Judy Elliott: MyPlate fights paradox of childhood obesity
by Judy Elliott
Columnist
June 12, 2011 12:00 AM | 1099 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
They were a pair, the skinny first-year teacher, armed with child psychology theories, and the retired Navy chief, who ran the school cafeteria.

His job, (as he saw it,) was to put meat on her bones and to wipe out the vacant stares of children, riding school buses in from the county, leaving home with empty stomachs.

Back then, the government doled out surplus butter and potatoes like it was Thanksgiving year-round. Chief Moseley knew how to cook for a crowd. He boiled and mashed potatoes, slathering them in butter, and spread the word saucer-sized biscuits waited in the cafeteria, ready for a slice of bacon or ham.

He made liver and onions palatable. I know, an impossible task, but cooked in enough butter, liver cuts like pudding. The skinny first-year teacher got her fix of cafeteria yeast rolls until she tried on her favorite winter skirt and found it would not zip. When she held up her hand to signal no mashed potatoes and gravy, Chief Moseley managed a little smile and plopped an ample serving of both on her plate. The teacher bought a new skirt! The shy children made their way to the cafeteria for morning biscuits and trays of peanut butter cookies appeared on the playground during recess.

When the new nutrition guidelines appeared this month in the form of MyPlate, a visual of a meal, offering fruit, a vegetable, grain and protein, the national appetite bid a fond farewell to the food pyramid, that icon of healthy eating, once setting the bar for school cafeterias and kitchen tables.

MyPlate will be part of a campaign to change the eating habits of too many of America's children, whose vegetable of choice is a sack of French fries and whose main squeeze is the eternal hamburger.

Adults are not excused from new dietary guidelines which include avoiding salty meats, eating fish twice a week, cutting back on portion sizes, drinking water instead of sugary drinks and filling two-thirds of your plate with fruit and vegetables. Low-fat milk is recommended as are whole grains.

In Chief Moseley's day, (when a fast food drive-through was a novelty), the big offender for children was a meager breakfast, if any, and divided pork chops, stretched for big families, at supper.

The reality of today's nutrition shortcomings is a paradox. We are fighting childhood diabetes and an epidemic of obesity while one in four of our country's children struggles with hunger.

On a news program earlier this week, I heard actor Jeff Bridges, still sporting his scruffy beard from "True Grit," speak to the issue of school children living through their vacation months without free breakfasts and lunches, available during the school year.

For many, he said, those meals were the only ones they could count on. In some states, there are designated sites where summer lunches are offered at no charge. Problems remain, of course. How to transport children to places where apples and bananas, milk and grilled cheese sandwiches are the fuel they need to play? Bridges and his group are working with state agencies, taking on the charge of ending the plight of hungry children.

Before John Edwards died a political death from arrested development and ego fever, his hue and cry was of two Americas, the haves and the have nots. He held forth on the shame of a country with so much wealth turning away from her people who live below the poverty line.

California high school seniors speak of putting off college to take jobs because their parents have been laid off. Teachers attribute poor classroom performance, in part, to the heavy load children bear, emotional and physical, as families cope with financial loss.

MyPlate is intent on offering solutions for a healthier America, an admirable goal. But it is with heavy hearts we serve our families vegetables, fruit and milk, knowing there are children in this country who go to bed, hungry.

Judy Elliott is an award-winning columnist from Marietta.
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