Monday, March 29, 2010

Teaching Taste

We like what we know and we eat what we like. The idea of “comfort food” is based on what is familiar to us, particularly from our childhoods. My friends find it strange that my idea of comfort food involves anything that comes from the freezer and is re-heated, but that’s what I grew up eating with two working parents. Fish sticks and tater tots were a very common meal along with Marie Calendar’s Pot Pies. I would think that a lot of kids these days will associate comfort food with the fast food meals that many children of working families are quite familiar with.

What if we changed the idea of comfort food for the next generation? What if what was familiar and comforting shifted from fried and heavily salted to fresh and nutrient dense? Instead of Kraft Mac and Cheese we craved quinoa with fresh tomatoes and feta. I think that this concept is on the minds of many school districts and nutrition advocates. The controversy over school lunches has been going on for years now. Too tight food budgets from the school districts aren’t leaving much room for culinary innovation, healthier food materials, or labor involved in preparing fresh meals.

Many school districts have begun making changes in their school foodservice offerings. Salad bars are much more common in school cafeterias, and many pilot programs around the country even include school gardens. Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity is bringing even more attention (and funding) to the subject. The common goal seems to be to not only teach good nutrition in the classroom, but also to teach taste in the dining room.

This shift in what children get offered needs to come not only from schools, but also from Mom and Dad. Busy parents (like my own as a child) tend to look for convenience when feeding their families, often leading to frozen or just add X meals as well as many meals out. Restaurants have begun to respond to the need for more nutritious kid food by offering healthier choices in their kids’ meals. I’ve been seeing a lot of new side options for kids’ meals like steamed broccoli, apple slices, and yogurt, and I’ve even seen some restaurants offer chicken strips grilled instead of fried.

I think that we can all agree that the obesity epidemic is no quick fix, but I think that this group effort in getting kids healthier food offerings is a step in the right direction and I’m quite optimistic.

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