What about our kids?

Ditto, says the surgeon general. More than 13 percent of children aged 6 to 11 and 14 percent of adolescents are overweight. Obese adolescents have a 70 percent chance of becoming fat adults.

The government has a new plan to get kids to rediscover the original fast food - an apple, a banana, maybe some strawberries. And, surely to the dismay of his father, President George W. Bush has also thrown his support to broccoli.

The 2002 Farm Bill authorized $6 million to 25 schools in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio and the Zuni Indian reservation in Arizona. Instead of paying farmers not to grow food, the feds are hoping to create a market. And healthier kids in the process.

Healthy homework

"They want to see if kids will eat fruit and vegetables if it's easily available," explains Melissa Geers, food service director at Summit Country Day School in Hyde Park. Summit, along with Princeton High School, Robert E. Lucas Intermediate School and Scarlet Oaks, all in Sharonville, were chosen for the study.

"Kids have science projects in school, why not an experiment with food?" adds Princeton's food service supervisor, Linda Bass-Wiley.

"And why not teach our kids how to be healthy for the rest of their lives?" Melissa says. "We get them during a big chunk of their day. Now let's see if what we do here will translate into healthier habits at home."

Fruits and vegetables are available free throughout the building until 10 a.m. and after 2 p.m.

In the middle is lunch, where Melissa says, "We are selling more vegetable plates and fewer desserts. We know it's working but it will be hard to prove." They see it every day, kids walking around munching apples instead of chips and soda.

It's just an experiment, but it makes a lot more sense than throwing food away or paying the nation's farmers not to farm. It makes more sense for the government to try to build a healthy kid than to figure out how to cure a sick adult.

Meanwhile, we're still fat. We have blamed the Food Pyramid and Ronald McDonald and vending machines. We blame our father's side of the family and our own hectic lives. We think kids spend too much time in front of the television.

Personally, I blame Mrs. Boger.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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