The routine of a healthy diet: an urgent school subject | extra schools
A decade ago, the Ermitaberri public school (Burlada, Navarra) began a healthy school project with the main objective of avoiding, as much as possible from the center, the risk factors for the development of overweight and obesity. One of the legs of this project is the Healthy Lunches initiative —it was interrupted by the pandemic, but it is about to be resumed— which is carried out throughout the entire course and through which the center buys fruit in an establishment in the own municipality for the lunches of the children of the courses of Early Childhood Education and 1st and 2nd of Primary.
“Families are delighted with this type of project whose benefits are undeniable,” explains Iosu Urroz, director of the center, who ensures that they are very clear that habits must be worked on so that they become established in the lives of the students. “As they say, we are what we eat, and it is important to raise awareness among children from a very young age in order to counteract these rates of obesity that do not stop increasing, and avoid as much as possible serious diseases that are directly related to food” , it states.
According to data from the European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (Cosi), Spain is the third country with the highest prevalence of overweight and the fourth in obesity in a classification that includes 33 European countries. Specifically, it is estimated that almost 40% of Spanish children between the ages of six and nine are overweight and up to 16% obese. The data, obtained before the pandemic, placed Spain well above the European average (29% of children with overweight and 12% with obesity).
Although the increase in overweight and obesity responds to multiple causes, from the field of nutrition, experts have been warning for years about the open door to fats, sugars and empty calories that are breakfasts and snacks. “Lunch and snack times, which seem so simple, can become for many reasons one of the most controversial meals of the day,” says Natalia Hospido, dietitian-nutritionist and one of the coordinators of the NutriColes project, which seeks to bring the healthy nutrition to schools and families. The expert lists data from the Aladino 2019 study to reaffirm her opinion. According to these, 57.5% of families indicate that schoolchildren usually include biscuits for breakfast, 54.1% bread or toast, 45.2% breakfast cereals and other cereals, and 20.1% fruit fresh and 12.2% pastries. “Without a doubt, the snack is not very different from breakfast, since choices and consumption patterns are repeated,” she adds.
As happens with many initiatives such as those of the Ermitaberri school, these end with the move to more advanced courses. And, although as Iosu Urroz points out, “the acquired habit of eating fruit for lunch is maintained without much effort”, the truth is that controlling a healthy lunch is already becoming more complicated. “Once families have to decide what lunch to make for their children, the movie can change a bit. For this reason, at the beginning of the course, in general meetings, families are reminded of the importance of continuing to maintain these healthy habits ”, he explains. “It is something that not only happens with food, but with upbringing in general. It seems that we go from having “protected babies” to having “older children who are given a wide sleeve”, reflects Natalia Hospido, who considers that socially “there is no real awareness” of the importance of food for health.
The excuse of lack of time
For many families, in a world marked by stress and haste, the lack of time is the main argument for resorting to less healthy products for breakfast, lunch and snacks. “This argument is the one that the industry sells us and the one that has managed to convince so many families that eating something fast is incompatible with it being healthy, but it is not true. To show the fruit. A banana or some tangerines are easy to carry in a backpack to school and have an easy-open and biodegradable container”, points out Natalia Hospido.
The chef Paloma Colás is of the same opinion, who encourages us to look back, to our parents and grandparents, and to simplify. “A washed piece of fruit, skin and all, is the easiest snack in the world and also the best for health. Children learn from what they see, so adults must join those snacks and lunches to go hand in hand,” says Colás, who also denies the argument that unhealthy products are at a lower price: “There is always some fruit on offer seasonal which is great. To give just one example, a kilo of apples is around two euros, while many of the buns or juices that are used as an unhealthy alternative far exceed that price ”, she concludes.
The chef Paloma Colás has recently launched the Paloma Colás Academy initiative, a project aimed at schools with which she intends for students to acquire food criteria and gain autonomy in the kitchen. That is, that they empower themselves and take responsibility for their diet.
“Our goal is for children to choose to eat healthy because they are aware of the value it brings them. Also that they are autonomous to prepare recipes adapted to their age, so that cooking is everyone’s territory and that they also count when deciding, preparing and enjoying food”, explains Colás, who considers it essential to transmit to children the importance of good eating decisions for their present and future health: “It is vital to talk to them about the reasons for the ingredients, the recipes, the origin of fruits and vegetables, the varieties of food and many other curiosities and knowledge that Open your mind and bring you closer to “real” food. We want them to acquire that criteria to decide for themselves what is best at all times”.