I’ve worked with inner city youth since 2009. During this time I’ve noticed certain diet trends persist amongst the youth, reinforced by the habits of those around them, and lack of substantial understanding of the long term effects of an unhealthy diet. At Starfish, we’ve made it a goal not only to provide healthy snacks for our kids, but to educate them as to why eating healthy food is important.
In this post, I’ve included my observations as to some of the unhealthy eating habits of inner city youth.
1. Extreme sugar intake
My husband and I love sweets. However, because we’ve been educated on the subject, we understand the consequences of going overboard. Sometimes we’ll watch with morbid fascination as a young kid will pop open a giant container of “juice”, whose name undoubtedly leads the parents to believe it’s healthy for the kids. Of course, we have to check the label. The American Heart Association recommends 25 grams of added sugar daily for kids. The sugar in one of these monstrous drinks alone can sometimes be up to 68 grams, mainly because it’s three servings or so, but the kids will drink the whole thing.
2. School meals
School meals are a blessing for busy low-income parents, but they aren’t always healthy, and neither are they always appetizing. Depending on what’s on the menu, kids may choose to skip it altogether. Of course, that goes for when mom packs their lunch, also …
Many kids walk home or to their after school program after school. They’re understandably very hungry, and they often hit up the local convenience store to remedy that. Unfortunately, their nutritional choices are usually poor. They usually walk away with chips (not the healthy kind), sweets, and … juice.
4. Long stretches between meals
Often both mom and dad have to work to pay the bills, or just one parent is providing for the whole family. A lot of times these guys are super-hungry for more than just a snack, but then they don’t get dinner often until 9 or 10 at night. That’s a long time for a growing kid to go without a good meal!
At Starfish, we serve two snacks during our program hours, and the first snack is always a fruit or a vegetable. We know that these kids might not be getting them at home or school. We also work on making them enticing by offering new recipes and ideas, because we know if kids aren’t used to it they won’t touch it. While we know that ample fruits and vegetables are vital to complete nutrition, kids who have either limited or questionable adult guidance on food choices, often skip the fruit and veggies, especially the raw, whole variety. Fruit juices or fruits in heavy syrup aren’t as healthy, and many people favor cooked vegetables over the raw ones, even though raw ones are essential.
As a grown parent with kids, I’ve exposed them to a wide variety of foods, including many different ethnic varieties. At Starfish, we are constantly teaching the kids to cook new foods, and on outings we’ll take them to a variety of restaurants. Our experience is that they eat what they’re comfortable with, and that’s what they stick with! Most kids don’t often get out far past their neighborhood, and the variety of food offered isn’t that great. We hope that continually introducing things will engender a willingness to try new food, and, in turn, a more balanced diet.
At Starfish, we know we can’t change the choices kids make when it comes to their diet, but our hope is that through introducing and educating our youth on healthy food, we can influence their future diet.