Recently, we parents have been informed that our kids have done nothing but struggle every day of the new school year. Surprisingly, the struggle is occurring outside the classroom: It's taking place in the cafeteria, over the revamped, healthier school lunch.
Parents, politicians, school personnel and students (especially students!) are all expressing their opinions on the new federal guidelines that have reshaped cafeteria fare. With major media coverage and social media added to the mix, I think two words sum up the present turmoil: Food fight!
Rather than join the fray, I prefer to present what I consider to be a fail-proof solution to the present crisis. But first, a brief summary of the facts: In order to fight obesity and diet-related diseases that are ravaging our school-aged children, mandated guidelines have been put in place. The bad guys -- such as salts and sugars -- have been reduced in school lunches, while the good guys -- real fruit and vegetables -- are taking up more of those little indents on the tray. As the USDA puts it: "The amount of food on a kid's plate is not much different than in years past -- it is simply healthier."
Children are eagerly embracing this wise diet, smiling blissfully at their red shiny apples, relieved they will not have to chew up another greasy burger or slog through another sugary treat. Oops, excuse the brief utopian fantasy. The reality, of course, is that most students are ditching the apple, salad, and veggie sticks -- as well as anything that is "nasty," as one student described the healthier food. They are, in fact, throwing away twice the amount of food they did last year.
Not surprisingly, many students complain they're hungry after throwing away much of their lunches. How hungry? Check out the rousing video they made on the subject, which has gone viral.
Our nation's children will continue to chuck out fruits and veggies, day after day, because they are tenacious, creative and smart. They are, in fact, a lot like us. So they'll find ways to get what they want into their tummies. In other words, no matter how noble the goal of reducing obesity is, the present course of action is not going to work.
The solution. My youngest daughter -- the pickier one -- taught me that no food is healthy if it doesn't get eaten. She taught me this by refusing to eat anything healthy. The battle raged on, each meal a fight to the last bite. And then, one worn out day, there was the Robert Frost "fork-in-the-road" moment: I could either surrender, giving her every bad food on the planet, or I could outsmart her. I chose the latter. I started adding the foods she needed to the dishes she loved, which unexpectedly resulted in a New York Times Bestselling cook book and a whole new career as The Sneaky Chef. Parents have been happily devouring my 6 Sneaky Chef books -- which indicates that a sizable population is grappling with improving the American diet at home. The problem is not just in the cafeteria.
We can nourish every student in America by giving them the foods they love, with the veggies and fruits they need inside. We can give them their juicy burger -- with undetectable broccoli and zucchini. We can serve them a "Brainy Brownie" -- made with blueberries, spinach and whole grains. Delicious pasta sauce can deliver 8 veggies. Mac 'n cheese can be enhanced by sweet potatoes and carrots.
And my real "sneaky" secret? Let's not keep this a secret from the kids! Tell them there are eight super veggies in their meatballs so we can sneak and teach at the same time, because kids really don't mind eating what's good for them if they don't have to sacrifice taste. We can tell students that we've amped up their favorite dishes because we care. We can tell them that this fuel will do more than please their tummies. It will boost their brains. It will blast them around the track faster. It will give them more energy. It might even clear up their complexion before prom. We can educate them, and encourage them to be smart about food decisions. And at lunch, after Biology and Algebra, we can give them just what we wanted at their age, and what we still want now: a great tasting, satisfying meal. Here's to a healthier nation!