There are many different ideas on how to maintain a healthy diet. After consulting many of the leading research out there, I am convinced that we need to rethink how we view food. A number of the past nutritional guidelines have proven to be detrimental. For instance, I was raised with the “food Pyramid” that looked like this:
As you can see, this shows that the bulk of our nutrition should come from the “Bread, Cereal, Rice, & Pasta Group”. We now know that this group is loaded with carbohydrates. Although carbohydrates give us energy, it can be detrimental if we do not burn off that energy. If you are working a labor intensive job, like construction or farming, this would be great. But, as we have moved to a more service-centered nation, we are spending more time at desks and less time doing labor intensive tasks. This leads to weight gain and obesity, which has become an epidemic in our nation.
This model was also based on 3 large meals a day. Diseases, like diabetes, are on the rise and affect a growing number of Americans each year. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes “kills more Americans each year than AIDS and breast cancer combined” (http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/infographics/fcf-001-the-diabetes-epidemic.html, retrieved 5/23/2018). The statistics are astounding! The latest data is from 2015. Here are just a few quotes from the American Diabetes Association (http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/statistics/, retrieved 5/23/2018):
- “In 2015, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the population, had diabetes.”
- “5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year.”
- “In 2015, 84.1 million Americans age 18 and older had ”
“The rates of diagnosed diabetes in adults by race / ethnic background are:
- 4% of non-Hispanic whites
- 0% of Asian Americans
- 1% of Hispanics
- 7% of non-Hispanic blacks
- 1% of American Indians/Alaskan Natives”
These numbers are almost identical to the 2016 statistics provided by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC states “More than 29 million Americans are living with diabetes, and 86 million are living with prediabetes, a serious health condition that increases a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.” (https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/aag/diabetes.htm, retrieved 5/23/2018).
The scariest part of this epidemic is that the CDC claims that “without major changes, as many as 1 in 3 U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050.” (CDC, Number of Americans with Diabetes Projected to Double or Triple by 2050, https://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2010/r101022.html, retrieved 1/26/2019). As if the complications of diabetes weren’t enough, there are the financial costs. “Care for people with diagnosed diabetes accounts for 1 in 4 health care dollars in the U.S.” (US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, American Diabetes Association, Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29567642, retrieved 1/26/2019). That is way too much time, energy, money, and especially emotional cost for a disease that can be prevented.
These are staggering number by anyone’s standards, especially when we know that Type 2 diabetes can be prevented through diet and exercise. As a person with a number of diabetics in my family, I have spoken with a number of nutritionists and medical professionals. Every one of them has advised eating 6 smaller meals each day, about every 3 hours. This has been explained to me as a way to maintain glycemic levels at a more constant level throughout the day to prevent sharp increases following a large meal, then followed by a sharp crash hours after that meal.
If adults with diabetes should eat 6 small meals a day, shouldn’t we teach that to our children? Maybe we can stop the spread of this epidemic of diabetes into our next generation. Wouldn’t it be nice if our children grew up without the threat of diabetes, heart disease, blindness, and amputations? Wouldn’t it be great if our children could benefit from our current knowledge of this disease and they did not have to tackle this epidemic?
That is why I believe that we change tomorrow by changing what we teach children about health and nutrition today. This needs to start in kindergarten. It would make meal times simpler to deal with.
According to my plan for an overhaul of our primary and secondary education system, detailed in Educating For Success, our schools would typically be open from 6am to 8pm. Meals would start at 8am and a typical school day would have meals at 8am, 10am, noon, 2pm, 4pm, and 6pm. The children would not be there for that entire time. But the child would get at least 3 – 4 meals during the time he or she is in school for that day.
Many would say that this would be extremely expensive. On the contrary, it would be very economical because of the manner in which these “meals” would occur. We have to rethink what constitutes a “meal”. A meal does not need to be an entrée, 3 sides, and milk. A meal can be ½ cup of yogurt and 1 TBSP of granola. Take a typical school lunch menu for one day. They may provide cold cereal, graham crackers, craisins, juice, and milk for the breakfast and chicken nuggets, potato rounds, baked beans, juice, 2 condiments, and milk for lunch. Let’s divide these same items up and provide them throughout the day. It would look like this:
8am cold cereal and milk
10 am graham crackers and juice
Noon chicken nuggets and potato rounds, with milk
2pm baked beans and juice
4pm craisins and water
6pm chicken nuggets and potato rounds, with milk
We will not be starving our children for 4 hours, then feed them a big meal that will make them sleepy during the afternoon classes. Instead we will be providing smaller amounts of nutritious food to stave off hunger, yet not stuff our children into sleepy zombie mode. Yeah, laugh at the “sleepy zombie mode”, but you know exactly what I am talking about. When you eat so much that you just want a nap and have problems concentrating because you are so sleepy.
We can provide smaller nuggets of nutrition more often throughout the day, teaching our children that “meals” are not meant to be feasts, but are designed to fuel us for the following 2 – 3 hours. This is an incredibly healthy routine to get our children into. Even when they move from school into the workplace, they will be able to continue this practice because most jobs allow employees to have a snack at their desks. Remember these are not time consuming “meals”. These are quick and easy refueling moments.
In the new and improved Every Child Succeeds classroom, this works out even better. As I described in that plan, there would be approximately 50 – 60 students per double-sized classroom, with approximately 3 supervisors (teachers). However, the students are there during different, flexible times and the supervisors have staggered shifts. About 5 minutes before the “meal” time, a supervisor assigns 2 students to go to the kitchen to get the “meal” and dishes. The two students come back with a cart that has bowls, spoons, glasses, industrial sized containers of cereal, an industrial size milk dispenser, and a tub for the “served, but uneaten” leftovers.
The children would line up, grab a bowl, dispense one serving of cereal, grab a spoon, and get one glass (filled with milk by the supervisor), and head back to his or her seat. After about 10 minutes after the last child sat down, the supervisor advises the students to bring their dishes back to the center table, where the supervisors and older students take the dishes and stack them in the “dirty” bins. Then 2 students are chosen to return the cart(s) back to the kitchen.
The process would repeat about 2 hours later, except there would be 2 different student helpers and they would be bringing small plates, glasses, graham crackers, a juice dispenser, and a tub for “dirty dishes”. In a class of 60 students, 6 meals per day (30 per week), each student would be a helper to get the meal cart and to return the meal cart at least once a week. Remembering how things were when I was in school, the students would be excited to be honored with this type of chore because they get to see the “magic” of the kitchen, receive “please” and “thank you” pleasantries from their peers, and be able to contribute to the school community. Children typically love helping, as long as we give them the opportunity to prove they are no longer babies.
These Healthy Children meals teach our children healthier eating habits and remind them that mealtime is a time to commune with those around you, to serve and be served, to exchange pleasantries, and promote community cohesiveness. By working together to clean up, we teach them that we all win when we take turns serving each other, rather than serving only ourselves.
Healthy Children meals teach our children about proper portion size, diversity in meals, and community service. Not only would we be using meal times to provide nutrition for their bodies, but also nutrition for their minds, hearts, and souls.