Unless you live under a rock, it's hard to escape mention of the obesity epidemic plaguing America's children. Reduced time for physical education, the relative cheapness of unhealthy food, ubiquitous video games and plain ol' abundance have led many children to reach dangerous weights while they languish without exercise. Some groups, like Parents Against Junk Food, also point to the availability of foods like Pop Tarts, NutriGrain bars and Gatorade in nearly every cafeteria as a major culprit in the expanding waistlines of kids from Tacoma to Tampa.
As a former chubby kid and currently voluptuous adult, I can sympathize with these kids and at the same time, I think their parents are idiots. Sure, school lunches shouldn't undo any healthy eating habits parents are trying to teach at home and for kids who get a bulk of their daily food from school certainly need nutritious meals with a minimal of processed ingredients, salt and sugar.
However, I have to draw the line at birthday parties. According to a recent report on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show, some schools are now moving to eliminate or significantly reduce foods like cupcakes and rice crispies treats from kids' birthday parties in the classroom.
Try to imagine elementary school without pizza parties! Sure you probably shouldn't motivate children (or adults) solely through food, but what about the lesson of moderation? I know enough people with kids to hear Elmo talk about "sometimes foods," like ice cream, candy, chips. What better way to teach kids about eating in moderation than telling them that parties are the perfect time to sample less healthy foods?!
All too often in American culture, and particularly in our food culture, we run toward absolute solutions. How often do we hear about raw foods (the elimination of anything cooked), Atkins Diet (the elimination of all carbs), or anorexia (the elimination of food, period)? On the other extreme we have holidays like Thanksgiving, St. Patrick's Day and the Super Bowl that encourage us to consume with abandon. There rarely seems to be that sense of a middle ground that exists in other countries where they may enjoy one glass of wine, one piece of chocolate but draw the line at a bottle or entire bar.
Perhaps rather than forcing the next generation to live within the constraints of hard and fast food rules, we can give them healthier choices while teaching about getting real pleasure from simple indulgences. Besides, with Valentine's Day on the horizon and all those candy hearts calling from the shelves, what better time to learn?