What's on your child's plate?

Well, it's nearly lunch time -- actually, just 11 am -- and I don't know about you, but my stomach is starting to growl and my brain is starting to think about all things food-related.

Today I've been thinking about the new USDA food pyramid, or should I say, food plate. Though I'm not a parent myself, I have been a preschool teacher and know first-hand how nutrition can affect a child's ability to learn and thrive in school. Around the country, teachers are ripping down posters of the familiar though always controversial food pyramid and replacing them with pictures of well-rounded plates, heaped with colorful veggies which take up as much space as the "grains" or as we like to say, the carbs. The fine print specifies, helpfully, that at least half of your grains should be whole grains.  

The hope of course is that the government-sponsored graphic will prompt parents and caregivers to reevaluate what’s on their children’s plates. Hopefully, it's not just nuggets and other highly processed food.

Of course, some may be jaded as previous food pyramids have been exposed to be based less in healthy nutrition and more on food industry lobbying. In fact, the food pyramid has changed several times in the past decade. The one that's ingrained in my head is the standard pyramid with grains as the biggest group on the bottom, and sugars/fats as the smallest group on the top. Around 2005, the food pyramid revamped to a more modern looking triangle, with vertical food groups along with a person running up stairs on the side of the pyramid. I taught this pyramid at my before/after school program, as well as my preschool and preferred this model for incorporating exercise -- changing the idea from not just healthy eating, but to healthy living as well.

I think we're getting much closer to a balanced plate. The USDA has partnered with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign in response to the dramatic rise in childhood obesity. “MyPlate” is designed to be a simpler way to understand how a healthy plate and meal should look. (see the plate here: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ ).

Child obesity is now an epidemic affecting one in three children in America. At this rate, a third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many will also suffer other health-related illnesses associated with obesity such as asthma, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure -- the list goes on.

To make matters even worse for these children, the physical consequences of obesity would only be the beginning. Child obesity has been associated with depression, anxiety disorders and even behavioral problems.

Obviously, there is not a single parent or caregiver out there who could possibly want this for their child. So make today a new day: learn the facts, take a pledge or even join a “Let’s Move” meet-up in your area!