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School Food Changes: My Kid Doesn't Like It, But I Do

Photograph by Getty Images

“Mommy, you won’t believe what’s been going on at school,” my 14-year-old son said to me over the phone last night.

“What’s happening?”

“Well, you know how First Lady Michelle Obama has that thing where she wants all kids to eat healthier?”

“Yes, I know.”

“Well, guess what they did? First, we watched them haul out all of the ice cream machines and everyone was mad about that,” he said. “Then they emptied out all of the vending machines, took out all of the Doritos and cookies and all the good stuff and replaced it with reduced fat Doritos, cereal bars, whole grain pop tarts and kettle pop corn. We’re standing at the vending machine mad because we have a thirst for some real Sprite, not Sprite Zero.”

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I laughed, “Well, what are you buying?”

“The only thing I can buy is the kettle popcorn,” he offered. “But there is an alternative.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s a teacher but I can’t say her name. She has the good stuff, the Oreos, the real Doritos, the good stuff,” he explained. “But you can’t just show up to her class and buy, you have to have the code. She’ll ask, ‘Who sent you?’ and you have to say the right name.”

I almost died laughing.

I heard about our First Lady’s pledge to offer incentives to schools who offered a healthy menu during her HealthierUS Schools Challenge and my son’s school has definitely risen to the occasion. I think it’s great that the US government is challenging schools to teach children about healthy food choices especially in areas where the economic challenges are so prevalent that any type of food is seen as "good" food.

The people in my neighborhood ... may believe that a full plate is a sign of "good" eating but the things they fill their plates with contribute to their obesity.

Growing up in the inner city of Miami, we felt rich when our cabinets were stocked with the name brand cereals and snacks. I started teaching my sons about healthy eating when I became aware of the importance of my food intake. Unfortunately, those facts were not taught in my household when I was growing up and I don’t remember learning about it in school. It wasn’t until just last year after I transitioned from being an active waitress to being a full-time writer that I noticed the unthinkable—my jeans didn’t fit anymore. This led me on a journey to a healthy lifestyle and I passed the information I learned on to my sons, having them practice calorie-counting with me, do exercise videos and avoid fried foods altogether.

This actually made a lasting impression on my sons because now when they prepare their meals they make healthy choices like chicken salads and they stay away from fried foods unless it is a special occasion.

Living in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood in Los Angeles. I notice that nearly every female and child I see is overweight. At first I couldn’t put my finger on the cause of it, aside from the mom and pop bakeries on every corner and the dollar stores that align all of the major intersections. Then I realized that was it. The people in my neighborhood with lower incomes buy cheap food, and cheap food is generally unhealthy. They may believe that a full plate is a sign of "good" eating but the things they fill their plates with contribute to their obesity.

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Having programs like the HealthierUS Schools Challenge implemented in schools will have an impact on all children and their families by forcing children to recognize what they are consuming, even if they reject it at first. My son may complain about having to buy kettle pop corn instead of Doritos, but at least now he knows there is a difference in what he has been eating and what will be good fuel for his body.

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