Advice From the Trenches

Advice from the Trenches: Learning to Love Sugar

sugarDear C:

I read an article on diabetes in the last issue of Motif that really got me thinking. My son goes to a school that feeds the kids breakfast in the classroom every day. He can’t avoid it; not that he wants to. You wouldn’t believe what they give these kids! Everything is packaged and full of sugar, except for the occasional piece of fruit. And then they ask these tiny little people to sit still for hours! It’s infuriating.
There is a national concern about overweight kids, but in the schools, where kids learn habits that could last a lifetime, they are shoving nothing but sugar at them in a school breakfast program.
Is there anything I can do?
Mad Hattie
Dear Hattie,
I feel your pain. I do believe there’s enough scientific evidence regarding the health dangers and addictive qualities of sugar that school administrators should have better sense. But the fact is, the funds available for free breakfast programs are meager, and it seems much easier  to do what is fast and cheap. A little research could turn up some comparably priced whole food options,  but low-income schools are overburdened with problems and have inadequate budgets. They are not likely to give the sugar issue priority. If you want the breakfast program to be better, you are going to have to do more than complain about it.
There’s several approaches you could take. If you want to be immediate, you could send a breakfast you’ve made yourself in with your son and tell administrators that your doctor discovered a food allergy and your son could have a seizure if he doesn’t stay away from sugar and food additives. Unfortunately, this could also embarrass your kid, and he might trade with a friend. Giving your son his own lunch also doesn’t solve the problem for any of his classmates.
A better approach might be to take it upon yourself to find out who does the meal planning for the breakfast program and ask why they have made the choices they have. Some people don’t know any better and don’t even read labels. If their budget is the big problem and they are willing but don’t feel that they can afford better nutrition, see if you can find healthy alternatives for them. You’ve got a computer — if you take the time, you can find solutions.
The fact is, it’s not always cheaper to turn to sugary processed food. Oatmeal is far cheaper than prepared box cereal, and cooked oatmeal with fruit is delicious, sugar-free and has tons of protein. If prep time and cooking facilities are an impossible dream, instant can be made with nothing but hot water, using disposable paper cups. Quaker makes a blueberry instant oatmeal that is very low in sugar. Even if cold cereal is the only option, read the labels! Gluten-free Cheerios have almost no sugar, while Captain Crunch is sweeter than some cookies. If you want to go a step further, with some volunteer effort you may be able to add nutritious cooked food to the mix. Low income working parents seldom have time to help out, but grandparents do. Grannies often yearn to feel useful and it’s actually good for their health and mental well-being to feel they are making a contribution. Maybe you could get seniors from the community involved.
These are just a few thoughts. The point is, that if you don’t do something, no one else will. If this is important to you, and it should be, then don’t let poor nutrition thrive by remaining silent. The administrators of our schools need to realize that whatever they save on their food budget for breakfast is going to be swallowed by the repercussions these kids will face later on. Childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes are reaching epidemic proportions, and the cost to our society adds up to millions of dollars a year.
This is important work you could do to help improve the future of health in America. Don’t wait for change … create change. It’s the only way change will ever happen.