Today’s Generation Gap: The Great Food & Nutrition Debate

There is a generational divide about nutrition and food.  I have become acutely aware of it over the past year.  A series of events has caused me to try to solve a puzzle – why is are so many people my age (including me) working so hard to get past our food issues & lead a healthier lifestyle while simultaneously struggling with the good and right nutritional rules set forth by educational communities?  If we know that we struggle, why don’t we want better for our youth?  What compels adults to continue to treat food like love?

For the past year of my own healthier lifestyle journey and the journey of my school toward a healthier environment (which by the way was a request that came from parents), I have been researching, observing and reflecting.  I hope that by sharing my journey, you learn a bit about you and about the mistakes that we perpetuate with our students and our own children.  

I have personally been working very hard to change.  I am adhering to a healthy, balanced diet.  I wear a fitness tracker.  I have joined a gym.  I have not eaten unhealthy food at all – not one sugar filled food or fried food.  I try to walk 10,000 steps every day and have at least 30-60 active minutes per day.  I have lost more than 50 pounds and people want to know my secret.  There is no secret – I have dieted and exercised under a doctor’s care and advice.  Well, actually, that isn’t entirely true.  There is a secret.  I have acknowledged that my generation and prior generations did all the wrong things with food.  When we gathered for celebrations, we ate junk.  When we were sad, we were offered food.  When we achieved, we celebrated with a special snack.  The goal became to get sugar and fat and those things that poison the blood stream.  The road to confidence, happiness and acceptance was paved with cupcakes, ice cream and donuts.

As part of my learning experience, I have started a course about healthy lifestyles and the importance of that lifestyle to growing children.  I wanted to know all I could to explain to parents and teachers the right and scientific reasons that they should change how they see food, how they were raised with it.  I wanted to have facts to support the notion that schools are doing what is right for your children rather than trying to ruin their birthdays.  The course is very informative. 

Research has shown that when children are offered only a healthy diet, they happily choose between healthy foods and do not feel deprived.  That’s our perception and our mental health issue.  Just as we shouldn’t visit our fear of the dark or driving or change on our children, we shouldn’t visit our perception of food as a celebration or reward or sign of love on them. 

Yes, you can celebrate birthdays – at home – in your own way – with healthier choices and maybe a fun day having a family adventure.  Promoting poor nutritional choices should not be the role of institutions in today’s world filled with new allergies that pop up every day, an obesity epidemic and in a world where we have more information about the importance of good nutrition for brain development.

I find that the younger generation of parents knows far more about leading a healthier lifestyle than my generation.  We have to play catch up.  So many of the parents I encounter have always been runners and exercisers, taking fitness classes at the gym or walking with their fitness trackers.  They talk about recipes for making healthy food with variety and appeal.  They do not default to sodium and sugar filled foods at every turn.  I applaud them for requesting that my generation does not fill their children with junk.  They are right.

And yet – I have spent months watching otherwise logical adults battle for the right to feed children food that their parents don’t want them to eat.  I keep reflecting on the conversations, the constant requests to ignore both government & school regulations and asking myself why this is so important to them.  I keep coming back to the same reason – these adults have, perhaps subconsciously, confused unhealthy food with praise, love, happiness and enjoyment.  Stop.  Just stop. 

Our parents were wrong.  We were wrong.  Help our youth to not struggle at my age to change.  Be the living example of doing the right thing.  Do what you want with your own body in the privacy of your own life but teach these children to do better.

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