IT IS, WITHOUT QUESTION, A VIRTUOUS ENDEAVOR: Get kids to eat their vegetables. Many have tried; few have succeeded. At least that’s how it seems. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative is working to put healthy eating top-of-mind.
At the Sanger dinner table many, many years ago, my mom tried to convince me that a regular dose of broccoli was a guaranteed ticket to the National Football League. But as a kid, to borrow a line from Seinfeld, I wouldn’t eat broccoli if it was deep fried in chocolate sauce.
I didn’t eat the broccoli, but I did make it to the NFL, although not as a player (a story for another time). Mom would probably consider that a technicality and holds the opinion to this day that my aversion to broccoli is what scuttled my professional athletic career, 40-yard dash times and bench press statistics notwithstanding.
While getting kids to eat their veggies has been comedic fodder for some time, the war against childhood obesity, of which a diet rich in fresh produce is a key part, is serious business. You need go no farther than this year’s United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Conference, an annual gathering in Washington, D.C., that closely examines public policy ramifications of issues that are critical to the fresh produce industry.
While there are myriad issues being discussed at the conference—the GMO debate, immigration, the California water crisis to name a few—it is clear that a healthy diet for our children is important to industry leaders. And the critical need for fresh produce in school lunches is front and center.
“Nutrition standards in our nation’s schools are the focus of a critically important debate on Capitol Hill and across the country,” Ray Gilmer, United Fresh’s vice president of issues management and communication, said in a recent editorial that appeared in The Packer, a prominent industry publication. “The new standards call for schools to serve a fruit/vegetable at lunch as part of the National School Lunch Program. More than 100,000 schools are serving fruits and vegetables to 32 million kids because of the new nutrition standards—that’s real progress!”
There are occasional skeptics—me among them—who don’t question the mission, but the means. Simply forcing kids to toss a fruit or a vegetable on their trays won’t automatically stop them from taking one look then saying BCNU (i.e. be seeing you) as they toss it into the trash. Making our children healthier calls for a cultural shift in how our kids think about and relate to food and, like everything else, that starts at home.
That’s why my wife, a fourth-grade public school teacher, makes our second-grader’s lunch every day. “So I know exactly what he’s eating.”
Which brings us to the unasked question: Will these 32 million kids eat their vegetables? And, perhaps more importantly, will they like them?
I certainly hope so. The health of our children, to a certain degree, depends on it.