Last week I took a whole group of teenage girls on a tour of a residential eating disorder clinic here in L.A. We were very privileged to be able to meet with Dr. Patricia Pitts, who is a nationally recognized expert in the field of eating disorders. She gave us quite a bit of her time, and her concern. It was really enlightening to learn more about these conditions that affect so many, many girls (and a rising number of boys). It was also alarming to hear the list of 'red flag' warnings for disordered eating, tendencies toward unhealthy attitudes about eating and food. I think the girls learned a lot. When it was Q&A time, one of our teens even got teary and asked for advice about how to help a friend on her soccer team that she and others have been very worried about. It was depressing to learn that kids think it is 'uncool' to eat lunch at school. Not to eat the school's lunch, but to eat lunch. I am disturbed by this in particular, and was shocked when Lyndsay brought this information to my attention. "Well," I said, "I guess you'll be uncool right from the get-go then. You're eating."
Dr. Pitts agreed. This is tragic! And here are more things that alarm me: Classes are 90 minutes long, but there is only one break for eating and that is 30 minutes long. By the time you get to the cafeteria, and if you have to buy school lunch, the lines are so long that kids at the end don't get their food, and many more simply just don't want to bother, so they go without. I'm sure many of these kids skipped breakfast too. On top of that, many teachers arrange for lunch meetings or lunch detention, or lunch-time club meetings. . .none of which actually involve lunch. Just the 30 minutes allotted for the eating of it.
Now, if you understand anything about metabolism and how the body works, this sets up our youth for disaster! And then we strum our fingers together about the childhood obesity epidemic. The body needs regular, high-quality fuel. Especially to think and learn! (And to participate in P.E. which is a whole other soapbox I have. . .we cut the arts, but we keep P.E.? And this is really helping our health as a nation? Really?) I digress. Eating regularly keeps the metabolism in operating condition. It burns away, humming happily. As soon as food doesn't show up, it almost immediately slows down. That means you're not burning calories the way you should. So, when you eat again, not only are your blood sugars so low and your brain starving for nutrients, your body thinks it's in starvation mode, so it begins to store what you eat (which in that crisis mode was most likely a quick, not-so-healthy-pick-me-up) as fat. Just in case. You can eat (and teens should eat between 2000-3000 calories a day, depending on if you're a girl or boy and your physical makeup), say 2500 calories, spread throughout the day and even lose weight because your metabolism is working optimally. But if you eat those same 2500 calories in a lump sum binge at the end of the day in the form of McDonald's and junk food and snacks because you're so hungry, you will gain weight.
So, I have a huge problem with lunch being 'uncool' at school, in this nation of illiterate and overweight children that we live in. Can't we educate and change the stigma? Well, Dr. Pitts encouraged the girls to do just that, and she promised to back us and to do whatever we needed her or her clinics to do to help raise awareness. That is cool. I guess I start with making sure that my children leave this house with a healthy breakfast that will jump-start their metabolisms so that they can be thinking and learning optimally. And I start with making sure that they have high-quality lunches, lots of water, and nutritious snacks. Nutrition for building healthy little bodies has always been a topic of interest to me, so from time to time, I thought I'd share some of my favorite breakfasts for the kids before they leave for school. I always want to make sure they have high fiber and protein. And it has to be fairly easy and quick. Cause I'm busy.
This is Fruit and Yogurt Waffles. Just like it sounds. Very rarely do I have time on a school morning to make homemade waffles, as I prefer, but I buy whole grain frozen waffles, toast two up, spread with vanilla (or strawberry, or whatever kind) yogurt, and top with mandarin oranges (or peaches, or berries, or whatever). Super easy. Super good.
And then, here's our snack mix. Because I teach piano lessons after school, it's hard to make sure the kids have a healthy snack to tide them over to dinner. So I got this great idea (that I'm sure is not original) to make a huge trail mix and then I add 2/3 cup of it in a Zip-loc to their lunches to eat on the way home, or once they get home. They have enough other food in their lunches that they don't need it at school (though they're welcome to eat it if they want), and it's the perfect munchy for homework time. And it's already done when their lunches are packed, so it saves me time.
Here's what we put in ours:
whole grain goldfish
(and usually choc. covered raisins, but not this time)
You can tailor it to suit your tastes, but the main thing is to get nuts and fruit into it, with only a touch of something candy-ish. The kids love it.
Tell me some of your family's favorites too! I'm really good at collecting other people's great ideas!