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“food corps”: companions enjoying good food vs. cheerleaders…

Posted by on Jun 21, 2012 in Blog Posts | 2 comments

With summer here, the school cafeteria may not be on your mind, but it’s been on mine recently! When my latest Cooking Light showed up, it featured a “Food Corps” volunteer who wanders around the cafeteria “cheer-leading” for healthy food choices. She encourages the kids to try the veggies and rewards them with stickers, talks about nutrition etc. I’ve written about the pitfalls of this kind of nutrition activism before. There is simply such a potential for harm, that we should proceed very, very cautiously, which I don’t think is happening. (Is the selective eater shamed, while the fat child is subtly or not so subtly bullied for his food choices? Does it give kids the impression that it’s OK to comment on what and how much others are eating?) There is so much to know about child psychology, the feeding research, and imagining the particular situations a child might be living through. Is there abuse or neglect around food? Are the parents bullying the child, is the child in feeding therapies and panicking around new foods?

Here is an illustration of one side of this story. My friend told me about her son, who at 6 loves the college guys who work at summer camp. Juice boxes are out, and this little guy wants to be like his hero so he asks for Gatorade. Well, when he decides he doesn’t like it, he asks for water, but children are very interested in what older peers/teens are eating and drinking. This same young man may be bribing the kids to try veggies and lecture about sugar… (Do as I say, not as I do?) I remember watching a TV special where some cool teens were sent into grade-schools and the teens sat with the kids and ate broccoli. WITH NO COMMENTING. They just kept them company and ate it. Kids were filmed observing and then eating the broccoli! It was cool and OK because the older kids ate it. One mother marveled that she had been trying for years to get her son to eat the broccoli…

So, I re-imagine the Food Corps role. Why doesn’t this passionate volunteer rotate tables, and every day sit and eat with the kids. She should enjoy the veggies, be good company and skip the nutrition lectures and cajoling. There is a lot of research that suggests that rewards, praise and pressure all backfire and make children like veggies LESS.

For a great video on comfortable cafeterias check this piece out. Really, it’s amazing! I wish every Food Corps volunteer would be required to watch this before setting food in a cafeteria.

What do you see with your kids? What do you think? Does your school have a food corps volunteer? Does a staff member play the cheer-leading role?

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  1. Nicole

    This makes me so sad for children. As your broccoli example proves, it really doesn’t have to be so difficult, but we seem to be messing everything up.
    Today, as I picked my daughter up from camp, the extremely underweight “teacher” sat next to the chubbiest girl in the class and told her she needed to eat her carrots before she would open her tiny rice crispie bar. She actually took the bar away and sat lecturing her about how “we need healthy things in our bodies… if we have too much sugar, it can give us a tummy ache…” on and on. Would she have done the same thing to a skinny girl? I really doubt it. Did she say anything to my daughter about her craisins even though they probably have more sugar than the bar? Probably not.

    I sometimes send a couple organic sandwich cookies in my daughter’s lunch when I pack one. I decided that I wouldn’t be doing that when I send her to this place. I wanted to talk to the teacher, but wasn’t sure how to phrase it so she would get it. I suspect her beliefs about “childhood obesity” are so strong that I wouldn’t be able to make a difference. Still, doesn’t it seem worth it to say something? After all, she’s caring for children at meal times all year round.
    Sadly, I’m afraid that if I say something, she’ll just judge me (I could lose 10 lbs.) and judge my daughter (not the skinny kid). Any ideas?

    • Nicole

      Oh, and I realize that I shouldn’t have called the woman, “extremely underweight.” Her body type is not for me to judge, it just suddenly seemed relevant to me and made me wonder if her own body issues are affecting my children. Sorry.