Pour Your Heart Out: Healthy Choices Taught at Home or School?

  • “How many calories are in that?”
  • “We should go to Subway instead of Sonic because it’s healthier.”
  • “Is this junk food or is it okay to eat?”
  • “How many calories did I just burn?”

These are all things my 7 year old routinely says to me, thanks to his PE class.

And it’s been bothering me for a while.

I get that childhood obesity is on the rise and that we need to educate our children to make healthier choices, to eat better, to stay active.

But my children all eat healthy, are so active they barely sit still, and while they are not scrawny, no one would ever call them the least bit chubby.

So it bothers me when my 7 year-old asks how many calories are in a glass of milk. Is he not going to drink it if he doesn’t like the answer?

Or if he thinks he should burn more calories, will he go exercise some more? We don’t even call it exercise here, we call it PLAYING.

I do appreciate the junk food question, as we do talk about what is regular food and what is a special treat(like the Cherry Limeades I have a slight addiction to).

The Subway vs. other fast food places can tick me off pretty fast since it should be about choices instead of restaurants. I’ll take my chances with a small grilled chicken wrap from Sonic over a large meatball sub from Subway, but that’s just me. And besides, the school has a “spirit night” at four different fast food restaurants every. single. month. so what is that teaching? But, I digress.

Healthy habits are easier to continue if started at a young age, yes, true.

But I wish the instruction was focused more on what foods and amounts they should be eating. Not calories, but talking about portions. Give an example of a healthy snack. There are fewer calories in an Airhead candy(regular size) than in an apple, but I’d rather my kids choose the apple.  But then again, if they have an Airhead as a special treat while we watch Daddy’s softball game, I’m not freaking out over that, either.

And instead of talking about calories burned, why not talk about the importance of staying active? Let the kids try all different sports and physical activities and see which ones they like. Talk about how much time a day they should be out there doing something.

But with the big push for the schools to take on the problem of childhood obesity, it’s not just up to individual families to decide what we are going to teach our kids about a healthy lifestyle.

The former educator in me is wanting to shout out “The schools need to because some families won’t teach their kids about healthy habits and their kids are at a greater risk for obesity. If the schools can help any of those kids, they need to be doing it.”

While the parent in me gets frustrated and wants to yell “Would you stop having my skinny second grader question how many calories are in the very healthy snack I give him after school?”

I don’t know where the solution is. Or exactly what age different topics should be introduced.  I want my kids to be healthy and I think we as a family do a good job at teaching them how to go about it. But is that enough?

What do you think? How much should schools be involved with educating our children about making healthy choices?

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  1. says

    I would have to agree with you that some schools are going overboard… but it sounds like your kid might be like mine – really into figuring out the rules and how things work – she’s a mathematician and scientist at heart, so she started looking at calories and energy early on… she loves to know how many calories she burns on a bike ride… I think if you just keep reinforcing your own rules for nutrition and give in on a few things … like figuring out the calorie count on their meal once in a while – as a math and science exercise, your kids will get the best of both worlds
    Heather ~ Acting Balanced Mom recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – Another trip to the AquariumMy Profile

    • Shell says

      I think that is a big part of it- he does like to have things figured out. But I still don’t get them talking to kids that young about calories!

  2. says

    Wow, those days are just starting for me. My oldest is entering kindergarten, and her private school still allows cupcakes for birthday treats. I’m told most of the public schools do not. I want school to provide a healthy lunch, but not to contribute to a calorie complex. My girls will have enough of that to battle from the media!
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    • Shell says

      Ours allow those treats, though here they have to be in original store packaging, no homemade treats! 

  3. Oka says

    I can relate, so relate.

    The subject I have a hard time with is bullying.  Our schools are very pro-active when it comes to bullying and I am grateful to the situation.  Yet, sometimes I have to question the information they are passing along.  Why?  My daughter and the kids I babysit after school, are hyper sensitive to bullying now.  To the point that any person who is not nice at any given time, is a bully.  No joke.  As if kids can’t ever make a mistake with their behavior or they labeled by all other kids as a bully.  This isn’t very helpful on the rare occasion my daughter has had a bad day at school.  She comes home crying when someone else has referred to her as a bully for a bad choice she had made.

    I think the schools are trying to do their best, but I do think that the parents have to educate their children right along side the school.  We, as parents, know how our child is processing the information and need to make sure we make clarification for them. 

    • Shell says

      I do think the term bullying is thrown around too much now. Anything mean is called bullying. And while if that behavior continues as a pattern, it is, all kids are going to screw up at some point and say or do something they shouldn’t- it doesn’t make them a bully.

  4. says

    There is no reason to talk calories with 7 year olds.  Talk about junk food versus healthy and natural versus processed because that’s what really matters to begin with!  And as much as a sugar nazi as I am, I am totally against the “healthy snack” thing for birthdays – at least in NJ, it’s a mandate.  The kids can not bring in cupcakes!  That’s insane!  
    Ok, I feel much better now that that is off my chest. 
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    • Shell says

      We don’t have the healthy birthday snack thing here, yet- thank goodness! Though ours has to be store-bought and can’t be homemade.

  5. says

    Agree. Our school also has “spirit nights” at fast food restaurants at least 3 times a month. But my kids come home spouting off the same questions as your son. I don’t get it. You’re definitely not the only one who is bothered by it. 
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    • Shell says

      I hate those spirit nights. I get that it raises money for the schools, but OMG, four times a month is just way too often.

  6. says

    I think it is good for schools to try and help out but yes it sounds like their school is going about it all wrong.  There is no need for them to be counting calories- that is crazy!  And is Subway sponsoring these lessons?? 
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  7. says

    This is a difficult question for me to answer. On the one hand, I get frustrated with things like this because it IS the parents responsibility to maintain and teach healthy eating and lifestyle habits. What good is it going to do for a school to push healthy eating when you have parents that run by McDonalds every meal because they don’t know how/want to cook? Then again, like you mentioned, some kids don’t have that luxury and that’s not THEIR fault. I think schools should be emphasizing healthy eating over calories (like you mentioned the airhead vs. apple scenario) and the importance of staying active of living in front of a screen. I don’t remember childhood obesity being an issue when I was a kid because we didn’t have video games and internet was dialup. :) Plus…what is all of the calorie talk teaching kids about healthy body image? You say calorie count and I immediately think of 7 and 8 year old girls being told they are “fat.”
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  8. says

    Short answer is (at least from my perspective) that no, it’s not enough for families to teach their kids about healthy habits and the importance of being active. While, yes, that’s where it starts, there are so many larger policy issues and systems at play that are just broken but that have contributed to creating the environments that we now live in. I know it gets into sticky territory about how much government should regulate things but there needs to be some fundamental changes. I am really surprised that the school is emphasizing calories like that versus healthy eating. I agree with Courtney and what a negative impact that can have on body image at such a young age. Sorry. I’ll step off my soapbox now…
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    • Shell says

      I think if they had left the calorie thing out of it, I’d be okay with the lessons. That’s the sticking point for me. 

  9. says

    When my oldest was in public school, the nurse would weigh and measure each child and send home a note saying whether they were within the norms for their age or not. One year we were told that he was underweight, the next that he was above the norm in weight. He had gained about 4 or 5 pounds between the ages of 6 and 7. Our family doctor seemed to think he was growing at a healthy rate, yet somehow the school nurse seemed to disagree! I think the schools are overstepping their boundaries. It’s scary to think of children that don’t have involved parents being led to believe that they are too heavy or are consuming too many calories.
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  10. says

    Very good points.  

    I’m not so sure I’d like Buddy to be asking me about calories and such.  Though, I do wish his school focused more on healthy things.  At his old school, they would have a bake sale and smoothie day on the exact same day.  And no, the “smoothies” aren’t real smoothies, they are slushes.  There’s a difference.  It used to really bother me.  I would tell him that he needed to make a choice, and I always let him make that choice.  I had to explain why we need to make choices like that.  I wish his school did a better job of explaining stuff like that to the kids.
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    • Shell says

      I’m not sure about how it works at my boys’ schools because if there are treats along with lunches, they haven’t said anything to me about buying them. But in the last school I was teaching in, we had to be sure the kids got 30 min/day of structured physical activity- not just recess, but organized play. And yet they sold things like Little Debbies and ice cream along with lunch- and wouldn’t say a word about a child who bought 4 Little Debbies along with lunch. Ugh!

    • Shell says

      The options really aren’t very good at school. My boys almost always pack their lunches.

  11. says

    Great post.
    I’m pleased with how Julia’s school is teaching nutrition. They talk about good snacks, but not calories.
    As a mom of girls, I worry about how to “teach” her to eat “properly”, but not give her a complex that will make her worry about her looks and weight.
    It is a fine balance. You know?
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    • Shell says

      I hate the talk of calories so young. 

      My oldest has already asked about if he was getting fat(OMG- no- you can see his ribs!) and I think it’s from all the talk at school about calories.

  12. says

    As someone who REALLY gets into calorie counting when I want to drop a few times, I don’t know if that’s the focus they should have, especially with kids so young. I think they should be focusing on quality of food and maybe teach the trick about portion sizes on a plate. Teach them how to have fun with healthy food and make healthy choices because they’re delicious and help your body.

    Calorie counting is a great way to control weight, but it also focuses on quantity over quality. I have been known to drink coffee all day to have calories to eat an unhealthy dinner or junk food. It works calorie-wise, but it’s not healthy :(
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    • Shell says

      Calories definitely have their place. And in the past, I’ve counted to lose weight as well. And sometimes I was craving that Snickers bar, so that was what I ate as my dinner. And I’d still lose the weight because I’d stay within my goal for calories- but it wasn’t healthy!

  13. says

    my 7 yr old daughter who doesn’t even weigh 65 lbs yet asked me the other day why her legs were getting fat?? OMG! …my kids do ask me if certain foods are healthy or not but I don’t think it’s overboard with them. im overweight and am so worried about them following my footsteps that I always try to encourage them to make healthier choices and get off the couch and go do something!
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    • Shell says

      I don’t really mind the talk about if it’s healthy- it’s more the talk of calories. 

  14. says

    First of all it confuses me why in the world they would be teaching kids about counting calories! That’s crazy….

    I agree 100% with all that you said! And to add to it they could be contributing to the poor self image that some girls seem to have because of the media. 
    With  my younger kids I don’t worry to much about calories because I know how busy they are, but with my older daughter (16) I do because she is already heavier than she should be so teaching her about healthy weight, calories, and making better choices when it comes to what she eats and drinks is important.
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    • Shell says

      It has me wondering if they just have one “healthy living” curriculum and teach it the same across all grade levels, even though young kids don’t need to think about calories!

  15. says

    I think schools should have a role in teaching kids what is healthy to eat/do or not.  Parents should also have a role in teaching their kids how to eat properly, but let’s face it, not all do.    Kids should learn about healthy portions and way to stay active, but they don’t need to learn about calories.  Maybe the definition but not how many are in what they are eating and how many they have burned.   Teaching more than they need to know could lead to another set of issues, like not eating because they worry they’ll be fat.

    • Shell says

      I don’t want my boys to get that complex of worrying about their weight when they definitely have nothing to worry about!

  16. says

    Ugh. I can’t tell you how much this irritates me. Like you said, I know obesity is an issue, but the fact is kids are so much more sedentary as a whole. Why not stress the importance of keeping exercise and healthy movement a habit throughout life instead of stressing over calories? It’s so stupid, and it’s not doing these kids any favors. Let’s stress the importance of natural, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables instead of highly processed junk. As you said, an apple as opposed to an Airhead. It seems like common sense – why is it so difficult, then?
    Like the whole “non-fat” trend, which we know is a bunch of garbage. It’s not doing anyone any favors. And neither is this.

  17. says

    I remember when I stumbled across my 4th graders telling one another that they weren’t going to drink the milk the school offered because of the fat content and the calories.  I literally stopped in my tracks, called the girls over and we had a little chat to which I told them that milk is okay and that they don’t need to worry about that.  The one told me her older HS sister said she did and I said nope, tell your sister to come talk to me.  Funny  how the next day she was drinking the milk!
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    • Shell says

      I think I see the problem! In the backlink on your site, there’s some characters before the http:// which are causing it to show an error. I will get you linked up, but I think that’s it!

  18. says

    I’ll admit that I spend far too much time thinking of bunsen burners for myself (energy in, energy out – try to make sure they’re even) . . . it’s quite scar for a growing kid, who is not showing any warning signs of becoming obese, to have the same obsession.  Though, it’s entirely possible that it’s all just a curiosity thing . . . knowing you, reading the way that you are with your kids, they’re growing to become quite appreciative of “healthy living.”

    I have a cousin that was talking about stopping at Wendy’s between a family event and a church event to get something for the kids.  I mentioned “yeah, I’d just stop into McDonald’s in your boat,” and she looked at me in horror.

    “Don’t you know that McDonald’s makes kids fat?”

    It’s the choices.  Always the choices.
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    • Shell says

      My guy is quite curious, so that probably plays a role in this. 

      I calorie counted at one point in my life and it became a bit of an obsession- at a point when I certainly shouldn’t have been worrying about it. I just don’t want that for my kids. 

      LOL at the Wendys/McDs. 

  19. says

    My seven-year-old doesn’t even know what a calorie is. He understands what a healthy snack is, but has no idea about counting calories, which is fine by me. His BMI is also technically troublesome, but his pediatrician just laughed at that one because you can see the kid’s ribs when he moves and I have to cinch the adjustable waists all the way in on his jeans (which he hates because he thinks he looks like he’s wearing a diaper). I’m comfortable with his weight and his doctor is comfortable with his weight.

    I understand that schools can be the only place that some kids even get nutritional guidance, but I agree with all of the comments that the goal should be healthy eating habits (counting calories isn’t really all that healthy). Apple over Airhead any day.
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  20. says

    I didn’t realize they were even talking calories. I thought they were just talking about what foods made good choices, but I totally agree that we need to teach portion sizes. ALL of us could use that refresher course, I’m sure. 

    I do think that for far too many families, the only nutrition information the kids will receive will be via schools so I’m grateful that even if the message isn’t the perfect one, it’s still being sent out in some way.
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    • Shell says

      I don’t mind the majority of the message- I just wish they’d leave off the calories when they are dealing with the younger kids.

  21. says

    I hear you, Shell! I wish there was a happy medium somewhere. My kids are like yours, so active they can hardly sit still. We have treats once in a while, and I don’t stress too much about “junk food” because we don’t eat it that often. 
    Good thinking post, Shell :) 
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    • Shell says

      I don’t see anything wrong with a treat now and then. We didn’t really have them growing up(we were a completely no-sugar household) and that just made my brothers and me want treats more.

  22. says

    Oh boy. I don’t even know what to say, except that I agree with you. I think it is up to families, but because not all families find healthy eating important (or even know how to do it themselves), that schools do need to contribute. I just think that it sounds like your son’s school is going about it the wrong way. I love the ideas you gave of teaching healthy eating vs. calorie counting, etc. Besides, isn’t that what we all should be focusing on? Anyway, I thought this was a great post. And I want my girls to get some guidance from school, but mostly from home. Because I don’t want them to be elementary school kids counting calories and already obsessing about weight. Sheesh.
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  23. says

    Yes, obesity rates in children have skyrocketed but it’s about healthy choices. All this calorie talk is ridiculous. I’m horrified as I’ve witnessed children as young as four talking about not getting fat. It’s not just the obesity it’s society’s obsession with being thin. Instead of focusing on self acceptance, a healthy lifestyle and healthy choices. We are setting our youth up for failure. 

  24. says

    I totally relate. One day my very skinny kindergartener came home and said he couldn’t eat mini-wheats anymore because they were a bad breakfast because of too much sugar. Wtf. Also, he was told he couldn’t eat cookies because of the sugar. I was infuriated. My kids eat lots of healthy food and if they want mini-wheats for breakfast – which don’t contain that much sugar and do contain a lot of fibre – and a cookie for a snack, well, that’s okay by me. I understand issues with childhood obesity but there is a huge difference between a glass of whole milk and a fucking Happy Meal.
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  25. says

    That’s a hard question to answer. Schools are being made responsible for so much of the raising of today’s children. Should the schools be responsible for teaching these things? Maybe in part. Children do need to know about healthy choices (food, exercise, relationships, etc.). But there is a line somewhere. It’s just a very blurry line.
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  26. says

    I agree with what you’re saying here. The schools can send the same message with a much healthier delivery. This is the perfect topic for a recent company I will be talking about in an upcoming post. But, they have products that teach portion size and food groups in the plates themselves. LOVE IT! My little one is very picky and does not get the healthy foods he needs. I hate it. But, here’s your little man eating healthy and worrying about it. There’s got to be a happy medium.
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  27. says

    As a former teacher, I hate that school are trying to educate kids on healthy eating. Why? Have you seen the junk that the school calls healthy for school lunch and breakfast. Pizza is healthy if you use reduced fat cheese and turkey pepperoni. And strawberry milk which has more sugar in it than a coke is also healthy. Um yeah not so much. I don’t want someone who thinks pizza is a healthy choice to educate my kids. Also, the lesson needs to be about portion size, how different foods fuel their body, and being active if it’s going to be taught.
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  28. says

    I actually wish our school would do a better job promoting healthy eating. In fact, I am the least anal person about that stuff really, and do fast food for me and the kids at least twice a week (though we don’t generally get fries), but they offer all these snacks that they can buy at a very young age, and all the birthday cupcakes, etc. I feel like it is excessive so it has actually been my one formal complaint to the school after 3 years of attendance. That being said, I would not want my kids calorie counting or being that caught up about it either. I agree that promoting an overall healthy and active lifestyle along with making healthy eating choices is a better approach. I also have lately been teaching my 8-yr-olds about portion control. One of them LOVES to eat and I don’t think she has the genes to support it. If my kids were skinny (some are but I have one that I fear will take after my obese SIL), I wouldn’t worry about it. But because I know what could one day be a real struggle for her, I try to teach it now. It’s tricky too because I also don’t want to say the wrong things and give anyone a negative body image.  It’s been a real tough one for me. I mainly try to keep my kids very active and tell them they need to find something they like and that they will always need to do something. I think they get that at least. 
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    • Shell says

      It is a bit odd- b/c they’ll teach it and then offer really terrible snacks for the kids- and not just on a special occasion. 

    • Shell says

      The treats really can get out of hand. And not just on special occasions, but all the time.

  29. says

    That’s such a tough balance.  At our house we try to focus on “healthy choices”, portion sizes, and trying to limit desserts to the weekend…..and encourage sports and playing outside.  I don’t want my kids being obsessed with their weight but I also want them to be comfortable with their bodies.  Some of my children inherited the thinner traits of my husband’s family and some inherited the curvier traits of my family….that’s tough b/c some of them could have ice cream every night and it wouldn’t matter and some of them can’t.  I just want them to have healthy self images!

    • Shell says

      I think that’s what the goal should be- healthy self image. I just worry that too much calorie talk will deter that.

  30. says

    Gosh, this is a tough one.  I definitely like schools teaching kids about portions and healthy food options.  However, I don’t like them “pitching” one food joint over another.  My mom owned a Subway and I worked there for 5 years.  I’d rather eat a piece of pizza than a Cold Cut Combo or a BMT!  Some of those lunch meats are heavily processed!  Ick!

    Here’s where schools could start: in the cafeteria!  Seriously, how healthy are there options?

    I’m a little disgusted kids are learning about calories.  Yes, there is an obesity epidemic BUT there are also alarming numbers of bulimic/anorexic kids out there too–boys are on the rise.  I think balance with foods needs to be stressed.  It’s okay to have crap and candy IN MODERATION, especially when combined with healthy life choices (like playing or exercise).  

    P.S.  I always eat a fudgsicle after I work out.  45 calories make burning the other 300 so worth it!
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    • Shell says

      Oh, I know- school meals are not very healthy! 

      And yes on the processed meats at Subway. Not something I want to be eating!

      I think treats are a good thing in moderation! 

  31. says

    I don’t have a kid in school, but maybe they can’t stress healthy  choices because not everyone can afford healthy food? not sure if that is the reason. But i don’t think they should be teaching 7 year olds about counting calories. Wouldn’t that lead to other problems? 
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    • Shell says

      I think it’s possible to eat healthy on any budget- and yes, I’ve been there where I had to really budget my money. 

      I do think talking calories too early is only going to hurt down the line.

  32. says

    A smart, thought-provoking post. I agree with you – it makes me crazy also that schools are teaching kids to obsess about calories rather than focus on healthy options, variety and portion sizes. And, I don’t know the answer either, but I love how you framed and initiated this discussion. Well done!
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  33. says

    It took all day but I got here!  It should never be about calorie counting/calories burned.  http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ has all kinds of info.  I love now that they finally made the “pyramid” a PLATE.   The schools should do it like they used to.  Eat this because it is good for you.  Get plenty of exercise because it keeps you strong and healthy.  (Not because it will keep you skinny!) yikes.  The best thing to do is to answer the questions, and say treats are fine sometimes.  Bcause they are.  And you guys are so active that is okay!    And I am guessing they are not living off of candy and fast food.  
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    • Shell says

      Well, they probably would eat off candy and fast food if I let them. But since they don’t, we’re okay. 😉 

  34. says

    It is annoying when the kids ask those questions – Zach will ask how much fat is in stuff (and he is a skinny little kid too!) But I wonder if he gets it from school or from tv – it seems everywhere you look you are being bombarded with calorie counts or fat grams… As long as there is a good balance of food that is all that matters – some yummy snacks but some HEALTHY yummy snacks too!

    It is quite annoying though!

    • Shell says

      They are too young to be worried about it! Especially since they don’t have any weight issues. 

  35. says

    Interesting question. Maybe schools should talk more to little ones about choosing healthy behaviors, treats in moderation than calories in and burned. It’s a tough one as always with drawing these sorts of lines. I like your approach, though; mine is very similar. We do lots of healthy foods and activities but we do allow treats here and there and don’t stress over it.
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  36. Shell says

    I think they do talk about those, it’s the calorie talk that is really throwing me off.

  37. says

    I agree with you Shell. At his age, regardless of whether a school is trying to fight childhood obesity or not — kids should learn about healthy eating and making good choices and about being active. To me, teaching them about calories and excerise is setting them up for unhealthy body images in my opinion. If the school is teaching them to make healthy choices, they won’t worry about the extra calories they eat in an unhealthy choice once in a while. That’s the whole point in having a treat!
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  38. says

    and you know what else kills me? That the school sells chips and other shitty food at lunch….elementary! and if you buy lunch you routinely get a cookie…such crap….and my kids wonder why I pack their lunch most of the time…not that I’m against junk, they eat plenty of it, but at school I know they’ll be so hungry they’ll eat all of the healthy food I pack-if they buy what are they eating first? exactly…
    Luckily though, they don’t focus so much on calories, rather healthy choices and getting plenty of exercise-and they all know that playing is considered exercise….but I wonder if all of this is setting up girls for eating disorders? 
    okay, I’ve rambled enough…
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  39. says

    It used to be that “diet” and “calorie counting” were just things that girls had to deal with. Now, it is everywhere. There are a growing number of boys with eating disorders. I worry about HOW they are teaching it. I think they use images that are unrealistic (like most magazine covers) and I think they use the words to scare them instead of educate them.
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  40. says

    Wow, I”m shocked they are talking about calories in school.  I think that’s the wrong message.  It’s about healthy vs. non-healthy and even more so, moderation.  Nothing wrong with a cookie or potato chips now and then.  I feel if they are completely unable to have these things, then that’s when they’ll go crazy wanting them…unless they’ve never had them their entire lives.  I think this should be mostly taught at home.
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  41. says

    I love this important conversation, Shell!

    I’m coming at this from the same perspective – as a teacher and as a mama – and so appreciate the distinction between the talk about calories and restaurants and ingredients and choices.

    Le sigh. There’s so very much to all of this, sin’t there?
    Galit Breen recently posted..About Belonging (As an Introvert)My Profile

  42. says

    I agree with you 100%.  It should be about making healthier choices rather than calories consumed/burned.  The sad thing is that most adults don’t even realize this!

  43. says

    LOVE THIS!  I was told a few weeks ago that Nate’s BMI was in the 90th pecentile and I was stunned, the kids is beyond active and isn’t chubby.  He’s three so he has baby tummy but I mean really?  Checking the BMI of a just turned three year old?  I try to teach Nate balance and portions.  He knows it’s okay to have a cookie but he shouldn’t eat a dozen, that kind of thing.  Now I’m wondering what they are going to be teaching him when he gets to school!  Kids don’t need to be concerned about calories!
    stephanie @ babe’s rockin’ mami recently posted..Things I Do DifferentlyMy Profile