Tag Archive | childhood nutrition

so, how did it go?

Way back in the spooky month of October, just prior to Halloween, I presented a MyPlate Haiku on Instagram. Not as deep perhaps as a Zen Buddhist koan, a paradoxical anecdote or riddle used to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning in order to provoke enlightenment, but reflective of a puzzlement nonetheless.

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while may know that in my little anachronistic village, Halloween is serious business. Hundreds and hundreds of little kiddies and big grown-ups dressed in scary–and adorable–costumes descend like zombies and crowd the narrow streets to frighten away any evil spirits–and to collect their sweet rewards. My house is in a prime trick or treat location and next door to the village wizards whose annual display attracts a lot of attention.

And thus, my perennial dilemma. What’s my personal and professional responsibility as concerns contributing to this massive spike in the community’s blood sugar levels? Fun though it may seem, innocuous though one might think–it is not a good thing. There is a lot of sugar going down–way more than Mary Poppin’s prescribed spoonful.

I have stared deep down into pillowcases with more loot than a bank robber’s heist, yet the pirates and ninjas demand more. I have stared deep into the big eyes and darling faces of newly walking toddler princesses and kitty cats, imploring me to fill their plastic pumpkin with some white crystallized sugar drug–I mean treat. Seriously, should there not be some legal age requirement for serving sugar to children? I feel I should be carding these kids, checking ID, asking for a birth certificate or tricycle license.

Every year, Halloween seems to come around quickly, and each time I struggle with the dilemma. Given the havoc I know sugar and sweets wreak on the individual and global level, I do not wish to be a purveyor of this potentially gateway substance associated with dental decay, behavioral issues, food addiction, inflammation, obesity, diabetes, and other maladies. To really appreciate the seductive allure of said substance, consider that recently, after a newly levied sugar-tax was imposed in their country, ordinarily level-headed Norwegians have wildly taken to crossing the border into Sweden to procure their candy and soda more cheaply in binge shopping sprees.

But, neither am I ready to leave the party. So, for years my family has stood at the door giving out a combination of edible sweets and non-edible treats in hopes of offering choice and mitigating damage.

But, this last All Hallows’ Eve I decided to go further. In preparation for the nearly four hundred grabbing hands and gaping mouths, I set out to find provisions that would not further the sugar problem at hand. The additional challenge was to try to not substitute it with useless items that would quickly be tossed in the garbage; and to have things that would be suitable for children of all different ages. And, to not spend more than I would on candy.

As usual, I solicited the help of my little witch, Zena, and with broomsticks in hand, off we flew to the nearest Michael’s Arts and Crafts store to fill our cauldron. We scoured about and found some things that were suitable. Also, next door wizard Amy informed me of holiday-themed milkweed seed packets available for sale to help save our important monarch butterflies. Perfect. We ordered one hundred of them.

When ready, we poured everything on the bed and got to work. We filled perky IMG_0921pumpkin-faced and scary skull-headed gift bags with age-appropriate treats. It was all in fun, though I must say a fair amount of dissection was involved separating parts from wholes. There were all Halloween-themed cool sticker sheets, water-color painting pictures, stamps, little marble maze games, foam cutouts to make masks, erasers–and seed packets. Unfortunately, we did not procure the mechanical pencils which had been a big hit with the older set the previous year.

The only problems were that we ran out of the little bags and took to using business envelopes; and that Zena, being a very good witch, was a bit too generous in filling her bags which left us short of supplies to reach our projected count. But, time was short, so we’d have to make do.

It was then, in anticipation of the big day, I penned and posted to Instagram the koan-tinged haiku:

Treats of a different kind 
No candy for Halloween 
We’ll see how it goes.                                                                                                                       

(We hope they like the Save Our Monarchs Milkweed Seed Packets)

So, how did it go? Pretty well, I’d say. The house was not egged and there were no tricks. There was the one teenager–the kind who doesn’t even have a costume–who did turn and walk away when the cauldron choices were kindly presented to him. A few of the neophyte toddlers did display some cognitive dissonance provoked by being handed something they could not imagine to be the promised candy. And, there was the middle-schooler who when handed a business envelope with indeterminate contents responded by saying she did not like surprises.

But mainly, things were positive. One little girl excitedly told her folks, “We got a card!” There were shrieks of, “It’s the sticker house!” And, the teenagers, were as a whole quite appreciative at receiving something different. I’d say, it was a sign they were actually candied out. It was encouraging to see that they still could like a good, basic pencil–even a non-mechanical one.

The seed packets were mainly tucked in the bags and not really noticed in the dark, but a few who did see them thought they were cool. I hope their value was better appreciated in the light of day–with the help of parents who’d realize what they were for.

The highlight of the evening was once again when Ruth came to the door. Last year, our hearts melted when mid-evening we responded to the doorbell’s beckon to find a little girl and her family waiting. The girl handed us a piece of paper. It was a drawing of–we think–a little bat and a little pumpkin. It was hard to tell, but not bad for a four-year-old. On the back, it was signed, Ruth. IMG_1251

This year, Ruth came to the door with her little sister who was now old enough to stand. Their costumes were beautifully made by their grandmother. Once more, we received a personal drawing–this time of three large carved pumpkins. Ruth’s artistic abilities had increased exponentially. And, now it was signed, Ruth and Grace. This evolved soul, did not seem to expect anything in return. We told them how touched we had been last year and how excited we were to see them again.

As usual, and as we had feared, we did not have enough to make it through the night. As supplies were running low, we frantically tore sticker sheets into individual stickers and repurposed whatever we could.

At the final ring, we had only a few stray bat and pumpkin erasers left. Apologetically we held the basket out to the lone teenager who stood before us. “I’m good with erasers”, he said and graciously accepted the offering.

I tell this story now, not only because it is already less than six months until the next Halloween and time to think ahead. But, because it exposes our complicated relationship with and messaging about food. Please understand I do not maintain a staunch anti-sugar stand. I appreciate how and why we are wired to enjoy it and recognize that it is a source of joy. In my repertoire, I carry a story I once read. When the author was a young girl, her well-meaning parents presented her with an apple with a candle stuck in it, in lieu of a cake for her birthday. She cried. It is also well documented how the denial of any sugar seems to breed an uncontrollable urge for it.

But, given the state of our health and what we know about the detriments of sugar and the foods it is cloaked in, and their ubiquitous presence, can we continue to abide the excess that this holiday ritual depends on? Especially as it so strongly impacts children. Who is really benefiting from this candy deluge? The excuses that it is just for one day, and that we can use it as a way of teaching our kids about moderation, may now be too feeble.

I think it may be time for the expansion of creative alternatives. I remember as a child Trick or Treating for UNICEF, carrying a little orange box door to door to collect money for children overseas. Apparently, that campaign was started in 1950 and is still around.  Maybe that idea can be flipped by households choosing a cause of their choice and telling the children soliciting treats that a donation will be made on their behalf to that cause. Just thinking out loud. Honestly, I am not sure I can sustain the full no-sweets effort. However, if little Ruth can draw all those pictures for everyone–I will certainly try.

As always, please say hi, leave a comment, subscribe to and share my blog, and let me know what Halloween ideas you have tried.

Most sincerely yours, Elyn

Related Posts: Eye of the Newt, The Nightmare Before Halloween, Post Halloween Post

MyPlate Plate

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brought to tears

I actually found it in a garbage can at the health department where I now work. I’d been trying to get my little fingers on one of these for a while, so I was not totally put off by its lowly circumstances. It really should have been in the recycling bin at least, but there it lay, abandoned, thankfully right on top. I gingerly lifted it from its resting place of refuse and walked it right over to a nearby sink.sunset-288531_1280

I unscrewed the cap which I was about to discard until I noticed that it too was an artifact of interest to me– but that was secondary to the bottle, at least for starters. The bottle was still half full or half empty, so my next quasi-distasteful act was to pour the hazardous saliva-mixed remains down the drain despite my uncertainty regarding proper disposal procedures for what might be considered a toxic substance.

A few months back I had become aware of some new Coca-Cola campaign entitled Share A Coke. Cans and bottles of the ubiquitous beverage now have one of about 250 first names, like Debbie, along with other emotionally tinged monikers like Bestie, Grillmaster, Wingman, Mom and Dad prominently displayed on the label under the directive to Share a Coke with the dearly imprinted. Just hearing about this manipulation of the human psyche triggered my shivers down the spinal reflex. But, when I began to see the bottles for sale in my local convenience store and in the cafeteria in my office building it was downright spooky. But, here I was now, up close and personal with one.

Things must have been getting pretty bad over there at Coca-Cola. Previous promises of perpetual happiness associated with imbibing the sugar-laden, highly acidic, caffeine-laced, teeth-rotting, gut-deteriorating, illness-promoting fizzy elixir must have begun to go flat. Were sales lagging? Was the logo no longer recognizable the world over? What else could have initiated a marketing blitz that reeks of malevolence as it strives to ensnare our fragile egos and enslave our purchasing behaviors?

I remember being excited when those little mini license plates with names on them that you could attach to your bike seat first came out. But, I also recall the immediate chagrin when you could not find your own name hanging from the metal display rack. Suddenly you felt second-rate, not worthy of a plate. I am not certain of all of the psychological underpinnings that are attached to this probably billion dollar campaign, but I am sure they are many. Does seeing our name emblazoned in such a public way make us feel validated, loved, powerful and more connected in this alienated world?

I don’t really get the campaign. I am sure, most of the time, you have to buy a bottle with someone else’s name on it. How much can you bother to search for a bottle that idolizes yourself or a loved one? Must you settle for John when you are really seeking Mario? And then, what if you don’t have a person to share it with? That is probably what happened to my bottle, Nicole. Half finished and tossed aside, unshared and hopes dashed. Even the reward points offered on the cap were left unclaimed and discarded. Reward points? Really?

I don’t want to go any further on this except to say that this unbridled assault on our health through such methods of aggressive advertising can and does bring me to tears. I’ve written about this before. One does not have to look too hard to see the real rewards of such consumption, but you have to care to be looking and looking to care. I am too verklempt even thinking about needing to reiterate the effects of these substances anymore. Originally, the reason I wanted to get a bottle without purchase was to be able to include it as a photo for this post–but now I don’t even wish to give it any publicity or visibility. We are clearly easy targets for seduction even when clearly it is not in our best interest. So, Nicole will now go directly into my recycling bin and I am posting instead a beautiful photo of a sunset. My only hope is that an unexpected outcome of the campaign will be that with all that sharing of cans and bottles, per capita consumption will actually shrink by at least half.

Anyway, while there are sad tears there are also happy ones. I specialize in both. Recently, while also at work–it may have even been the same day that I retrieved the Coke bottle, I received an email from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. It included a video that spotlighted healthy and healing practices being undertaken at the West Side High School for at-risk students in New York City through a powerful investment in a gardening program, real food, and intensive physical activity– by a dedicated and devoted principal and staff.

Thirty-six seconds in and there I was bawling (yes) in my little, oh not so private cubicle. In my last post, I wrote about my reservations about the bulk of nutrition and health activities being directed at obesity prevention efforts whereas I believe the implications and consequences of our cultural dietary and health insults are so much greater. I did not get much response on that so I would still be interested in hearing your thoughts. But, in this video, simply and beautifully, a young woman named Tenia expresses why eating proper foods is important for both emotional and physical well-being–aside from weight-based associations.

This glimpse of transformation that occurs when the birthright of health is granted, when it is given priority and nurtured, and not compromised by those so willing to sacrifice our young in endless pursuit of profit is worth viewing. I highly recommend it. Here is the link. Note, don’t forget the tissues.

Just a mention that my own recent favorite brew has been matcha, a fine green tea powder. I enjoy it as a tea or mixed in smoothies. It is fuller or richer than regular green tea and it gently provides a touch of focus and energy. I was initiated with a gift of a package of Matcha from Kiss Me Organics that was exceptionally pleasant and which has become a welcomed part of my day and my diet. There are many benefits of matcha to explore and it can be incorporated into many recipes. Give it a peek.

Na area da saude, Elyn

Related Posts: Private Health, So-Duh

Nirinjan's Plate

Nirinjan’s Plate

My Plate Haiku

It is easier

To reprimand the sinner

Than change the system.  by Julie

childhood awareness month obesity

Before the month is out, I’d like to report and thereby release my annual reticence about focusing attention so directly on childhood obesity. If I could, I would turn the matter inside out or upside down, but since my typing options are limited, I am just mixing the whole thing around–and hence the title.

Chances are you don’t even know that this is the month that deems we bring special attention to childhood obesity, albeit with good intention. Hopefully,fat kids don’t know it is either. Fat kids are not clambering for any special attention–their weight brings them more than they should ever have to bear every month of the year. Perhaps we should celebrate Childhood Obesity Lack of Attention Month and lighten up on those whose bodies bear our national shame.

I have written about my feelings on this before, and in a personal exercise of trying to write a short post, I will keep things brief by referring to those previous ones. But why I continue to be peeved is partly because I thought that awareness months were for concerns and conditions that would not otherwise garner attention. For example, September is also National Sickle Cell Month and Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month. Yet,obesity–for both young and old has not gone unnoticed. Since we realized there was a problem there has been a very public outcry and assault on the situation. The fight against it has been on heralding the call to eat less and move more. Master the equation.

But more so, I see the focus on obesity as missing the larger point. Yes, there has clearly been a marked increase in the prevalence of obesity in this country, and globally since the 1980s, according to the indicators that are used to measure such things. And, yes there are associated health concerns and consequences for some (though not all) of those who have turned their states from blue to orange and red on those shocking maps presented by the Center for Disease Control. The reasons for this are complex, confusing and multi-factorial. The obvious villains of eating more and moving less get the brunt of the blame but there are other nefarious players as well.

While we strive to figure out how to get a handle on the situation and direct many resources to worthy intervention and prevention efforts, my point is that the aspects of the problem that we decry for contributing to obesity, also have impacted other facets of our society’s health and that of its children. It is pretty obvious that we are suffering from lousy food, excessive intake and inadequate physical activity, but if we put those forces in a prisoner lineup, then we must also charge and convict them for not only contributing to weight gain, but to behavior and learning problems, depression, anxiety, immune system disorders, allergies and other maladies as well. It is not only the many who are vulnerable to weight gain who are affected. However, those who aren’t, are also being held hostage by the environmental and social influences that define our lives.

While it is true that our economy is burdened by health conditions related to weight for which the bell has been mightily tolled, so it is by these other impacts on our children. Gather together teachers, behavioral specialists, pediatricians, nutritionists and all those who tend to our young, and I am sure they will describe concerns broader than just children’s BMIs. Dietary and activity level influences may be involved there as well.

I must perforce explain that I get the gravity of the weight situation. But I cynically bemoan the multitude of poor policies that fostered the crisis and the policy makers who then woke up screaming, hey, let’s do something about those obese children. If we want a month, then may I suggest we rename it, “Tending to Our Children’s Birthright of Health Awareness Month” and stop just focusing on obesity. I believe all children will benefit from such a shift in attention and it may actually prevent some harm.

For those who are interested in mindful approaches to specific childhood feeding issues and raising competent eaters, I guide you to the wise work of Ellyn Satter, Dr. Katja Rowell and Dina Rose.

What are your thoughts on this?  Let me know.

In health, Elyn

Related (directly and indirectly) Posts: A Bushel and A Peck of Ways to Address Childhood Obesity; The Humanist Imperative to Nourish and Care for Our Children; The Tempted Temperament; Skinny Boys


Rose's Plate

Rose’s Plate

My Plate Haiku

Peach baskets brimming

Raspberries ripe on the bush

Apples soon to come.  by Crystal

(Summer sped by and fall is upon us. Apples are here!)

Happy Birthday to Rose’s wonderful Daddy.

Healing prayers for friend Jodi who has nourished so many with her wonderful cooking and abundant love.

Blessings to Crystal on her wedding to Oliver next week!

the tempted temperament

Original Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys. Clockwi...

Image via Wikipedia

Chances are you know a child like Sam. Sam, was a classmate of my daughter since kindergarten and I have watched him grow up.  He is a sweet-natured kid.  When he was young he was a really big boy with hands like mitts.  His eyes used to almost pop out of his head with excitement when food was presented.  Once, when my husband brought brownies to my daughter’s class in celebration of her birthday, Sam sized him up quickly, and befriended him immediately.  While waiting, he sidled up to my husband and whispered, “We better eat those brownies soon before they go raw.”  The well-being of those brownies were of his utmost concern.

We know that there are two types of people-those who live to eat and those who eat to live.  This attribute in individuals is one of those things we seem to just be born with.  It is not necessarily defined by genetics or environment.  It is not inherently good or bad.

Amidst the fray about childhood obesity, there is an urgent need to uncover the causes and to implement solutions.  External factors such as fast food, school lunches, excessive TV and computer use are the usual culprits, and of course, they are a part of the problem. However, missing from the dialogue is any mention of children’s natural dispositions.   Though the external forces must be addressed, in overlooking or disregarding the nature of the individual child and the powerful relationship with the act and art of eating, we lose an opportunity to be sensitive to children with particular natures.  Considering this piece may reveal some approaches to care and serve to remove the element of blame or human weakness from the child, as well as the parent.

Hippocrates and the ancient Greeks spoke of the four temperaments.  The temperaments described different formative forces that human beings possess that give rise to different soul types.  The model of the temperaments as a tool for understanding human nature was popular until the end of the Elizabethan Age. It has been the inspiration for many artistic endeavors and in the 1920’s, philosopher Rudolf Steiner integrated it into his work on childhood development where today it remains an active piece of the Waldorf School Movement, which he developed.

The four defined temperaments are the choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic.  In brief, they can be defined as such: the choleric is strong-willed; the sanguine is light, wispy and perhaps flighty with many curiosities; the melancholic is sensitive, suffering, and self-conscious; and the phlegmatic is dreamy and slow in movement. The characters that inhabit A.A. Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood can serve as archetypes of the different temperaments.   Tigger is the choleric; Piglet is the sanguine; Eeyore is the melancholic; while Pooh is the quintessential phlegmatic.

In young children, one can easily see distinct aspects of the temperaments and a predominant constitution–though most healthy kids do exhibit some sanguine tendencies.  The temperaments can manifest in all aspects of our beings.  When it comes to a deep passionate relationship with food, it is here that Sam and the phlegmatics reign.   They live to eat, and accordingly, tend to have soft, round bodies and are most prone to becoming overweight.  Remember Pooh’s sheer love of honey and how that devotion caused him to become stuck in the doorway of Rabbit’s house.  Dear Pooh.

As most parents can attest, children’s natures become evident almost from birth.  In the early years, one can often tell the phlegmatic children by body type along with behaviors.  Phlegmatic infants are most likely roly-poly and slow and steady feeders. They are happy to lie in the crib cooing, playing with their hands and feet.  With the introduction of solid food, they euphorically greet the oncoming spoon and are not easily distracted from eating.  Phlegmatic children may take to walking and talking later than their peers and are generally easy-going.

With the attainment of verbal skills, these children frequently say “I’m hungry.”  Though most healthy young children are often hungry due to high growth demands, the phlegmatic’s request for food seems to come less from actual physical hunger and more from a desire to be eating and digesting.  This seemingly constant refrain of “I’m hungry” becomes one of the greatest challenges to the parents of a phlegmatic child, especially if the parents do not share that temperamental tendency themselves.

How does one respond to this repetitive declaration of hunger and cry for food?  How does a parent distinguish between true physical hunger and emotional or digestive hunger?  Does non-physical hunger lack validity and deserve to be ignored or denied?  How many times can a mother just look her cherubic child in the face and say no?  Phlegmatic children are quite endearing and can easily work their way into our hearts in Pooh-like fashion.  Over restriction or over indulgence in feeding are both understandable reactions.

In being sensitive to the innate natures of our children at an early stage, we can adopt some feeding practices to better assist them in a healthy unfolding to adulthood. Phlegmatic children can be best served by being mindful of their enjoyment of eating but by providing them satisfaction with foods that are as healthy and naturally sweetened as possible.  If no serious emotional issues seem present, then the parent sees to the careful provision of a varied diet at scheduled times and the child sees to their appetite.  As the child gets older, helping them to find interests and activities, including physical pursuits that fit their temperament is important.  If extreme weight issues can be avoided, the growing child this will not be distracted by these matters and can then focus on the development of his or her natural abilities.

It is tempting to believe that we will one day whip all the children into proper shape by successful programming.  It is also a commonly held belief that the overweight child is destined to a life of obesity.  However, there may be more to be gained and less damage to be done from working with our children’s tendencies than fighting against them.  I have observed many round kids morph into lean adolescents through a combination of factors including their genetic blueprint, hormonal changes and their own conscious ability to choose how to feed themselves.  Sam is now sixteen.  He is a high level competitive rower.  I think he might now be described as highly buff.  He recently told me, that once he discovered what he was interested in he found a way of eating that served his purpose.

The gifts of the phlegmatics are many.  They are compassionate, serene, steady individuals capable of faithful and abiding love.  They often possess natural musical and artistic abilities, and in the final analysis are the true geniuses–the slow, steady and thoughtful thinkers of our times. By viewing such children through this more compassionate lens we can tend to their care more appropriately and be inspired to feed them well with good intention.

Were you a Tigger or a Pooh?

In health, Elyn

My Plate


Pick your own today
Happy kids in wide brimmed hats
Sweet summertime fruit…
By Anna


Lunch in a Japanese primary/elementary school:...

Image by Currawong1 via Flickr

Though the lunch menu indicated that the day’s meal was called “Mix It Up Day”, I was not sure what was actually getting mixed up. To me, it looked like the same mess as usual, except that pizza was not the main entree. I am usually in the schools on Fridays which is always Pizza Day, unless it is Pizza Bagel Day. But, today was a Wednesday.

On my information gathering excursions into the school lunch rooms, I always have to smile broadly and express benign interest as I approach the women serving on the line.

For “Mix It Up Day”, the main dish was served in individual black styrofoam containers covered in patterned cellophane wrap–shipped in from a centralized district kitchen. I could not identify the contents. “Good afternoon. What’s for lunch today?”,  I politely asked the lunch lady who was placing the black styrofoam containers on the white styrofoam trays that the children clutched as they moved down the line. “Chicken and cheese”, was the response. I tried another gentle inquiry, but realized I would have to figure it out on my own.

Another lunch lady was ably in charge of serving the two additional meal components–puce green overcooked broccoli mush and applesauce. With a metal measuring cup in each hand, she plopped the oozing applesauce into the bare compartments of the children’s trays while the broccoli sat idly by. Considered an optional component, it was not even offered. I later saw only one child with the broccoli on her tray. Reminiscent of poor Oliver’s experience in the orphanage in Dicken’s England, I wondered could there not even be a small effort towards more attractive food preparation and presentation.

Still needing to discover what that main course even consisted of, I strolled among the children who were already seated to eat. I found them contending with a dinner roll, two or three battered half dollar-sized circles which I think was the chicken, and three battered mozzarella cheese sticks. While circling, I also surveyed the number of chocolate v. white milk containers; the contents of the lunches brought from home; what was actually being consumed; and, anything else that might edify my knowledge base of what kids are eating in school. Finding it all less than appetizing, I maturely suppressed my prone-to-gagging inner child and returned to my office.

Later, I headed home, still digesting the day’s school lunch experience. The car radio was on, broadcasting more news about the unfolding tragic events occurring in Japan in the wake of the earthquake in Fukishima. Suddenly, the name Mix It Up Day, took on a new ironic meaning. I began to think of all the children who would not be having school lunch there on this crazy day or for many days to come.

Remembering that a few months ago I had received an email describing school lunches around the globe, I felt certain that Japan must have been one of the countries chosen to highlight. This country of such rich food culture and ritual, could surely vindicate the belief widely held here that we must serve kids low quality food because that is what they will eat. I arrived home and found what I was looking for.

According to information provided by http://www.kitchendaily.com and www.chefann.com, school lunch in Japanese is called kyuushoku. The lunches are all prepared in the schools, often by mothers of  students who serve in this role on a part-time basis. The meals are eaten in the classroom with the teacher, and parents–who contribute to the cost of the school lunch program–are invited in throughout the year. The children, clad in clean aprons, rotate the job of serving the food and no one can start eating until all have received their share. This is in sharp contrast to the chaotic, cacophonous “cafeteriums”  that define school lunch programs here. Recently, I had asked a young girl what she thought about my coming to eat in the cafeteria with her. She replied that I would get a headache.

Commonly in Japan, local foods are sourced with regional pride, children grow and harvest some vegetables that are used by the school, and everyone receives a printed menu that tells what food groups are provided by the meal. Typically provided foods include rice, rice noodles, miso soup with tofu, grilled fish, seafood stir fry, potato croquettes (korokke), stuffed omelette (omurice), daikon radish, sweet yams, bread and milk. Forty-five minutes are allotted for lunch time which is followed by recess.

In that topsy-turvy tsunami-ravaged part of Japan, in this dark hour, lunch time is really mixed up for millions of Japanese school children. As we pray that all their bellies be full of even just some warm rice or noodles, let us honor and carry the intention and care that defines how that country tends to the feeding and nourishment of their young to our own children here. It would serve us all well.

Thank you for reading. Any school lunch experiences to share?

In Health, Elyn

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My Plate Haiku   Did you really think That you could hide fish in rice? Oh, the green paste burns. from I Could Pee on This and other poems by cats collected by Francesco Marciuliano

i surmise with my little eyes

A few years ago, I worked at a college full of bright and creative students. While there, I was invited to serve on a panel for a discussion on “Food: Society and the Environment”. During the event, one young woman in the audience asked me to describe conditions I encounter in my practice as a nutritionist. Then, and still, I consider this a very insightful and important question, relevant to the issue of how we are feeding ourselves–on the personal and societal level– and what are its implications.

I have worked in medical and community environments as a nutritionist for many years, during a period marked by an increasingly modified and aggressively marketed food supply. At the time of that panel presentation, I was working at both that small, predominantly female college and a large Ob/Gyn office– so my clients were mainly women, ranging in age from about eighteen to forty. And, at the Ob/Gyn office, many of them were pregnant.

A history of poor dietary habits exerts its influence on the health of a society in more subtle ways than the common indicators of end-stage problems like diabetes, stroke and heart disease—but those are the conditions that get the ink. However, increasingly and alarmingly, I see many health issues with dietary or nutritional antecedents affecting young and middle-aged adults. Likewise, I see conditions once only ascribed to aging, presenting in younger people.

I would rather present this in a more artistic format, but for now, I must rely on a  mundane bulleted list. If I were to expand the demographics a little, the list would be even longer. Perhaps to best appreciate this– if you are more fully ripened– imagine yourself sitting in a college campus student union or going to a Lil Wayne concert. You are not having lunch at the senior center. This is what a day at the office could present to me while serving this young adult population. I note only those conditions which knocked with at least occasional frequency–not rare occurrences.

  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance
  • Heartburn and reflux  (GERD)
  • Constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and digestive disorders
  • Gall bladder conditions resulting in removal
  • Moderate to severe obesity
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Food allergies
  • Behavioral disorders
  • History of frequent illness in childhood
  • Eating Disorders
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Toxemia of Pregnancy—a syndrome associated with high blood pressure and kidney involvement
  • Gestational Diabetes
  • Recurrent yeast infections
  • Severe skin inflammations
  • Orthopedic Problems

Bouncing between the two work settings, I rarely had a day without a starving client struggling with an eating disorder; or without a client who weighed more than 250 lbs—who may also have been struggling with an eating disorder. As the numbers on the scale were increasing, so was the volume of the diatribe against the body. Both were distressing to witness–as was considering young, diseased gall bladders.

Some of these conditions are interrelated; and many are exacerbated by stress–another marker of dis-ease affecting our youth. The prevalence of these conditions also means that many of this millennium generation are on at least one medication, including those that treat depression, anxiety, blood pressure, heartburn, inflammation, behavior, and hormones. The use of these medications will result in increased prescriptions for erectile dysfunction and osteoporosis medications for this generation as well.

My contention is that young children who are exposed to processed foods, do not develop the ability to appreciate the more distinct and varied flavorings of more natural foods—especially those of the plant kingdom.  Therefore, these more healthful foods are not incorporated into their food vocabularies. These young children grow into big kids and young adults, quickly accumulating the years that their bodies are exposed to altered, nutrient and enzyme-deficient foods.

Craving the whole foods that our bodies and brains require by design in order to function, an underlying “true” hunger festers and grows. The hunger is either pursued voraciously or feared and denied.  Even in the middle ground, before too long, this compromised nutritional state can take its toll and the above conditions can manifest.

One of the difficulties of inspiring behavioral change in regard to eating and nutrition, and in explaining how food matters, is that it is not very easy to show direct cause and effect between food choices and health outcomes. Many might argue that they would prefer to just eat happily and without dictates—even at the cost of a possible slightly premature end. Could considering the consequences that physically and emotionally damage us decades before the final blow serve to amend such an attitude? Attention to dietary change has become essential. Through positive food experiences may we begin to show that nutrition can prevent not only life threatening conditions, but life limiting ones as well.

Any thoughts on this?  Any reflections of how you eat/ate at this phase of your life?  Please let me know.

In health, Elyn