food · health · kids · modern life · parenting

Cultural Norms

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That two word phrase keeps popping up in my mind now that the first week of school is underway, because schools are such a great place to view a community’s cultural norms. The first thing that is blatantly apparent is the fact that walking or biking to school is not a norm in this community, or maybe this generation. I’m not sure how widespread it is but I do think this greater Seattle area in general has an overzealous relationship with cars. When I read Elizabeth Gilbert‘s book Eat, Pray, Love and she talked about how each city has one word that defines it, I thought that this area’s word would be ‘drive’. Not only for the literal drive a car meaning, although that is certainly part of it, but also the drive that means pushing people to work harder, longer hours than ever before, driving kids to start sports at an earlier age or else lose out on it as well as other extracurricular activities~ music, dance, chess, stem-activities, the list is endless. Not that being ‘driven’ as an innate trait is bad, of course it’s good to be focused and hardworking, and there’s plenty of that around here too, but mostly it seems like a rather overly driven culture here and the actual driving exemplifies the mental and emotional aspects. My older son is in middle school which does not have bus services for the kids that live within a mile or maybe a mile and a half, and they say it’s because those kids can easily walk or bike to school. OK, I absolutely agree that they can indeed walk or bike that far, my earlier posts attest to that here and here, but the thing is, no one actually lets their kid do that. Everyone drives their child to school and the traffic could rival a boy band concert at an all girls’ high school, and yet parents still prefer to put up with the frustration of sitting in traffic, and planning their mornings and afternoons around drop off and pick-up times that take a ridiculous amount of time rather than have their kid walk or bike. It just isn’t done. So, how do you turn around a cultural norm like that? Or should the school accept the fact that they could get a handle on their traffic mess, and it is a problem about which we get regular emails so it’s definitely an issue, by adding another bus or two and picking up most of the car riders? Or should they fight the cultural norm with setting up groups so kids can walk or bike together, perhaps get parent volunteers to escort the kids for the first week until they are used to it, somehow reward the students who show up on bike or by walking, or I don’t know….do something. Because the problem with just adding another bus or two is that we are branding that cultural norm into kids’ heads~ one does not walk or bike to a place that is less than a mile away. One takes a vehicle. Is that really what we want kids learning? Is that remotely healthy for any single person much less the earth as a whole? I don’t think so.

Another cultural norm on display at schools is the food. Oh dear. The cafeteria at my son’s middle school is packed with a dazzling array of junk food they can buy day in and day out~ donuts, chips as diverse as the languages spoken in the hallways, candy of all stripes, and sugar wrapped in a thousand disguises. The main offerings are mediocre at best (nutritionally, visually, taste-wise) and the salad bar offers unappetizing raw veggies which are probably as nutrient dense as the composition notebooks found in the kids’ backpacks. Again, is this how we want kids to learn to eat? What they expect from mealtimes is absolutely going to be influenced by the meals they have five days a week, even if the other mealtimes are different, they are still learning that the norm is to eat junk food. My friend from Israel was so surprised to find that here in the U.S. sandwiches routinely come with chips or fries. In her country sandwiches came with salad or a vegetable, or nothing. We don’t have to accept these norms just because they exist around us~ I often think of the Jane Austens and E.M.Forsters out there that have always written about the ridiculousness of their own cultural norms and eventually those norms did change. We can imprint our kids with healthy habits on a cultural level, or not. It just needs to be enough people’s priority I guess. It starts with recognizing the daily habits they we all partake in, sometimes mindlessly, sometimes joyfully, but all the time repetitively. oggl_00071

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children · Education · food · health · kids · modern life

School Lunches

 

Dr.Mazes FarmThis is just a short little anecdote that happened this morning. I make my kids’ lunches everyday but my older one is in middle school now where he can also get something there if he so desires~ a mango smoothie, Doritos, or whatever he feels is missing from his lunch that day. I’m not thrilled with his options which seem to include every chip that has ever graced a grocery store shelf, but I do not tell him things are off-limits because really, he could get whatever he wanted and I’d never know. I encourage him to try things while being aware of what is actually in his food. This morning he asked, “If they want us to eat healthy, why do they provide so much junk food?” A very good question indeed. They make the kids who buy a full lunch take raw veggies from the salad bar, as if that will balance out the meal, but of course kids just throw away what they don’t want. Salad bars are great in lunch rooms, but sometimes I think they give permission to make the rest of the food nutritionally void and allow vending machines full of junk in the cafeteria. My son has a very good point, why allow that stuff at all? Why not make foods with veggies naturally in them~ soups, lasagna, enchiladas, tacos, casseroles, chilies, stir fries, etc…? Actually, I heard about a school cafeteria that has a stir fry bar which I think is better than a salad bar by far. The kids pick out meat and veggies and have them stir fried with rice or noodles while trying different sauces and flavors and most likely trying different veggies as they compare lunches with their friends. It’s eating a meal with the vegetable in it and enjoying it, not plopping some raw veggies down next to their pizza and either eating them because of a sense of duty or just pitching them. Plus everyone knows it is easier to get the nutrition out of a cooked vegetable than a raw one. It seems the school cafeterias are set up to perpetuate the notion that kids only like junk food but will possibly eat some healthy stuff if they are made to do it in small amounts, on the side. That is not giving kids enough credit. They deserve more. 

children · food · Food allergies · food sensitivities · Gluten free eating · gluten free food · gluten free lifestyle · kids · Soup

The Cooking Season

 

September, Marymoor Park

Finally it’s fall here and our kitchen is alive with soupy smells and warm light instead of the harsh heat of this past summer, and the intermittent construction that had me searching for appliances, counter space, and counters, actually. It’s been fun making French green lentils again, minestrone, polenta, and risotto, without sweating and/or swearing. A welcome change. While our little kitchen has been turning out more variety than ever, such as this great soup: Egyptian Red Lentil Soup (read the comments below the recipe and modify according to taste, but for our family I doubled the cumin as several people suggested) and this delicious Pumpkin Spice Granola from Celiac in the City, it is hitting me even harder than ever that my kids’ schools’ lunch menus are like a study in wheat. Can school cafeterias really not think outside the gluten box? Every single day the main food item has wheat~ lasagna, chicken nuggets, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, spaghetti, sandwiches, and on and on. Is it really that hard to mix it up a bit? No wonder so many people have reactions to gluten~ any time you saturate your body with one ingredient your body starts to react to that ingredient, and Americans love their gluten. My older son forgot his lunch one day so he ended up getting nachos with fresh carrots and steamed broccoli on the side. He said the carrots were stale and the broccoli was gross, and this is a kid who literally cheers when I make broccoli and orders it out at dinner~ he loves it, so I can’t imagine how this broccoli was ‘gross’. I’m glad he was able to find gluten-free food, but if the vegetables they offer are either raw and stale (he knows a stale carrot when he eats one. My kids eat raw carrots every single day.) then of course the kids aren’t going to choose those items. It just doesn’t make sense to me why they don’t offer soups full of veggies, roasted vegetables, or more grain and beans together like a rice and black beans, or quinoa and lentils~ these are not overly expensive and they are not hard to make. They’d give kids a break from wheat every once in a while and are nutritious, filling meals. Of course I’m all in favor of the schools having school gardens to help grow some of those herbs and vegetables too, but at the very least we could improve the lunch menus. Jamie Oliver is making real strides in England which shows the time is right~ people are starting to take school lunch nutrition seriously.  Over on our side of the Atlantic Chef Ann is tackling school nutrition through several different initiatives and proving people are willing to listen and change. Let’s keep the energy going in that direction! Maybe it’s the cool fall air, or maybe it’s the bright warm kitchen, but I’m starting to feel cautiously optimistic.

September, walk home from RHMS

children · gluten free · Gluten free eating · gluten free food · gluten free foods · gluten free lifestyle · gluten intolerance · gluten intolerant

School Lunch

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Wheat, wheat, and more wheat

My sons normally bring their lunches to school, unless they are having waffles and then my oldest buys his lunch, therefore I don’t normally read the menu that comes home monthly except to mark the waffle days. (Usually every Wednesday.) For lack of better reading material with my coffee this morning I actually read February’s offerings, and was struck by the little key at the bottom that reads: “**Contains Wheat” and another symbol to show what contains dairy. I went back through the menu and realized every item had a double asterisks by it~ every single thing offered contains wheat. They do have a salad bar each day so I assume a gluten-free child could live off that if they didn’t bring their lunch, but I have a hard time imagining an elementary student getting much from it. It makes me sad for the free/reduced lunch kids who might have food intolerances, and the kids who just want to buy their lunches like their friends do but can’t because they never have good options. But the real thing that I think this says is that we are a wheat nation~ people generally have no idea how much wheat they take in on a daily basis but it is so easy to eat it at every meal. I lived on wheat before realizing I had a problem with it, which I don’t think is a coincidence. A bit more variety in my diet might have saved me some headaches, fatigue, and stomach issues. I love the schools that have gardens on their property and use the food in the schools. Imagine basing lunch menus on what is growing outside the window, what is in season and fresh and healthy, then adding in the other things, such as grains and beans, and dairy. Oh and meat if you like, I always forget that. There is an organization promoting school gardens called The Edible Schoolyard Project and they are very worth checking out. Last year I asked the principal at my sons’ school if we could plant a garden and he said he was thinking about a greenhouse after the school’s construction was finished. That’d work too, but ideally I think both would be best.