Lunchbox Packing as Competitive Sport?

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 8.53.28 AMIt’s only day four of my son’s new school year and I already feel a bit defeated by the whole lunchbox packing thing. I started off the week inspired by my favorite lunch-packing experts to try out some creative sandwich ideas, but so far these new offerings have come back virtually untouched.

Today’s lunch?  A rather sad-looking peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

In the old days, I might not have felt bad about this. But with the advent of social media it’s easy to feel inadequate when some parents out there take lunch-packing to incredible heights and then post daily photos of their handiwork on Facebook or Pinterest.

In a new article in U.S. News & World Report,Judgment Day: Lunchboxes Give Parents Another Reason to Compete,” reporter Kimberly Leonard digs deep into this issue and I was pleased to be one of her quoted sources.  My ultimate take:  you can tell pretty quickly when a parent or blogger’s posted lunch photo is intended to make other parents feel like losers, and when it’s shared in a generous spirit of education and encouragement.  (You can find bloggers and writers in the latter category by visiting the Lunchbox Packing tab on this blog’s Resources page.)

Take a look at Leonard’s piece and let me know what you think.  Do photos of beautiful lunches posted on social inspire you — or just make you feel like a failure?

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Military Leaders Urge Staying the Course on Healthier School Food

In 2008, a group of retired four-star generals, admirals and other senior military leaders banded together out of a growing concern that a significant segment of America’s youth are unfit to serve in the armed forces, presenting a serious long-term threat to our national security.  Now with over 450 members, Mission Readiness has since proven to be a credible, bipartisan voice on various issues relating to childhood obesity.

Back in 2011, before President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) into law, I shared here a two-part interview with retired Air Force General Norman Seip, who expressed the group’s strong support for that law’s school meal reforms.  But just three years later, the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the nation’s leading organization of school food professionals and a past supporter of the HHFKA, is now working hard to persuade Congress to gut many of the law’s key provisions. Specifically, the SNA is seeking to weaken a requirement that all grain foods served in school meals be “whole grain rich,” that sodium levels be further reduced and that kids are actually served fruits and vegetables instead of being able to pass them by on the lunch line.

Mission Readiness report retreat not an optionAlthough it never overtly names the SNA, Mission Readiness is now fighting back against this assault on healthier school meals in a report issued last week, “Retreat is Not an Option.” After sharing some alarming statistics about the unfitness of both potential military recruits and a significant portion of those already in the military, Mission Readiness argues that “[w]ith children consuming up to half of their daily calories while at school and out of sight of their parents, schools should be a focal point in the nation’s effort to combat childhood obesity.”  To that end, the organization urges that Congress stay the course on healthier school food standards.  Its report states:

We understand that some schools need additional support to help meet the updated standards, such as better equipment and more staff training, and that support should be provided. At the same time, moving forward with implementation of the standards for all schools is paramount. Students depend on schools to reinforce efforts by parents and communities to put them on track for healthy and productive lives. Healthy school meals and snacks are a vital part of that effort. When it comes to children’s health and our national security, retreat is not an option.

On a related note, earlier this month the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kids Safe and Healthful Foods Project released the results of a poll which found that parents of school-aged children also overwhelmingly support the improved school meal standards.

But will the support of parents and retired military leaders be enough to overcome the significant influence of the SNA in Congress as we approach the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization?  Unfortunately, supporting healthier school food with training, equipment and funding is a harder road than simply rolling back standards.  But the long term health of our kids — and our national security – depends on it.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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A Mom Says, Just Leave the Snacks at Home!

A few months ago, I shared on Facebook and Twitter a terrific piece in Parents magazine about how today’s kids are being offered food more often than ever before.  Written by Real Mom Nutrition‘s Sally Kuzemchak, “The Snack Epidemic” reported that:

In the late 1970s, the average kid between the ages of 2 and 6 ate one snack a day between meals, but today kids typically eat almost three . . . .  Obesity experts now believe that the frequency of eating, not just bigger portion sizes, is also to blame for the uptick in calorie intake for kids and grown-ups alike.

Potato chipsI think these findings jibe with the observations of many parents.  Even those of us who get annoyed when our kids are offered junk food by others might admit to engaging in some “over-snacking” ourselves, such as always carrying around a packaged snack (healthy or otherwise) to ward off crankiness or boredom — but not necessarily hunger — when we’re out with our kids.

In light of all that, today I’m sharing this post by blogger Karen Perry, urging parents to take kids to the playground without bringing any snacks along at all!   Radical!  

While Perry believes kids need to work up a healthy appetite before meals, she’s really arguing for a return to a time when kids were less hovered over by parents generally.  (And given that thesis, it’s no surprise that I learned of Perry’s post via Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, to whom I owe a hat tip.)

What do you think of all this, TLTers?  Do you agree that kids are “over-snacked,” even when the offerings are healthful ones?  Or do you think frequent eating is no big deal?  Let me know in a comment below.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 8,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Health Through Stealth? “The School Wellness Ninja”

I’ve written a lot on this blog (and, really, I mean, a LOT — see the “Related Posts” below) about classroom birthday treats, soccer snacks and the many other ways in which kids are offered junk food by people other than their parents on a regular basis.  Each individual episode would be no big deal for most of us, but over time we parents start to see how all of that junk food adds up and the deluge can feel overwhelming.

Bucking this trend can sometimes be hard, though, and many parents have reported getting a surprising amount of push-back from fellow parents, or recalcitrant principals, teachers or soccer coaches, when they’ve asked to improve the snacks and treats offered to their kids.  (Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition coined the excellent term “Snactivists” for parents who try to take this issue on, especially in the context of kids’ sports leagues.)

Courtesy of Don't Panic Mom
Adorable ninja dude courtesy of Don’t Panic Mom

So I was interested in this recent post from Alli Howe, blogger at Don’t Panic Mom, who suggests that instead of trying to change the status quo through overt activism, parents should just quietly set a good example for others to follow.  She writes:

You can help change the health culture of your child’s school without drama or flashing lights. . . .

The ninja approach is very effective when it comes to school wellness.

Don’t talk about your fruit tray. Just bring it in. When other parents and teachers see fruit coming in – they will take notice.

Don’t trash talk birthday cupcakes. Just bring in dancing music and glowsticks. (I want to go to that party.)

Don’t talk about carrot sticks as a healthy snacking option. Just send those crunchy beauties to the classroom.

I agree with Alli completely, and also note that she doesn’t advocate using the ninja approach to the exclusion of more active agitating by advocates like herself.  But I do have to point out that the ninja approach doesn’t address one problem, which is the expectations of our own children.

In my experience, when a classroom or school or sports team has a longstanding tradition of serving junk food snacks or birthday treats, it can be very hard to convince one’s own children to go along with bucking this trend.  Particularly as kids get older, peer pressure can be intense and  being the one kid who’s celebrating his birthday with a fruit tray when every other kid brings in neon-frosted cupcakes can be very difficult indeed.

Who can forget the angst in my own house when my son asked (OK, begged) me to bring in donuts for his 11th birthday last year (see “Food Free Birthdays Can Be Hard — Even for the Manifesto Lady“)? He and I stressed and tussled over that issue for days, and while we came to a mutually agreeable solution (thank you, Marvel Avengers!), that solution cost more money than sugary treats would have, and raised the various other concerns discussed in that post and its comment section.

So I applaud Alli’s stealth approach and hope that all of you will join her ninja squad.  (Clan? Gang?  What do you call a passel of ninjas, anyway?)  But I also feel (and, again, Alli makes this point, too), that we still need parent “activists” who are willing to get a little noisy with decision makers, as well as the sneaky ninjas.  In other words, we need to change the food culture from the top down, as well as from the bottom up.

What do you think, TLTers?  Let me know in a comment below.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 8,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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New Study: Parents Support Restrictions on The Marketing of Food to Kids

I’m catching up on news items from last week and wanted to share an important new study from The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity regarding how parents view food industry marketing practices targeted toward their children, a study which, according to the Rudd Center, is the first of its kind.

Surveying 2,454 parents with children aged 2 to 17, the Rudd Center found that:

Parents were as concerned about junk food marketing to children as they were about alcohol and tobacco use in the media. The surveyed parents were highly aware of the “pester power” of food marketing and its effects on their children’s food preferences.

Photo credit: Yale Rudd Center

The report also found relatively high parental support for a variety of policies to promote healthier eating among children, including some restrictions on the advertising of food to kids.  Specifically, the report found that:

The majority of parents surveyed . . . endorsed policies to restrict food marketing to children, with highest support for prohibiting advertising on school buses (69%) and requiring companies to fund advertising for healthy and unhealthy foods equally (68%). Parents also approved of regulations to limit specific types of unhealthy food marketing to children under 12, including advertising/sponsorships in schools (65%), mobile marketing (65%), TV commercials (63%), viral marketing (62%), and internet advertising (61%).

There is much more to be learned from this groundbreaking study, including the environmental factors parents cite most often as obstacles to healthy eating and analyses of the responses along ethnic and political lines.  The entire report is found here.

Given that food industry self-regulation in this area has been almost comically weak, and given how hard (and successfully) the industry lobbied last year against purely voluntary federal advertising guidelines, it’s clear that only political pressure from consumers and parents will bring about real reforms.  In quantifying parents’ views about these issues for the first time, the Rudd Center brings us a step closer to making those reforms a reality.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 4,500 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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A School Food Reform Site You Need to Know About: Rudd ‘Roots Parents

Recently I did some housekeeping on The Lunch Tray by dividing up my “blog roll” (the long list of links down and to the right) by topic, so if readers are specifically looking for help with family dinner or need sources for food policy information, they’ll know right where to go.

Within the important new category of “School Food Reform Resources for Parents,” there are two sites in particular that I want to be sure you know about.

The first of these is Parents, Educators, and Advocates Connection for Healthy School Food, aka PEACHSF.org.  That site is the brainchild of San Francisco school food reformer Dana Woldow, who generously shares with readers all she’s learned after ten years of working to improve school meals in her area.  I described that site in detail here when it debuted in early 2011.

Today I want to highlight the second of my favorite school food reform sites, Rudd ‘Roots Parents.

Created by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, Rudd ‘Roots was designed not only to help parents navigate the complex world of school food but also to link grassroots efforts around the country.  The site is truly comprehensive, not only covering all aspects of school food reform (including competitive food) but also related topics such as drafting a solid wellness policystarting a school garden, or dealing with teachers who hand out candy rewards.  For each of these topics the site provides helpful worksheets to get you ready to make change, checklists to monitor your progress, studies and resources to rely upon in defense of your position and local success stories that instruct and inspire.

The site was already a wonderful resource but I was excited to learn that it was getting a makeover this summer.  Here are some of the new features launched this fall:

  • A new message board which allows parents to gather information, ask questions, share experiences, and stay informed.
  • A Meatless Monday section describing the benefits of meat-free meals and ways to encourage a school or district to join the movement.
  • Media Resources to offer multimedia tools to help parents, including free access to Yale Rudd Center podcasts on everything from soda taxes to hunger in America.
  • Two new videos introducing ‘Rudd Roots and explaining how to use the site: Change School Food and Use Your Voice.

I had the pleasure of meeting with many folks at the Yale Rudd Center when I happened to be in New Haven last May.   I was so impressed by the commitment of this team to fighting for the kid/food causes most TLT readers care deeply about, and by their willingness to help parents in any way they can.

I hope you’ll keep both of these sites in mind as you tackle food issues in your own area, and please spread the word about them with likeminded friends.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 4,500 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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Does Parental Modeling Affect Kids’ Food Behavior? One Expert Says “No”

Not long after I started The Lunch Tray I told you about Dina Rose, the blogger behind It’s Not About Nutrition.  Dina’s a mom with a PhD in sociology from Duke University who teaches workshops and provides private counseling on kid and food issues, especially picky eating.

Dina’s latest post may raise some eyebrows.  In it, she takes on the conventional wisdom that kids will eventually grow to like vegetables (or fruits, or whatever the issue is) simply by seeing their parents eat and enjoy those foods.

Back when my second child would eat no vegetables at all (a situation that’s slowly but steadily improving), I used to cling to that notion like a life raft. And I did so in part because of my general agreement with Ellyn Satter, another kid-and-food expert, who believes that giving speeches about the healthful properties of vegetables creates pressure on kids that will inevitably backfire.  According to Satter, it’s only your modeling (along with a pressure-free environment and the passage time) that will lead to improved eating habits.

But apparently Dina thinks this idea is misguided:

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t model good eating habits—it’s definitely a good idea for your kids to see you eat an apple every now and then—but I am suggesting that modeling alone won’t get you where you want to go.

Imagine being told that the best way to teach your kids to get dressed is to let them “catch” you wearing clothes.

She then gives a lot of reasons why the modeling theory may be flawed and concludes with a most un-Satter-like proposition:   what parents say about food and food choices carries more weight than what parents do.

If you have a few minutes, take a look at Dina’s post and then leave a comment below.  I’m very curious to hear what TLT readers think about this issue.