I started this week’s lunchroom lowdown by posing the following question to my partners: “How is the diet of your patients different than yours as a child?” This question generated a lively discussion among the doctors and nurse practitioners. What came through loud and clear was the fact that almost all the food that we consumed as children was prepared at home home, not made in a restaurant, and certainly not in a fast food restaurant. Drs. Moorman and Plonk were raised in rural towns whose economies revolved around agriculture. Neither had any regular access to restaurants, so home-cooked meals were all they got. Everything was prepared by hand from freshly grown or produced “whole foods.” As Dr. Plonk noted, “Everything we ate was free range and much of it was raw, including the milk we drank.” Even the doctors who grew up in more urban environments like myself ate mostly home prepared foods. Melissa Davis, one of the pediatric nurse practitioners, said her mother even made all the pastas that the family ate. Everything was homemade. Eating out was an incredibly unusual event during all of our childhoods. As far as fast foods, they just didn’t exist. We all carried our lunches to school and had family dinners every night. Doesn’t sound like today’s world, does it?
Next I posed the question, “How can parents improve the nutrition of their children?” All the providers felt that reducing “eating out” and eliminating “processed foods” like sugary cereals, white flour based breads, and sugary drinks are definitely good first steps towards improving children’s nutrition. Dr. Moorman said succinctly, “No potatoes and no sugary drinks.” Dr. Plonk felt that the national “no white foods” (eliminating foods made from white flour, white rice, and sugars) campaign makes a lot of sense and could really help. Melissa Davis believes strongly in the benefits of home cooked meals. She suggests making this process more feasible by preparing certain meals ahead of time; when she is cooking on the weekend, she makes extra portions that the family eats on days when she works and doesn’t have time to cook. Dinner is essentially ready before she ever gets home, because she made it last weekend! She loves her crockpot! Melissa also had another good tip that I thought was worth passing on: she starts teaching her 3 children from a very young age what is whole food by describing the food as “healthy” to her children as she serves it. Finally Beth Haynes, another of our great nurse practitioners, thinks that parents need to lead by example. She says that if parents are active and eat a balanced diet, their children will follow. “Exercise as a family and eat as a family,” she says.
My final question for the group was the following: “Do you have hope that the obesity epidemic will get better in the near future?” I felt this was a fair question since we all spend almost all our waking hours talking to families about health and diet issues, and thus we should have a fairly good sense of whether parents are willing and able to do what it takes to reduce the epidemic of overweight children in our society. Dr. Plonk and I were hopeful that change is coming. We can feel it in our daily experience. The other providers weren’t as optimistic. They were somewhat pessimistic on the subject; they feel things may get worse before improving. I certainly hope they are wrong. Eating a traditional, whole food diet is something that has taken mankind thousands of years to perfect, and to lose it in one generation because of cheap and convenient processed foods would be a terrible state of affairs. Can you imagine a generation of children who don’t know what real food is? I certainly hope we never get to that point.