Penalizing Healthy Eating at Camp

If you have followed our blog for a while, you know that along our journey we have come across true food heroes and we have come across folks who talk about health, but who really don’t put that into practice. We’ve been through school fundraisers that directly contradict county policy about unhealthy foods and pleas to parents to make healthy post-game snacks. It is frustrating when the issue of childhood obesity and poor health outcomes for the next generation are everywhere, yet in some cases we keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over. I still can’t figure out if this is ignorance, laziness or apathy.

Summer camps are another area where we talk the talk of health, but where most of the time snacks and meals are pretty atrocious. Here is an article originally published on the Huffington Post by First Bites Founder Caron Gremont regarding how we punish or penalize families who want healthier choices.

What do you think about this?

Obesity Is Officially a Disease, So Why Was My Child Diagnosed as a ‘Healthy Eater’?

by Caron Gremont, http://www.firstbites.org

Today, the American Medical Association officially diagnosed obesity as a disease. So why is my daughter’s summer camp sending her to the nurse for being a “healthy eater”?

Next week, my 5-year-old daughter starts summer camp for the first time. As I sat in the parent orientation meeting, the camp director laid out the great activities she will do and reviewed some new data from the American Camp Association (ACA) on the benefits of camp for children. According to the ACA website, “building blocks of self-esteem are belonging, learning, and contributing. Camps offer unique opportunities for children to succeed in these three vital areas.”

It all sounded fantastic — until I saw the snack menu.

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At 3:15 p.m. every day, the camp provides a “camp snack” to all the children (ages range from 5- to 15-years-old). Considering the children swim twice a day and have outdoor play as well as dance and sports almost daily, they need a snack that provides them with energy and carries them from lunch to dinner.

So what is the camp offering?

A daily choice of Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Nilla wafers, Cheese Curls, and potato chips. It’s not like the camp has never heard of fruit; they are serving watermelon or grapes once a week. Could they possibly think that these artificial, highly-sweetened, and highly-processed foods are filling, nutritious, and appropriate to serve growing children?

I talked to the head counselor, and explained that we try to eat “real food” that is both satisfying and nourishing, and I was worried about both the poor quality of the “food” they were serving as well as how little satisfaction it would actually provide. She sent me to the woman in charge of the snacks, who was very kind and sent me to the head of the camp, who was also understanding and sent me to camp nurse. The nurse said I could send in whatever snacks I wanted for my daughter. She would store them in her office, and my daughter could come and get them every afternoon. And my friend, whose daughter must follow a gluten-free diet, told me our children could come together to get their daily snacks!

And then it hit me: eating “healthy” snacks is being treated like a disease. The camp was very happy to accommodate our “special” needs and reassured me that with all the allergies today, our daughter wouldn’t be the only one eating a “special” diet.

My daughter doesn’t think her diet is “special.” To her, it’s normal. She eats a wide variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. She loves to snack on carrots, raw peppers and hummus, and no one has told her that this is “special.” What message does it send to tell my daughter that to eat “healthy food,” she needs to get her snack at the camp nurse every afternoon?

How ironic that a summer camp that is supposed to promote self-esteem and inclusiveness can do neither because a child has the rare affliction of wanting to eat healthily.

Yet in a country in which nearly one in three children is overweight or obese and in which French fries are considered a vegetable, it’s no wonder that the little girl who eats carrots and not cheese curls is “special.”

When I asked the head of my daughter’s camp if any other parent complained, I expected that there would be several. After all, this is a wealthy suburb outside a cosmopolitan city with more Whole Foods than Food Lions. But the camp director told me that only one or two parents a year comment on the camp menu.

We send our children to camp and trust that the counselors and lifeguards will keep them safe, from the pool to the buses used for field trips. Shouldn’t a camp also have an obligation to keep our children safe at the snack table? Singling out a child whose parents are trying to teach her to care for her body and eat real food makes my job, as her parent, much harder and doesn’t do much to support the efforts of other parents who may be trying and struggling to do the same. Given what we know about junk food, and its impact on our health, shouldn’t our summer camps — and schools — help normalize the eating of healthy food, not exclude a child from the group just because she prefers to snack on whole foods?

And it’s not that children won’t eat these foods. In the work that we do at First Bites, we have seen preschoolers learn and love to make healthy smoothies, try new fruit, and — yes — even eat their broccoli.

It’s that it’s the job of all of us — parents as well as schools, summer camps, and after-school programs — to set the example and offer the right choices to our kids. It may cost a little more than Chips Ahoy or be more of a hassle to cut a piece of fresh fruit, but it’s the price we will need to pay to tackle the real disease plaguing our kids, obesity.

Health Data and the SOLE Food Diet

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We are entering the 18th month of our local eating experiment and since I just had my annual physical, I thought this would be a great time to give you some data on how it has affected my physical and emotional health. A little data along with some recipes never hurt, right?

In January of 2011, we began our Year of Healthier Living. It all started with this conversation with my doctor:

Me:  I think there is something wrong with my thyroid. Really. I’ve gained 10 pounds, although I’m still exercising and eating Lean Cuisine’s for lunch every day. I feel tired a lot and I have terrible PMS mood swings.

Dr:  Hmm, your thyroid tests look fine. Maybe you need to watch what you’re eating. Your cholesterol is up, too–204 is getting high.

Me:  Ummm, I AM watching what I’m eating. I have a bagel for breakfast and low-fat yogurt, a diet frozen dinner for lunch with diet soda and a reasonably sensible dinner. I can’t eat any less and survive.

Dr:  Well, clearly, something is happening between your food intake and your exercise output.  Or maybe it’s just middle age.

Me:  GAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!

As frustrating as this conversation was, it forced me to look at–and I mean REALLY look at–what was going on in my diet. That weekend, I did an inventory of our pantry and refrigerator. Lots of processed, pre-packaged foods (hey, they’re easy and cheap), frozen vegetables (hey, they don’t go bad), diet soda and plenty of refined carbohydrates in the form of bread and bagels. In summary–almost all of our food was labeled “healthy” or “low fat”, but almost all of it came from a factory.

Time to make a change.

That year, our New Year’s resolution was to transform our eating for one year. In the 18 months since then, we have completely switched our diet around. What does that look like?

  • We still eat meat, but we eat smaller portions of it surround by ample portions of fresh vegetables.
  • We only buy meat, eggs and most dairy locally and only purchase meat that is free of antibiotics and growth hormones.
  • We purchase only locally caught, sustainable seafood.
  • Most of our meat is certified as humanely raised. 98% of our vegetables come from local sources and most are organic.
  • We drink water instead of diet soda.
  • We do not buy processed snack foods or pre-packaged meals.
  • We cook at home 6 out of 7 nights.
  • We can, freeze, dry and otherwise “put up” local fruits and vegetables when they are ripe, so we have them all year long.
  • We only shop the grocery for things we cannot find at the farmer’s markets (organic rice, yogurt, frozen mangos for smoothies–that kind of thing).

How does that affect one person’s health?

Weight

At that initial physical with my doctor, I was at the highest weight of my life outside of pregnancy. I was frustrated because it seemed to be spiraling out of control and no reduction in the amount I ate was affecting it.

In the first year, I lost 15 pounds without altering anything except to buy local meat and vegetables, cook more at home and use a nutrition app when I eat out. I’ve maintained that loss and now I am working on increasing my exercise and adding miles to my running.

Cholesterol

I have always had good reports from my doctor, so to hear that my cholesterol was high was a shock. Not only was my overall cholesterol high (204), but my bad cholesterol was high.

In the first year, I reduced my overall cholesterol to 193 and so far this year, I have reduced it further to 182. My bad cholesterol is down to 104 and my good cholesterol is up to 57. This is really great news!

Energy

One of my biggest concerns was that I was tired and lethargic. I don’t think I realized the impact that eating poorly was having on my system. Those diet frozen lunches were terrible–high in refined carbs and salt, with little nutrition.

I have more energy now than I have had in a long time. This year, I discovered that in spite of my healthy eating, I am still very, very low on vitamin D (thank you, long, cold winter). Now that I am taking a supplement to help with that, my energy level is fantastic and I have more than doubled the distance I can run!

Hormonal Imbalance

For much of my adult life, I have had wicked PMS symptoms–crying, anger, sudden outbursts. I hated it. Everyone around me hated it. Pretty miserable situation.

I’m not sure which part of my diet change has affected that, but this is an area where I have seen a very dramatic impact. While I can still have a little irritability, my PMS symptoms are almost gone and I don’t experience the severe water retention I had before. AMAZING! Is it the no hormone/no antibiotic meat? Is it the lack of hyper-processed food? Is it the increase in fresh vegetables? I have no idea, but I’m sticking with it all!

What does this mean for you? Well, everyone has their own decisions to make regarding health and nutrition. And, let’s face it, not everyone has access to fresh food or good quality farmer’s markets.

However…

I think our ongoing family experiment shows that part of our national nutritional problem is WHAT we eat. Another part of it is WHERE our food comes from.

If you want a cookie, fine, have a cookie (not 6). But a homemade, whole grain or whole wheat cookie with real butter and reduced sugar and a store-bought cookie from a box are not the same thing. They don’t taste the same and they don’t act the same in your body. I am not a scientist, but I can tell you that food from a box is not the same to your body as food from the garden.

SOLE Food Kitchen is not about depriving yourself of “the good things”. It’s about realizing that the “good” things–whole grains, organic, fresh vegetables, sustainable, quality meat and eggs–are a treat for your body as well as the environment. And hyper-processed, packaged foods are without a doubt contributing to our national obesity, low energy and other health-related problems.

At my physical this year, my doctor was amazed. She asked a lot of questions about our new eating plan. Her advice? “Keep doing what you’re doing!”

Right on, doc.

10 Great Books About Food

In Defense of Food

Are you looking for something good to read? I have to admit that I have a iPad full of books I can’t quite get around to, but I keep trying. This is a great time of year to get some reading in–spring planting hasn’t quite started and the hectic holidays are in the rear view mirror. Here are some food-related book ideas for you. Note, these are NOT cookbooks, although some have recipes. Cookbooks will come in another post!

Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty by Mark Winne

This is on my reading list, but I am all about the two questions he asks: What about those people who are not financially able to make conscientious choices about where and how to get food? And in a time of rising rates of both diabetes and obesity, what can we do to make healthier foods available for everyone?

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman is hands down my favorite food writer. His Opinion pieces for the New York Times are well-researched, thoughtful and compelling. I love this book because it not only addresses the environmental, social and bio-ethical issues with our current food system, he provides 77 recipes to illustrate how eating with a conscience can also be delicious.

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

Really love Michael Pollan as an author. This well-written book examines why, as we become more concerned about nutrition, we also become less healthy. His formula is to “eat real food, not too much, and mostly plants.” That’s the synopsis, but I recommend reading the whole thing 🙂 Also, see his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”.

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

This is really one of the books that started folks thinking about food differently. This expose of the American fast food system examines how this industry has changed food production systems in America for the worst.

Food, Inc.: Mendel to Monsanto by Peter Pringle

This book examines the extraordinary changes in food production as it relates to seeds, how they are engineered, and who has control. I like this publication because it is not Monsanto-bashing, but a more balanced look at the positives and negatives of GMO food production.

Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health edited by Gene Stone

Those of you who follow my blog know that I am not a vegetarian, although I do love vegetables. This is on my list to read!

Food Justice (Food, Health and the Environment) by Robert Gottleib

What is food justice? “A food justice framework ensures that the benefits and risks of how food is grown and processed, transported, distributed, and consumed are shared equitably. Gottlieb and Joshi recount the history of food injustices and describe current efforts to change the system, including community gardens and farmer training in Holyoke, Massachusetts, youth empowerment through the Rethinkers in New Orleans, farm-to-school programs across the country, and the Los Angeles school system’s elimination of sugary soft drinks from its cafeterias.” Word.

Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill by Daniel Imhoff

This is a brand-new edition of this book, which deconstructs issues related to national agricultural policy and the federal Farm Bill. I don’t know about you, but I really need this information to understand what the heck is going on.

The Un-Healthy Truth by Robyn O’Brian

There is nothing like an enraged mom to make a change. Following her daughter’s nearly fatal reaction to eggs, Robyn O’Brian started researching our food industry and how foods are prepared and labelled. She discovered that toxins, including those known to cause disease, are permitted in foods.

The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities by Peter Ladner

This is a wonderful, inspiration book focusing on strategies for bringing fresh food and food production into the cities and addressing issues of food access.

What are your favorite food reads?

Books behind the bed

Food for Joint Health

Fresh vegetables are important components of a...

Something happens as you edge near 50. I’m in exceptional health and almost never get sick, but I’ve had nagging back and neck problems over the past 6 months that finally drove me to the doctor. Or doctors, I should say, since apparently you can’t see just one. I won’t get on my soap box about THAT! What I know so far is that I have some osteoarthritis in my neck and lower back and that my doctors have no idea (or are not sharing) what non-medication-related options I have for keeping my bones and joints healthy. Yes, I’m seeking new doctors.

In the meantime, I have done some research on how we can maximize our diet to reduce inflammation, which is related to quite a few “age related” illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer (there are lots of discussion about whether inflammation causes disease or if it is the result of disease–I’m not a doctor–I don’t know). They are related in some way, however, and if I can help improve that through diet and exercise, I’m all in.

So today I’m posting something different–not a recipe, but a grocery list of foods I’m going to try to include more of when we plan our menus. These are foods known to a) not cause inflammation of body tissue and b) reduce overall inflammation in organs and joints. I’ll stress again that I am not a doctor, just a middle age mom looking to maximize my overall health. I’m fortunate that I am not in chronic pain and can take this time to experiment a bit with diet to see if those changes help. If you look at the list, it certainly can’t hurt.

Some of you may be looking for ways to address health issues through diet and still others may be looking to plan ahead while young and extend your overall health as long as possible. So here is the list-I am grouping them by food type to make it easier to follow!

Teas

  • Green tea

Veggies

  • Kelp
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Shitake mushrooms (a fungus, I know, but I didn’t have a fungi category)
  • Watercress
  • Celery

Fermented Foods

  • Kim Chi
  • Fermented pickles
  • Kefir (fermented yogurt drink)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso

Herbs and Spices

  • Ginger
  • Parsley
  • Turmeric
  • Horseradish
  • Mustard
  • Cinnamon

Proteins

  • Salmon (wild caught)
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Cold water fish
  • Soy protein
  • Peanut butter
  • Lobster
  • Nuts

Fruit

  • Tart cherries (not sweet cherries)
  • Mango
  • Lemon
  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Bananas
  • Pineapple

For now, I am forgoing any injections (yikes!) and prescription medications and will work toward more weight-bearing exercise, stretching, shifted diet and a glucosamine supplement. If nothing else, it looks like a yummy way to stay healthy!

Resolutions for A Healthier Food System

Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson from Food Tank (the food think tank), wrote this great piece on new years resolutions for a better food system (click HERE for the article). Here is a summary, but definitely check out the full article!

  • Ways we can improve our food system in 2013:
  • Grow more food in cities
  • Create better access to sustainable food
  • Demand healthier food
  • Cook at home more
  • Share meals with others
  • Eat more vegetables
  • Waste less food
  • Involve young people in farming and cooking
  • Protect workers
  • Love your farmers
  • Recognize the role of governments
  • Shift the focus from higher yield to great quality
  • Fix the broken food system

What are your new years resolutions?

Fixing Our Food Problem

Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman (Photo credit: rebuildingdemocracy)

Mark Bittman has a terrific editorial out in the New York Times regarding a resolution for 2013 to begin fixing our food problem. The article is well-written, short and a bit inspiring. I thought I would share it with you as I find him to be one of our Sole-ful People!

You can find the entire article HERE (if the links are working–if not, I’m posting the full link below).

The more we learn about our food system, the more important it is for all of us to expect something better.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/01/fixing-our-food-problem/?smid=tw-bittman&seid=auto

An association between tobacco and cancer was discovered more 200 years ago. The surgeon general’s report that identified smoking as a public health issue appeared in 1964. The food movement has not yet reached its 1964; there’s isn’t even a general acknowledgment of a problem in need of fixing.

Clearly, we have a long way to go, but every journey begins with a single step and the perseverance to keep moving forward!

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