By BROOKE KELLEHER
Lake County FoodCorps service member
Talking to kids about food can be tricky business. This much I’ve learned in my past four months at Lakeview’s elementary schools. For example, casually explaining that your body needs certain sugars to survive quickly turns into them pulling out new candies from their lunch box each day, and saying with a sly grin, “I’m just doing what you said, Ms. Brooke.” (Yes, I have a certain fourth grader in mind right now.)
Or the time I so cautiously tried to interfere in a comical conversation between two second graders convinced that “eating fat makes you fat” to explain that actually, our bodies need fat, but some kinds, called saturated fats, can hurt us. Thinking I’d resolved the issue, I was appalled the next day when they ran up excitedly to tell me that they found saturated fat in their milk at home, so they are going to stop drinking it. In my mind I’m thinking, but but, but, your little bones need the vitamin D and calcium to grow! You couldn’t have noticed the saturated fats on an Oreo box instead, and decided it’s time to boycott cookies?
As much as these mishaps hurt my nutrition-loving heart, they are part of what makes being a FoodCorps service member so rewarding. FoodCorps is a nonprofit whose goal is to connect kids to healthy foods in school. As a service member, I volunteer my year teaching kids about food in their classrooms, working with the cafeteria staff, and assisting with school gardens.
Most days, I walk around in the cafeteria and kids proudly hold up their fruits and vegetables as I pass. But other days, I feel as though I’ve caused more confusion in these little ones’ minds than anything else. But it’s not a surprise. Nutrition is confusing. We are bombarded with articles online spouting the newest nutritional advice, many with tempting headlines, promising readers hacks to losing weight while still eating the processed junk lining the grocery store aisles. Most often these misleading articles are results of publications seeking views, or a company paying the big bucks to guide the public toward buying its product.
How on earth am I supposed to explain all of these complexities to minds that are still content with eating their own boogers as a midday snack? I simplify it. I make it black or white. Yes or no. Or as we call it in class, “Go” or “Slow.”
All foods give us energy. We see that energy on our nutrition labels as “calories.” But not all of this energy is the same. Go Foods can fuel our brain and body. Slow Foods can harm our brain and body. Go Foods are fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, lean meats, eggs, low-fat plain dairy products, and water. Slow Foods are the highly processed foods that fill the aisles, advertised to no end, and full of added sodium, added sugar, and fats.
Of course, even this is subjected to confusion. A third grader telling me, “Well sometimes I’d rather be slow, so those days I’ll eat my slow foods. I don’t want to be too fast.” Oh, you kids.
The reply to this is that Go Foods and Slow Foods are not just for the now. Of course they affect how you feel immediately after eating them, but that’s not where it ends. Every time we choose a Go Food over a Slow Food, we are making decisions for the future.
This is the reason I joined FoodCorps — because the choices kids are making now affect their lives long down the road. The foods they try today affect the development of their brains and bodies in the years to come. Nutrition has been made far too complicated in the media, but if some of these kids can catch on, I have hope for the rest of us, too. And while the rest of them are catching up, I’ll have the perks of hearing what bizarre nutritional conclusion they come to next in the school cafeteria. And no, Froot Loops aren’t made from fruit.
Interested in the work being done by FoodCorps in the Lakeview community? Please contact Brooke Kelleher.