Random Thoughts – Randocity!

How important is nutrition education in Schools?

Posted in food, Health, nutrition, school by commorancy on January 3, 2019

Stalks2Happy New Year, Randocity Readers! Welcome to the first post of 2019. Here’s a topic that’s been boiling for quite some time, but never quite mashed it into a written article. With the new year comes resolutions. Considering this is typically a new year resolution, it’s the perfect time to roll this article out. This topic is something I think that public schools and even colleges need to rethink. Let’s explore.

Growing Up, Food Choices and School

One of the things that more or less caused me lots of angst throughout grade school (and even into college), as I now reflect on it, was the lack of mandated nutrition education. I grew up in Houston and went to public school there and later went to college up state. At the time I was in grade school, I obviously didn’t know any better about nutrition and wouldn’t have challenged the ‘establishment’ even if I did. No, I was clearly in the dark on this topic.

One thing that I can definitively say about Houston ISD was its serious lack of food education. While there were classes available like Home Economics, these classes were far less about nutrition and more about how to prepare a meal and not burn it and not cut yourself. You know, the logistics of using pots and pans, cooking in the oven, using a blender or food processor, time budgeting and how to handle kitchen cutlery safely. As I said, logistics. While these are incredibly valuable kitchen safety and functionality education conversations, they have nothing whatever to do with smart food choices or in understanding healthy nutrition.

No, there was no such class available in elementary, junior high (now called “middle school”) or even high school. In fact, the cafeteria’s food choices served to the kids was actually some of the worst, least nutritional meals I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. They were edible, yes, but just barely.

Not only was the school remiss in teaching proper food education, the school entirely failed in feeding the students a proper meal that would aid in the nutrition learning process… which is really the most important part of any nutrition program. If you’re falling asleep in class because you ate the wrong foods, then perhaps it’s important to teach better food choices to avoid this outcome?

Unhealthy Choices

Before I dive deeper, let’s talk about the weird food choices from my school’s cafeteria. While I don’t recall exact meals served in my elementary school, I do recall the pints of milk that nearly every student bought and drank each day… sometimes two. Mostly I missed what was served each day due to the fact that I rarely bought a meal from the cafeteria. My parents packed me a lunch each day. However, what the cafeteria served was one from a set menu each day. One day might be pizza, another day might be hamburger and another might be Salisbury steak. If they served any fruit with the lunch, it was usually in the form of Jello. Oh, how I hated the school’s Jello. For whatever reason, it always had a very hard top “crust” that formed on the Jello that resembled more of chewing on rubber than a food product. Horrible.

As I said, I thankfully missed much of that nutritionally deficient and poor quality food fare as I rarely bought food from the cafeteria. Throughout elementary school, my parents made and packed my lunch in lunch box or bag and I would only purchase a pint of milk to have something to drink with my lunch.

When I did rarely eat a meal at the elementary school cafeteria, pretty much any meal served was either way overcooked, under cooked or simply tasted like a really bad 70s frozen TV dinner. I recall that the food mostly tasted of cardboard (little flavor from that grade C or D food). There was absolutely no care in the quality or the nutritional value of the food. It was simply supplied to “feed” the kids and, hopefully, get them through the rest of the day (at the cheapest cost possible).

It’s not that my bagged lunch was so much better, though. I mean, how many days in a row can you eat a bologna and cheese sandwich, some chips and/or maybe an apple or banana? Yep, that’s pretty much what my parents packed… that or peanut butter and jelly. It was a meal that needed to withstand no refrigeration. By the time we were ready to eat lunch, it was room temperature and was, well, not that tasty.

It was definitely a meal that left me wanting. Peanut Butter and Jelly offered its own share of problems, such as solid sustenance. Peanut butter is tasty enough, but it’s no where near filling enough to substitute for actual protein. The Jelly is just glorified fruit sugar. Jelly simply gave you a sugar high that would eventually drop so low as to make you tired and sleepy. Peanut butter and jelly was, in fact, one of the worst meals I could have eaten. I’m not necessarily speaking for others, but for me that meal didn’t work out. Thankfully, I almost always got lunch meat on a sandwich. Better, but obviously not best. It was almost always a sandwich so they wouldn’t have to pack silverware or containers. Occasionally, they might use the thermos in my lunch box to pack some soup, but that also lacked in being filling as PB&J… mostly because it was usually Campbell’s soup.

I don’t fault my parents as they really didn’t know better. Their food education throughout their schooling was as poor for them as it was for me. They made these food choices for us kids even though it wasn’t always the smartest of choices. It was mostly out of cost value or convenience (read speed). I can certainly understand them not wanting wake up two or more hours early to prepare cooked meals for us, then still be required to go to work later. I get it. But it also meant nutrition that didn’t fulfill our nutritional requirements. The cafeteria meals were hot and cooked, but not always that fresh or tasty. Either meal type left me wanting.

Middle and High School

As I moved into junior high and high school, my stance on nutrition only got marginally better. What I mean by that is that in junior high, I ate most of my meals by buying a cafeteria lunch. I rarely brought in bag lunches at this point. I guess, my parents were tired of having to make a meal every day and I was certainly tired of eating nearly the same sandwich every single day. So, I began buying meals at the cafeteria. Not the best choice I could have made in hindsight, but I definitely remember these meals.

These cafeteria meals consisted of a poor quality protein, including fried chicken, chicken fried steak and gravy, pizza (very, very bad pizza), spaghetti, Salisbury steak, hamburger (tasted like it was frozen) and other similarly horrible entrees. Everything served tasted as if it had been frozen solid an hour before. Our rectangular 4 or 5 compartment trays would also be fitted with a horribly overcooked and/or canned side dishes (i.e., green beans, corn, peas, etc) and a desert (Jello, ambrosia, carrot raisin salad, etc). Sometimes one of the tray slots would be filled with bread. The choices and food combinations were questionable, but always predictably the same. Because the school lunch program published its monthly meal schedule in advance, you could avoid the days when the worst foods were served… which was pretty much every day.

As I moved into High School, the whole lunch food dynamic changed for my first 1.5 years (before the school moved to a new location). Because my high school had no cafeteria at all when I started as a freshman, we had to fend for ourselves at lunch. Yeah, I know, it’s weird. Because of this dilemma at the school, a few of the faculty took it upon themselves to run to Del Taco or some other fast food place and buy a bunch of burritos or hamburgers, bring them back and sell them to us. I’d occasionally used this option when I didn’t have much time between classes. Again, nutrition was a second thought. It was less about feeding the kids a proper meal and more about getting the kids fed. It’s that cattle mentality.

Thankfully, our school campus overlapped with part of Houston Community College’s campus. Because HCC had a culinary program (such that it was), the students were tasked with operating an eatery and, thus, there was a school operated cafeteria on the top floor of their classroom building. Occasionally, I would end up there to eat lunch and, I will say, for the first time I had a reasonable quality and tasty lunch. It was probably even somewhat nutritious as they had a salad bar that I occasionally used. The bar was expensive because it was “by the pound”, but the ingredients were always freshly made and tasty. For me, it was a treat to eat this kind of food for lunch rather than burritos.

The last half of my high school years, the school had moved out of that facility and into a “new” building. I put that in quotes because while it was “new” it was horribly lacking in design and it was incredibly small for a high school building. I’m not sure what HISD was thinking when they designed it. I digress.

Anyway, we were again dependent on HISD to provide us with meals. This basically meant, we had to fend for ourselves because, once again, the food was total garbage. Instead of the cafeteria where you ask them to plate foods from a buffet bar, this was a walk up window and there was a fixed menu. One day it might be hamburgers, another day it might be pizza and another day who knows what crappy concoction they would sell us. The food was horrible, salty, sugary and greasy all at the same time. Yet, that’s what they served us at a similar (or sometimes higher) price to McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Del Taco or Wendy’s. In fact, because we had been so spoiled by being allowed to leave the campus for lunch during those 1.5 years at the older campus, we still took the opportunity to leave the campus to go get lunch. However, many of us ended up over at 7-Eleven because it was on the next block over and we could walk there and back in less than 10 minutes on our strict 30 allotted minutes. Fast food places required hopping into a car and driving for at least 5-10 minutes in addition to waiting on the order during a busy noon lunch crowd. You ended up eating your meal in the car on the way back because you had maybe 5 minutes to eat it if you waited until you got back.

None of these were terribly smart food choices, but this is what choices we had as students. Choices that could have been made better if we had had some nutrition classes to teach us better eating habits and had had better food choices served to us in the cafeteria. Or better, offer the students (at least in junior high on up) a real kitchen facility with microwaves to allow us to make our own lunches and offer up a fridge system to store our lunches until lunch time so the lunches aren’t sitting out for 4 hours without refrigeration.

Junk Food, Candy and Time Management

Candy bars, soda and generally sugary junk foods were common staples in my lunchroom beginning in junior high (7th grade). This was in addition to vending machines… which you couldn’t use during lunch because we were captive in the lunch room (doors were basically locked) and the vending machines were in the hall a fair distance away. If you managed to walk buy one during class exchange, you could buy and stock up before lunch, leaving it in your locker. If you did leave the lunchroom to go to the vending machine and were caught, you got detention.

In junior high, there was the cafeteria line which served “hot meals” on trays with very long lines, but there was also a concession booth in the back of the lunchroom that served foods like hot dogs, candy bars, chips, soda, granola bars, gum, candy with a much, much shorter line. It was basically the prepared stuff you’d find at a 7-Eleven or at a movie theater (minus popcorn).

Why is this important? During junior high school, the lunch line was so long, if you weren’t at the lunch room early, you’d be waiting to get your meal for upwards to 25 minutes in a very long line. The cafeteria workers were incredibly slow and it took even longer to pay for your meal due to the “meal program” slowness. Because the lunch lasted 30 minutes on the dot, that meant 5 minutes or less to woof down your meal.

This is an important point. Having enough time to eat a meal is just as important as the food that’s being served. The school didn’t care that it took students upwards to 25 minutes simply to buy their meal. Woofing down a meal in 5 minutes doesn’t offer enough time to properly chew your food. It just doesn’t work. Again, naïve school administration. It wasn’t my fault that my class was the farthest away from the lunchroom and let out last, yet I was constantly penalized with excessively short amounts of time to eat my meal if I chose to buy a meal from the line.

This meant three choices: bring your lunch, 5 minutes to eat or junk food available almost immediately. There were many times were I opted for the junk food so I could at least have 15-20 minutes to sit down and relax before the next class. It wasn’t the greatest choice, but it was “the lesser of those evils.” Junior high school ultimately taught me how to eat fast AND eat junk, but never eat nutritiously.

When I got to high school, the high school’s lunch window (toward the latter half of my time there) sold both a combination of meals and junk food. You made the choice when you got to the window. Because this window wasn’t part of the “official” HISD lunch program, you’d only find out what was being served the day of. This meant asking when you got to the window and then making a choice to buy or not. If you chose not, then you’d have to leave the campus and find a meal elsewhere. Believe me, the “meals” being served from that cafeteria window were some of the most questionable I’d ever had in school. Not only was the food expensive, it was simply horrible quality food. I walked away empty handed and ended up at 7-Eleven far too much of the time. Ultimately, it was trading one bad choice for another. But, at least it was something I could eat.

However, because of lunch period time constraints, sometimes there was no choice. As an example, one of the “meals” my high school lunch window regularly served (more than twice a week) was a Frito Pie. You know, pouring chili over the top of Fritos and topping it with cheese and onions. Yeah, such great nutrition there, if you consider salt, carbs and grease as nutritious. If you wanted fruit or salad, I can’t recall them ever selling that. Because these healthier choices of foods are more perishable than canned, frozen and bagged items, they didn’t want to keep it in the kitchen. Oh, how I longed for the days of the HCC cafeteria. In fact one or two times I decided to drive over there and eat instead. It wasn’t that far from the new school, but it was a hassle to leave and make it back on time. Instead, I’d usually make my way to 7-Eleven to their cold case and buy something prepackaged or to get a piece of fruit. Even then, towards my final year, the school office was trying to enforce not leaving the campus at lunch time. There’s no way that was not going to happen. Many of us still left to picked up lunch from 7-Eleven or McDonald’s or Wendy’s… just try and stop me.

In my senior year, one of the stickler academic instructors tried to hassle me one day for going to 7-Eleven. I simply told them I was on an errand for another instructor, which was a common request. He had to shut up and go away. Thankfully, it was my senior year and I could finally get away from that crap food.

Nutrition Education

The problem with public schools is that while they do a decent job at teaching the academic basics of history, math, biology and general science, schools typically neglect food science and fail to embrace the holistic idea of how food acts on the body. Students might learn about this topic if they happen to have parents who work in that profession, but many won’t learn it from school… which means most students didn’t learn it during my time in school. Today, schools may have added some nutrition classes, but I kinda doubt they’re where they need to be… teaching only the barebones basics and still serving questionable quality meals.

The closest that schools came to nutrition education at the time I was there was Home Economics (or whatever they might be calling it today). Home Economics is less about food and nutrition and more about the logistics of navigating a kitchen safely, knife handling, food prep, using kitchen appliances and timing of cooking so that all of the food lands on a plate at or close to the same time. It might have even included a discussion on budget shopping. That’s not nutrition, that’s logistics.

Basically, I learned nothing about food or nutrition until into my late-30s. I learned about it on my own slowly, which allowed me to better understand some of the problems I was experiencing to better my own quality of life through better food choices. To some degree, I still struggle with this only because of the lack of formal education around food and nutrition, thanks mostly to the lack of public education in teaching this important knowledge area.

Unfortunately, I moved from one type of “school” to effectively another when I took my first job at a theme park. Because the food being served there was only marginally better than my school’s food, I still didn’t learn about food and nutrition while working there. The food choices there were also questionable… and mostly consisted of a hamburger and fries. The park simply didn’t treat nutrition as anything important. It was more important to serve foods that people liked instead of supporting healthy nutritious choices. As employees, we had to suffer through with that food rationale geared towards park guests.

As employees, we also had no kitchen or fridge facilities to store our foods. If you wanted to bring something from home, you had to bring a small cooler yourself and then find a place to store it. Coolers only marginally worked because of the high outside temperatures during summer. For folks who worked in food service, they might be able to store a brought lunch in their restaurant’s fridge if the manager allowed it. That was only a perk for those specific workers. The general staff was offered no such kitchen facility when there was plenty of park space to build and offer such a lunchroom location.

Food is Energy

It’s clear, food is the energy needed to keep the body working. As they say, “You are what you eat.” That is a fairly accurate statement. Food is about balanced nutrition including balancing carbohydrates, proteins and fats in combination with vitamins and minerals. It’s also about understanding which foods contain which vitamins and minerals and understanding which specific foods fall under carbohydrates, fats and proteins by eyeing the food. For example, a hamburger patty is both fat and protein with very little carbs. A hamburger bun is almost all carbs with some fats. When you add vegetables, such as tomatoes and onions, this is primarily where vitamins and minerals come in.

Candy bars are primarily sugar and fats with a bunch of fillers, flavors and cocoa.

It’s really easy to write this now only because I’ve come to understand what is what. But, when you’re 5-18 years old, you don’t learn this. Like a foreign language, students learn best during these early years. Why this information is not imparted to children at that age just doesn’t make sense.

If I had been taught nutrition during my early school years, I could have moved into my 20s much more informed, with a healthier weight and ultimately made better food and nutrition choices during college years. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Nutrition Classes

Nutrition is not a hard topic to grasp the basics. For example, understanding the Nutrition Facts label, understanding how to read an ingredient label and understanding what foods fall into which category (fats, carbs, protein) is actually mostly easy today, thanks to the standardized nutrition labeling requirements.

I guess schools thought that the Nutrition Facts label was so simple to understand that there’s no need to teach anything. Well, that’s not true. There are plenty of gotchas when reading a Nutrition Facts label. Sometimes it’s not about what’s on the label, it’s what’s missing from the label, such as food combinations.

Also, it’s quite important to offer sufficient time to consume the food in combination with supplying fresh, high quality meals is what would help the students to perform their best. For a timing example, the short 30 minutes offered to eat lunch in the cafeteria and the 10-15 minutes to woof down breakfast during the first class of the day. Teaching kids to eat fast is not a smart choice. Eating smart and chewing it properly is the smarter choice. As an example, sweet laden breakfasts causes the body to fight against sleepytime as insulin crashes because of the 150g of carbs during breakfast or lunch. This is why understanding smart nutrition is so important… such as how the foods act on the body.

For those students who have diabetes or require special dietary needs, these students become well versed in what to eat and what not to eat because of severe health consequences. Though, temptation is always there, there are severe consequences if they cheat. Kids with diabetes or food allergies learn these consequences early. Why does it take this level of consequence for kids to learn? Why can’t this type of information make its way to the general population of students? Setting up a nutrition class is not that hard to design, but it does require funding by the school. I guess schools just don’t feel that this level of nutrition education is important. It’s a short-sighted point by the schools.

Equipping our Kids for Success

Giving our kids every opportunity to succeed in life should be the goal of every school. Yet, withholding such vital information as how to eat properly in a world full of bad food choices simply doesn’t make any sense.

We teach students about such things as history to help prevent history repeating itself, yet we give students no tools to help manage food, nutrition and their body. Food can make or break the body. As a child, the body is very resilient to the fillers and chemicals placed into junk food. As we age, the body becomes less tolerant to these. This means that as our kids move into becoming young adults, then adults, many will forever struggle with weight issues and food related health problems… because they were given no tools in school.

By failing to equip our students to identify and avoid problematic foods, we are leading some of our kids down a path that will fail them. Knowing history, math, biology and science is great, but it doesn’t fully equip our kids to survive in the world, particularly when it comes to food choices.

Kids need to learn to make smart food choices in elementary school. They need to understand the difference between eating green beans or a salad over mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. They may not like green beans or salad, but they need to understand the positive benefits they could experience by eating them. Kids that age may not want to explore foods like these that early, but with a proper class, we could entice kids to want to explore these foods and become excited over them. This is the benefit of offering food choices and nutrition classes.

Bullying, Obesity and Kids

Much of the reason kids bully one another due to body weight issues. It might be that the kid is too thin and lanky, but it’s just as likely they’ll be overweight or even obese. Thin or fat are two sides of the same coin, usually resulting from improper relationships with food and simply not understanding nutrition. Being overly thin could be a metabolism thing, but it might also be the food choices. Being obese is also a metabolism problem in relation to food choices.

Weight loss or gain starts in the kitchen. The body needs proper nutrition based on the body type. If you’re predisposed to gaining weight, then that requires a different course of action with food than if you’re thin trying to gain weight. It’s all about tailored nutrition.

As I said above, the young body bounces back easily even when the wrong foods are being eaten. This is why kids can be both overweight and still be considered ‘healthy’. At that point, it would be considered a degree of health. Healthy isn’t simply a specific number. There’s variation between levels of health. You can fall under healthy with medical tests, but still feel awful, have aches and pains, sleep poorly and generally feel crappy overall. That’s a degree of unhealthy. Even kids can suffer from this problem.

Growing up, I couldn’t sleep more than 5-6 hours at a time. That wasn’t a sleeping behavior problem alone. That was a food and nutrition problem. When I eat properly at the proper times during the day, I can sleep for up to 8 hours, but generally hit the 7 hour mark before waking. I still struggle with proper nutrition. Today, that’s less about naïvety than time constraints.

It’s also important to understand moderation and variety in food consumption. Eating the same food day in and out may be tasty, particularly if the food is Pizza or Mac and Cheese, but that doesn’t make it a healthy food habit. It’s easy to become deficient in nutrition if you’re not getting balanced foods… like eating a piece of fruit or vegetables at some of the meals. It’s also about cooking and raw foods. Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked.

The point is, teaching a proper food lifestyle from an early age can mean better body image, feeling better, more energy and a more positive outlook when at school. By eating only junk food and sticking to a diet that consists of the same foods over and over, the body may not be getting what it needs to concentrate in class or getting proper sleep. This can mean irritability, irrational behavior and perhaps leading to bad grades or being a troublemaker. Eating properly cannot in any way fix mental health issues, but it can improve health and well being, including mental well being. This is why it’s important to give students every possible tool to help them not only succeed in school, but have life tools to help them succeed into adulthood.

Raw vs Cooked

School cafeterias always cook the food until it’s overcooked. However, eating raw fruit or vegetables is a very good way to add more vitamins and minerals to your diet. Because we’ve recently had a spate of problems with raw vegetables (i.e., Salmonella or E.Coli), many people feel that they should be cooking their vegetables. Cooking vegetables is great, but it also strips some of the important nutrients from the food. This is why it’s important to include both raw and cooked vegetables in your diet. If you’re concerned over Salmonella or E.Coli, then lightly steam the vegetables. Let them remain mostly raw, but give them enough hot steam time to kill off any outside bacteria. Try to keep that vegetable as raw as possible. If a green vegetable has turned a dull yellow-green, then it’s overcooked. Green vegetables should remain a vibrant green color even when steamed.

To eat fruits and vegetables raw, wash them with at least water. Better, wash them in a diluted vinegar solution (3 parts water to 1 part vinegar). The vinegar won’t damage the produce and also won’t in any way preserve it, but it will kill off almost all of the bacteria and pesticides (and any remaining soil). You can also buy commercial produce wash solutions like FIT or Veggie Wash, but these can be more expensive than plain vinegar.

If you’re really concerned about this problem, I’d suggest visiting your local farmer’s produce market and get to know your local growers. Ask them how they manage their crops, the kinds of pesticides they use, the kinds of fertilizer they use and also ask about their general produce storage and handling practices (make sure they’re keeping the produce properly stored, such as chilled and that they are packed separately from other vegetables).

Shopping for produce also gives you the opportunity to take your children with you and let them pick out produce that is appealing to them. Shopping lets them explore the fascinating world of fruits and vegetables and lets them pick them up, touch them and see how they feel. It’s a way to get your kids interested in more than chicken nuggets, pizza and mac and cheese. Children are naturally curious explorers. Let’s let them do what they do best and explore the world of fruits and vegetables through new eyes. They may not like everything they try, but that’s okay. They’ll find at least something that they like. Kids are also more likely to like it if you let them choose rather than trying to force the foods on them. Food exploration is an important tool to entice children into trying fruits and vegetables. If you take them to a farmer’s market, many produce vendors cut up and offer fruit samples right there. This gives your child a chance to try the fruits right at the market.

Buying local produce, you can typically avoid many of the problems you find with the large commercial growers who supply your local supermarkets… and that includes supermarkets like Whole Foods and Sprouts, even as much as they tout fresh, healthy, whole foods and produce. Buying local doesn’t necessarily get you better tasting produce, but many times it does. For example, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries in the supermarket are often bland and not at all sweet. Buying from a local grower, many times you’ll find much, much sweeter berries at or less than store prices. But, it’s really less about the price and more about the quality of the nutrition. It’s also about food exploration.

College

When I moved onto college, not much changed in terms of food quality. Our college cafeteria treated food towards students like someone might treat feeding pigs on a farm…. just throw some random slop out there and they’ll eat it.

My college cafeteria food clearly created some of the worst food I’d ever experienced at a school. In hindsight, the food itself was probably not much worse than HISD’s food… it was the extremely poor food handling practices that made it much, much worse. For example, when the college cafeteria served hamburgers, they would cook the meat in advance, place them into some kind of flavored water solution and leave them overnight in the fridge. Then they’d pull the metal hot table bins from the fridge, unwrap them and place them onto a hot grill to heat them up for the day.

Not only were the hamburger patties not fresh, they tasted weird. I think I only ever ate one or two before bowing out of that mess. Now keep in mind that the college forced a meal plan on every incoming freshman and sophomore who lived in the dorms. I can understand why they forced it. The food was so grade D that there was no other way they could sell that trash to anyone actually willing to pay at the register. On these bad hamburger days, I’d make my way to Whataburger, who always cooked at least grade B burgers fresh to order… none of that weird floating in hot water grade D nonsense.

It also meant that, for the first time, I had the option to make better food choices for myself. Food choices that not only worked for my budget, but that also provided fresh hot nutritious meals; meals that didn’t leave me feeling lethargic, sleepy and generally crap. That not to say I didn’t occasionally overindulge and get that way, but I began learning much more about nutrition on my own while in college. I also began learning because due to the crap way I had been taught to eat my meals in 5 minutes in junior high (reinforced by my first job) and the kinds of food I’d been taught to eat. I had also begun experiencing digestive problems.

At the time, I’m quite sure the college offered nutrition classes because of their various athletics and Kinesiology programs, but I didn’t take any of these classes. Though, I’m certain they were offered. In hindsight, I probably should have taken at least one class just to find out what I didn’t know. Unfortunately, my college degree already kept me busy. My degree plan just didn’t have any room after I’d filled in all of very few electives with classes that helped me graduate faster. However, my public school days definitely offered no nutrition classes. There was simply nothing available. If I had wanted to take a class like this, I’d have had to do it after school on my parent’s dime. My parents wouldn’t have agreed to this. Though, even in junior high, I was aware of services like Weight Watchers… and I’d even considered joining. I simply had no spare time (or spare money as they required you to buy into their food).

In high school, there were sex ed classes, but there were no nutrition classes… definitely none at my high school. In junior high, if there was any nutrition conversation, the extent of it was in a biology class, usually offering a very academic overview… being less about proper nutrition than the sheer basics about how food works on the body. There were zero nutrition classes available during elementary school, the most formative time when children should be exposed to proper nutrition.

Sure, we understand what tastes good (ice cream, Cheetos and Coke) and what tastes bad (broccoli and liver), but that’s such a basic understanding for a child, it’s just surface understanding of food, but completely skips healthy nutrition. It’s just a “I like this, but I don’t like that” kind of preference… which has nothing at all to do with making healthy food choices or nutrition.

No, it seems many public schools completely ignore nutrition and just how much healthy eating contributes not only to weight, but also to overall health, mental health, well-being and focus. That’s not to say that we should eat nothing but Kale salads with sprouts. Moderation is the key, eating healthy means making choices that allow the body to feel its best, act its best, look its best and be its best. Splurging on ice cream or soda or pizza or fried chicken is fine, occasionally. Everyone needs moderation in their diet. These should be rare events rather than every day. Treat them as ‘treats’, not as ‘staples’.

Controversial Topics, Making Choices

Nutrition is kind of a “he said, she said” world. Because there are so many foods (real and fake) on the market, every food industry wants an edge to get their product to sell. For this reason, this is why there’s all of these conflicting food topics… such as eggs are good, then eggs are bad, then eggs are good again… and so on. This has happened with salt, eggs, shrimp, avocados, sugar, saccharin, food dyes, food additives and even Coke. This is why schools probably shy away from setting up classes.

If you set up nutrition class, you’d have to decide which side of the fence you’re on… or at least so a school might think. This means that they might need to side with the egg industry that “eggs are good”. But then, some parents might not like that their child is being taught that.

Schools prefer to avoid this kind of confrontation with parents, particularly vocal parents who might do damage to the school. This is a misguided reason not to include a nutrition program in the curriculum. It would be simply easy to avoid this problem. You don’t spout the marketing rhetoric at all in the class. For something like an egg, simply offer what an egg is made of, the nutrition it offers and let the student (and parents) decide if the food belongs in the child’s diet. Don’t even bring up the industry politics of the egg. The point to school is to create an environment for critical thinking. After all, critical thinking is what we’re expected to do as adults. We need to think for ourselves and come to our own conclusions. No one can really make a choice about their own body but each person. This is the very message that needs to be driven home in any nutrition class. Basically, don’t blindly listen to an advertisement that says, “Eggs are good” or, “Eggs are bad”. Come to your own conclusion for yourself. If you eat an egg and it doesn’t agree with you, then clearly eggs are not for you. If the parents are strict vegans and they project that onto their children, then eggs may not be for the child.

Teaching students to listen and pay attention to how their own body reacts to eating a food is the only way that student can make an informed choice. For example, if drinking milk equals upset stomach and indigestion, this could mean lactose intolerance. This is the perfect example of listening to your own body. If you try something and your body reacts in a way that you don’t expect, perhaps you eliminate that food from your diet.

That’s the key element that needs to be taught in a nutrition class. That’s smart food choices. That’s choosing foods based on how your body reacts to it. We are not taught to do this as children. But, it’s something we learn going into are 30s and 40s when we can put 2 and 2 together. We learn which foods work for our bodies and which do not. Most of us learn this by trial and error. Some of us never learn and continue to feed our bodies with foods that make us sick and sicker.

Nutrition Concepts

This is why it’s important to introduce nutrition concepts early in a child’s life. Get them thinking about it in 5th, 6th or 7th grade. By this point, most children have probably experienced getting sick by eating some sort of food. Learning by experience is an important tool that schools can leverage in any nutrition class. Teaching young children about these concepts early will help them use critical thinking skills in the future… a valuable tool that can be used for a whole lot more than food choices and nutrition. It may even save a child’s life for critical food allergies.

For example, when I was aged 10-12, I never put 2 and 2 together about food. My parents would drop me off at the YMCA for a summer camp program. We would be out and about on a bus the whole day. I was packed a bag lunch, just like at school. Every day when we arrived back at the Y and before being picked up, I’d have a raging headache… every single day. One thing that I would get nearly every day was a chocolate candy bar from the vending machine when we would get back. Because we ate promptly at noon, we had no other food for the rest of day from then until around 5PM when I got picked up. I was rather hungry when we got back to the Y, particularly if we had run around outside most of the day. I’d save up the 35¢ or so for the candy bar and buy one most every day.

It never dawned on me that it was likely both the chocolate and the sugar rush that either caused or exacerbated the headache. I can’t say it was a migraine as it didn’t last overnight. Looking back now, I’m almost certain it was a sugar related headache. It might have been low blood sugar due to not eating much after our lunch or it could have been the rapid rise and fall of blood sugar from the precipitous insulin rush. It might have also been that I already had the headache and chocolate bar doubled or tripled its effect.

Since I was never diagnosed and because I had no classes in nutrition, it was only guesswork for both myself and my mother. She always found it curious that I had these, but it was never investigated because it was gone the next morning. If I had had nutrition classes during my time at public school, I might have been able to find the trigger and, with my parents help, eliminate the problem so that I could come home each day after camp feeling just fine with fond memories of what we had just done that day. Instead, most of what we did at camp is just a blur because the headaches seems to have not allowed those memories to “set”. Keep in mind that just a few years later, I worked outdoors every day and rarely, if ever, had headaches at the end of the day. I also didn’t eat candy bars after working. It’s one of life’s critical thinking skills that you must learn when considering nutrition and how nutrition and food affects each of us. This is an important lesson that could be taught much earlier to students, but isn’t.

Grade School Today

It has been a while since I’ve attended grade school, so I will concede it appears school districts have implemented some food science and nutrition programs. It seems that HISD is now offering a Breakfast in the Classroom program which allows students to eat at their desks during morning announcements. Unfortunately, what is served is limited to a single entree item. Students are also given a short amount of time to consume the food. If what’s offered is not something a child can eat (i.e., diabetes, allergies or autism), then they go hungry for the morning. I’d also include that some example meals include Turkey Sausage Egg Sandwich, Beef Kolache, Yogurt, Chicken Biscuit and Strawberry Oatmeal Breakfast Bar as the ‘main entree’. Along with this ‘entree’ portion, the students are served regular or skim milk and a selection from: apple juice, an apple, Craisins or similar fruit (basically, something sugary).

While having the students eat breakfast in the classroom isn’t something that happened in my school days, starting the day off with these fatty and sugary foods isn’t a recipe for focus because the foods served are sometimes too rich to start the day. The school should start the day with fresher whole ingredients that satisfy student hunger better with less emphasis on sausage egg biscuits, dried sugary fruits, breakfast bars and apple juice. You can serve these kinds of rich foods once a week, but not every single day. Serving these as “treat” foods gives the students something to look forward to… or better, offer the students a menu and let the parents and/or student pick their morning breakfast in advance. If the student fails to choose their breakfast, then serve them the ‘selected’ entree of the school’s choice. Letting the parent decide what their child eats at school allows the parent to head off health problems with their child.

HISD also claims to be helping students learn about food and nutrition. Here’s an excerpt from HISD’s web site about its nutrition education program:

Houston ISD is committed to teaching food literacy and food inclusion through a nutrition-focused curriculum. Food literacy starts with understanding where food comes from. It then expands to understanding relationships with food. This begins at a personal level; how different foods can be beneficial to the body and how some foods do not have any benefits for the body. This includes an openness to trying new foods and seeking out exposure to new foods. The relationship with food expands to cultural preference with foods, understanding both personal culture and others’ cultures and how that impacts food choice and why preferences vary between cultures. Expanding even further, food literacy includes the relationship with food/agriculture on a global, environmental, and economical scale. Food inclusion promotes a pattern of healthy choices that are flexible enough to fit into many cultural preferences and promote balance, variety and moderation. Overall, this means making delicious choices that benefit your body. The message of health should promote a positive relationship with food, avoiding messaging that use fear instead of facts. Nutrition Services aims to educate our students in the classroom, in the garden and in the cafeteria.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any information on HISD’s web site that discusses its class offerings, its class content, how or when the students can take these classes (i.e., are they electives?, are all grade levels required to learn this?, etc), or even if this curriculum is required by the students. It’s good that HISD has itself learned the effect that food has on students in focus, but I’m not sure that what’s being served to the students and what is taught encourages students to eat healthy meals and understand why some foods are to be considered ‘good’ and some are considered ‘bad’. It seems most of what HISD has implemented is more being driven by bad press against the school district and keeping up with competing school districts than actual commitment to the importance of food.

What HISD has done so far is definitely a step in the right direction. However, it’s nowhere near getting the importance that it needs in the classroom. Food and nutrition is equally important to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses. Food and nutrition clearly falls under science, but it is almost never treated with the same level of importance as a biology, physics, chemistry and others. Teaching the students the importance of food in the world may lead one of these students into a food breakthrough that helps out the world. That can’t happen when students aren’t properly exposed to the importance and role of food in everyday human life.

Sure, we must eat food to live. That’s the very basics of food. Food science goes well beyond that by enabling students to become productive adults who might create a food invention that can feed the hungry of the world. Yes, food keeps our own bodies fueled, but food science education can bring about positive food changes in the world. Only these new fresh eyes can see what adults cannot.

Other ISDs

In researching this article, I’ve found many larger ISDs also offering Breakfast in the Classroom programs. For example, New York and Los Angeles both have BIC programs. In the case of LA Unified, the students basically do all of the work from retrieving the food in a cart, to serving themselves, to cleaning up and returning the cart. Here’s a video that describes Los Angeles Unified School District’s program:

Of course, this doesn’t mean every school district offers a BIC program yet. Many still do not. They may offer breakfast in a cafeteria, but apparently participation in cafeteria breakfasts is as low as 30%. It makes sense, arrive at school early to eat breakfast or sleep in longer? I’d say that one is a no-brainer. No student wants to get to school any earlier than they absolutely have to. However, serving breakfast in the classroom is a smarter approach because it means students don’t have to show up early to eat breakfast. Students are already be in their first class by a certain time anyway and eating breakfast during that dead 10-15 minutes while the teacher is performing morning attendance, making announcements and getting their daily plans together is a smarter way to use that time. Though, it is also costlier because someone needs to pay for the meals. I would hope that students could bring their own meals from home and are allowed to eat those instead of eating the supplied food if they so choose.

If I could have eaten food during the first 15 minutes of my first class, I certainly would have taken advantage. However, at the time, my school had a strict no-eating-in-the-classroom policy. Though, some of us did sneak eat when we had the chance. We didn’t do it often because the penalties were pretty severe if caught. It also meant less food to eat at lunch.

While I’m all for the Breakfast in the Classroom program idea, the way it’s currently implemented is a bit lacking both from a nutrition perspective and definitely from a tailored nutrition perspective. In the case of food, one size does not fit all.

Health begins in the Kitchen

While performing exercise improves the body’s conditioning, it doesn’t always help with weight loss. There are many people who exercise every day and never lose any weight. Why? Because their nutrition is wrong. Many people mistakenly believe that exercising equals weight loss. That’s not true. Weight loss begins in the kitchen, not at the gym. To lose weight, you have to eat smart. Eating smart means understanding your body’s energy requirements for the day. In fact, you can lose weight simply by changing your food lifestyle.

I write, “food lifestyle” instead of “diet” because the word “diet” has negative connotations. It also has connotations to mean “temporary”. Meaning, you do it for a short time, lose the weight and then go back to “regular eating”. That doesn’t work. That’s also a recipe for the Yo-Yo problem. Weight goes down, then weight goes back up. In fact, the Yo-Yo problem is actually worse on health than staying at a consistent weight, even if somewhat overweight.

To lose weight, you need to change your thinking about food from “dieting” to making food lifestyle choices. What “lifestyle choices” means is changing the way you think about and eat on a permanent daily basis. For example, drop the candies, cakes and sugary foods from your diet entirely and adopt a cheat day system. Make the healthy foods your primary goto foods. If you want to snack, grab carrots, celery, broccoli and cherry tomatoes instead of a granola bar, a breakfast bar, chips or even cereal.

Adopt a don’t buy it attitude. If you keep the “bad” foods at a minimum around the house, you can’t cheat on them. No ice cream in the freezer? You can’t eat it. No cookies? You can’t eat them. And so on. This is a healthy food lifestyle. Instead, keep carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and cherry tomatoes around. Keep oranges, apples and bananas around. If you have these around the house, then you’ll eat them if you really want a snack.

Better, don’t snack and wait until your next full meal. Sometimes it’s only an hour away. In fact, if you’re an hour or less away from your next meal, get some water and wait for that. In fact, water is a good quencher. If you think you’re hungry, go get some water and drink it first. You might find that that satisfies your hunger for long enough to get you to your next meal. If you do find that you really do need a snack, grab something fresh (fruits and vegetables) over something packaged (chips, granola, breakfast bars, cereal).

For the cheat day, you can eat out, eat ice cream or basically eat anything you want, though I always recommend eating in moderation. Don’t stuff yourself to the point of being sick or uncomfortable. Eat until you’re no longer hungry, not until you are “full”… there is a difference. This allows you to partake in holiday meals, birthday meals and other special occasions. Leave these decadent foods to the special occasions, not your regular meals. Also, don’t skip meals because you’re “not hungry”. Eat something anyway… it doesn’t have to be a lot, it just needs to be enough to keep your body regular. If you want to eat a cookie or a piece of cake occasionally, that’s fine. It shouldn’t be everyday. If you’re single eating alone, don’t buy a gallon of ice cream or full sized pie. Buy smaller portions and individual sizes.

Food Combinations

Without getting into a ton of nutrition detail here, eating certain foods together is more likely to encourage weight gain than eating these foods an hour apart. For example, drinking milk together with cereal is a great way to gain weight. There’s fat (and sugar) in the milk and sugar in the cereal. The sugar in the cereal and milk act on the body to release insulin which then prompts the body to uptake the fat in the milk into storage via adipose tissue. This is especially true when you consider what other foods you might have already eaten that day. You don’t want to encourage the body to store fat. You want the encourage the body to use the fat stores that are already there, this reducing weight.

There are many food combinations that can lead to fat gain. There are also food combinations that lead to fat loss simply by eating certain foods together or eating certain foods far apart (or not at all).

Of course, calories also matter. Calories are a unit of energy consumed versus expended. Unless your body is in a near constant calorie deficit, you could gain weight by consuming the wrong foods together.

There are two ways to get into a calorie deficit. The first is obvious… exercise. The second is through food choices. Exercise doesn’t guarantee a calorie deficit because you can still consume more calories than you have expended. For this reason, exercise doesn’t guarantee weight loss… only a calorie deficit does, and that is achieved in the kitchen, not in the gym.

Kids, Food and Obesity

Armed with that information, let’s bring it full circle. Food isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Offering the same Breakfast in the Classroom meal to all students may not be the smartest nutrition approach for every student and may still lead to obesity in some students. For example, if a student already ate a huge breakfast before coming to school, they may still consume the BIC food simply because it’s there. This encourages overeating. The BIC program in no way polices the student to find out if they have already eaten a meal for the day. It simply assumes that every student hasn’t eaten before coming to school. Many haven’t, but some have.

This is a lax approach to nutrition for the students. If the school wants to be responsible for maintaining a healthy student weight, then they should be responsible for all of the meals for the student during their charge. The parents should refrain from serving the student any food other than dinner… and even then, the school should provide a nutrition plan for the student so that the parent knows what and how much to serve the student at the end of the day as a guide. Of course, the parent is free to do whatever they want, but that encourages obesity if they do.

When creating exercise programs for the students, the school should take into account the nutrition being fed to the students and offer exercise programs that work in concert with the amount of food being served. This means that the students will receive a balanced amount of exercise against food intake and lead the student to maintain their body weight.

If a student is overweight or obese, the school needs to have a nutrition counselor on staff who can tailor a meal program to help the student get back into a healthy weight by tailoring their meals to lead to that outcome. This means a tailored breakfast and lunch program. Once the student is back at their correct body weight, put the student onto the balanced nutrition program to maintain that weight.

Right now, the schools are simply throwing standardized food at the students to help maintain attendance (primary goal) and keep the students awake and focused (secondary goal). Those goals, while commendable, don’t aid the student into a healthy body weight. The schools aren’t taking a holistic approach to food, exercise and nutrition to not only keep students focused, but also to help the students maintain a healthy body weight for their height. A holistic approach is a smartest approach for the students health and well-being. School districts are still no where near this level of holistic understanding of food and nutrition for students. If the schools were to tailor food programs to an individual student’s needs, healthy body weight can be achieved and maintained giving bully students one less piece of ammo against fellow students. More than the bullying, it teaches the student how to maintain a healthy body weight going into adulthood (the most important aspect). Empowering students with understanding of proper nutrition and how to manage their own bodies will give them a huge edge when getting a job.

Being overweight or obese can affect your chances at landing a job. Being at a healthy body weight gives you that extra first impression you need when interviewing for a job. Don’t think for a moment that being overweight isn’t considered by a hiring manager. If a specific job requires a certain level of mobility, movement and carrying capacity, a hiring manager might not consider someone who is overweight or who appears overall unhealthy. Weight discrimination is real in the job market. Learning how to manage weight early in childhood and in the teens goes a long way to maintaining that weight into adulthood. Children who fail to be taught this are at a disadvantage when becoming an adult.

Schools need to consider a holistic and individualistic approach to food and nutrition when putting together their food and exercise programs for students. One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to nutrition and exercise.

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iOS7: Lightning Cables vs Consumer — Who Wins?

Posted in Apple, botch, corruption by commorancy on September 25, 2013

There’s this really annoying error message that you might see if you’ve bought a third party Lightning cable and you try to use it on your iPhone under iOS7.  The error message reads “This cable or accessory is not certified and may not work reliably with this iPod” (or iPhone or iPad or whatever).  Let’s explore what this means.

Consumer Penalized

Lightning ErrorLet’s start simple.  You bought a Lightning cable and expected it to work. Within each Lightning cable there’s a unique identifier that an Apple device can read.  It then compares the identifier to some kind of database within the iDevice to see if Apple ‘blessed’ the cable. Basically, any company producing Lightning connector cables must license the technology from Apple.

I’m fine with licensing. But, that’s a legal distinction between the cable manufacturer and Apple. The consumer should not be involved in this fight.  Yet, here we are.  This battle is being waged on you, the Apple consumer.  You’re penalized for having bought an ‘unlicensed’ cable. Unfortunately, unlicensed cables don’t specifically come with a warning stating that they are not licensed.  So, the consumer is buying blind when buying cables. There is no way to know if a cable is licensed or not.  At least, not without an Apple device that tells us so.

Apple’s missteps

With the old big dock connectors, the devices were able to recognize unsupported accessories or cables and warn. And, they did. Those cables also had a method to do validation checks similar to this Lightning validation error message.  Again, I’m fine with that as long is tells me immediately after I purchase a cable and plug it in. If it doesn’t work immediately after purchase, I can return cable immediately. No money lost.

Unfortunately, Apple waited all through iOS6 and the iPhone 5 allowing use of the Lightning connector without ANY warning. Instead, they waited until iOS7’s release to warn the consumer and even prevent some cables from working AT ALL. Yes, that’s what this error message actually means.  It means that Apple has detected an unlicensed cable and in some cases will warn that it either cannot use it or warns you that it may not work.  Apparently, that warning message may warn for a number of times before permanently disabling the cable’s use.

While these cables worked perfectly fine with iOS6, some of them don’t work at all to either charge the device or for data transfer under iOS7.  Some of the cables do work, but possibly for only a short time.  But, this isn’t the point.  If the cables worked perfectly fine under iOS6, they will also work perfectly fine under iOS7.  This means that Apple is deliberately and intentionally preventing these cables from working.

Waited Too Long

Error 2

The huge misstep is that Apple waited over a year to warn consumers.  And when something is finally given to us, it’s not a friendly notice.  The device simply prevents some cables from outright working. Keep in mind that that’s a year of time that many people spent money buying many of these cables. Cables that can no longer be returned and can no longer be used.  Apple has waged war on you, the consumer. They are not waging war on the manufacturer who produced ‘unlicensed’ cables.  This action is actually causing monetary damages to the consumer for the lost money spent to purchase the cables. Some cables that previously worked no longer work and the consumer cannot return them nor can these cables be used.

Apple has effectively just slapped its very user base in the face and said, ‘F-you’.  I can’t imagine any other company doing this in this way.  At least give your users  some advance warning this is coming.  Don’t just do it, tell no one and expect us all to sit here all nice and happy.  It’s not my problem that manufacturers are making ‘uncertified’ cables. That’s your problem, Apple.  You need to take those manufacturers to court. Don’t penalize your paying consumers because you don’t think the cables should work.

And note, the cable I purchased is a retractable cable.  I only bought it because there was no other retractable Lightning cable on the market when I purchased. If Apple had produced one, I’d have bought it from Apple.

Class Action Lawsuit

I can easily see this turn into a class action lawsuit against Apple.  As a consumer, we had no way to know the cable wasn’t licensed until the warning message, a warning message that showed up over a year late. And, in fact, iOS7 doesn’t even state the cable is unlicensed, it states that it’s not certified. As a consumer, that’s not my problem.  I bought the cable, it worked.  iOS6 didn’t warn me of this problem and it continued to work.  Now, Apple is telling me that that cable can no longer work with my device even though it worked perfectly fine with the same exact device for many months prior to iOS7.

Plain and simple, consumers have now lost money paid for these cables. Apple is to blame. If they had enforced this policy from the beginning, this wouldn’t be an issue. Because they didn’t, consumers are now literally paying the price as Apple intentionally stops these cables from working even though they are perfectly usable cables.

I’d really like to see an attorney sue the crap out of Apple for this behavior and force Apple to redress all of us consumers’ for our money that we’ve lost because Apple sat on its fat butt not saying anything. Apple just sat there letting consumers buy more and more unlicensed cables. Then, after letting consumers buy these cables for a year, they lay the whammy down and stop the cables from working right now.

Now many of us have dead cables that we can’t use, can’t sell and that we spent good money on.  And many of these cables were not cheap and were not marked as not licensed.  At minimum, Apple should be required to cable swap all consumer purchased now non-working unlicensed Lightning cables for an Apple licensed cable so we’re not out any money.  It’s not the consumer’s fault Apple didn’t warn the consumer properly. It’s also not the consumer’s fault the manufacturer sold us an unlicensed cable. That fight is clearly between Apple and the cable manufacturer. Apple, take your fight to where it belongs.. between you and the manufacturer. Don’t take it out on the very customer that you depend upon to keep you in business. Not a smart move.

As a consumer, I simply want a fully working retractable cable without stupid warning messages or I want my money back. Apple, you clearly owe me a replacement cable for waiting a year to warn me thus losing my ability to return the cable.

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