I've just finished a glorious month of live events and TV appearances here in California partnered with Got Milk? to celebrate National Nutritional Month in an effort to expose children to better, healthier choices when it comes to snacks. It is important for parents to instill healthy snacking habits since these account for a third of our kids' daily calorie intake.
At the live events I've been hosting in schools, community centers and local YMCAs, I've taught children how to make healthier pizza and flavorful smoothies. These are really fun events which I do to get the kids involved and energized about healthy cooking and eating, by using wholesome ingredients like whole wheat flour, fresh fruits, vegetables and milk. I juggle, dance and flip small pieces of pizza dough in the air. I do everything I can to generate excitement in the kids participating in the events. An excitement that I hope will translate in a lifetime of curiosity towards ALL kinds of food.
At one of my stops (I won't say which to protect the identity of the woman I met), I had a very interesting encounter. As I was prepping the fresh fruit and vegetables in the kitchen, a woman working there walked in, bringing a small bag from a local fast food restaurant. She said, "What a beautiful display," talking about the beautiful colors of my fresh ingredients. I pointed at her fast food bag and told her that it's too bad she already has her lunch.
She said to me (pointing at her belly) that she's pregnant and today the baby wanted a burger. She assured me that she doesn't eat like that every day. Sometimes, she said, she avoids the french fries. Then she shocked me by saying that she has diabetes. I asked if it's gestational diabetes, but she calmly said, "No, the regular one." She must only be in her late twenties. She then offered another interesting piece of information: "You see," she said pointing to my fruits and vegetables, "I know that's better for you but it doesn't look like REAL food to me." I didn't argue with her even though I disagreed. I saw her again in the kitchen after the event as she checked her blood sugar; she admitted that the small pizzettes I made with the kids that included whole wheat flour, milk and fresh vegetables (just small improvements on the classic slice of pizza, but a big step in the right direction) were delicious! I still left thinking that tomorrow her lunch will be fast food again.
Why do so many Americans think of fresh, tasty handmade food as "not REAL" and regard terrible, mass produced fast food items as REAL?
What a depressing notion! I've got to say it didn't help that when I got back to my hotel and I switched on the TV, I saw LeBron James advertising fast food. Glamorizing it really.
Shame on you LeBron James, aren't you rich enough? Is that what you feed YOUR children? Do you think with that kind of diet they'll become athletes like Dad? I don't think so... I think you keep them away from soda and french fries as an everyday choice. I think you know better and still you have no problem telling other people's children to go to the drive through and bring home poison to eat.
We desperately need a cultural shift in America, a different prospective. When I work with kids I celebrate fresh food, great food, food made from scratch -- and children react to that attitude. Let's fight the good fights, the right fights, by taking away fast food and processed foods from our diets. Let's teach our children to embrace the concept of healthy eating, let's provide REAL food for them and turn our attentions to better choices. Again, I'm not talking about eating tofu and arugula salad every day here. Trust me, between fast food and a salad without dressing there's an ocean of great food waiting to be enjoyed by our kids.
Fresher ingredients, smaller portions and handmade meals... these are simple things we can all agree upon. Come on LeBron, step in the kitchen, make a fresh meal with your children and tell American kids that you got to be the best basketball player in the world by eating the real kind of food! Unprocessed, wholesome and home-cooked foods!