Saturday, June 6, 2009

empty calories

In our town, the school hosts free lunches all summer long for any kid who wants to come. It is not based on income, but is funded partially by the USDA. I love these lunches for several reasons:

a) Neither of my kids ever complains about what is being served.
b) It saves me at least an hour (or more) in the kitchen everyday. I not only do not have to cook or clean up the mess, but I am not expected to be a short-order cook. I don't have to read Charlotte's mind pertaining to what she wants to eat. And I don't have to undergo the infuriating process of preparing something for her only to have her demand an entirely different meal. Yeah, fun times.
c) After eating their lunches, the kids run off to play and I get to talk to my friends.
d) They even have programs at the school during the lunch time, one of which is a cooking class taught by a woman at our University of Illinois Extension office. She teaches kids simple cooking techniques and encourages healthy eating. Ostensibly.

On Friday, the cooking lady (who is really, really nice) taught the kids how to make this yummy apple salad which consisted of apples, canned pineapple and its juices, a box of butterscotch pudding and some Cool Whip. It sounds good, but isn't something my kids are likely to eat. Danny has a major texture aversion and doesn't eat foods that are mixed together. Plus, butterscotch pudding has red food coloring which we think gives me migraines and which we try to avoid with the kids, because I swear it makes Danny even more hyper than usual.

Anyway, what I found disturbing was what the cooking lady said as she hyped her creation. She claimed that the most unhealthy part of the dessert was the pineapple and apples because those have sugar, while the pudding was sugar and fat-free and the Cool Whip was also fat-free.

Why is it that people automatically assume that if something has sugar it is evil? How could apples be less healthy than pudding that is full of all kinds of chemicals and artificial flavors and sweeteners?

Don't get me wrong, I am not some kind of health food extremist. I don't have a big problem with eating junk food once in a while. (OK, when I say "once in a while" I really mean often. I can't make it through the day without at least a little bit of chocolate.) I can totally see using those types of food to stave a craving and minimize caloric intake. But to eat a sugar-free candy bar INSTEAD of fresh fruit would be not such a healthy choice. My concern is that people erroneously think that just because a food is sugar or fat-free it is a healthy food. What's more scary is that this is being taught to our kids.

And please don't think I am criticizing the wonderful cooking lady; I'm totally not. It seems like everyone, even some nutritionists believe that sugar-free foods are good for us. Weight Watchers definitely does. They push their products all the time and most of them are so full of artificial stuff it's hard to understand how it could be considered food.

If we really want to be healthy, shouldn't we be eating more natural foods more often? I know I, for one, could really improve in this area and I am making strides to do so. Maybe someday society will go back to more natural and whole foods. I know I always feel better when I eat like that. So, my new goal is to eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods.

But I'm still not giving up my drug of choice: Mint Three Musketeer bars. I just can't do it.


Anonymous said...

Umm I'd take an apple any day as a healthy choice. I think cooking with sugar is better then Splenda- I don't care what anyone says

Mrsbear said...

I'm really surprised the cooking lady would refer to apples and pineapple as unhealthy. I think I understand what she was trying to sell, but it just seems a little irresponsible considering how much little kids internalize that stuff. Sugar-free like anything else, is okay in moderation, but seriously, that stuff can't be terribly good for you. I'd love to stick to the fruits and veggies, but I've recently become addicted to caramel toffee scones from Target. Don't worry, they're the full sugar version. ;)

~ April ~ EnchantedDandelions said...

Wow, that's a pretty cool program! Lunch and a playdate, sounds great.

I definitely agree with you. Whenever I bring up healthy eating, my grandma will start lecturing me about how kids need fat and whatnot. I tell her my kids get plenty of fat (most of it from healthy sources), it's all the chemicals, artificial crap, etc. that I avoid. I guess she relates healthy eating to dieting/losing weight or something.

Kelly said...

Um, natural sugars are not the same as sugar in some processed pudding. I am a huge fan of the sugar-free, fat-free puddings, but I know that eating an apple is much better for me. Also, fruit not only has sugar, but it also has vitamins, fiber, etc.

I'm just kind of aghast that someone could call fruit "unhealthy" and Cool Whip "healthy".

Btw, that salad does sound yummy. :)

Elizabeth Channel said...

That cooking lady is crazy. She sounds like the lunchroom lady at Edward's kindergarten who made pancake pods (pancakes with huge dollops of jelly) and funnel cakes for the breakfast. And then they wondered why the children were so hyper.

Red 40 dye is the *worst* let me just say...