I don't know about this. There's a new study which would have us believe that kids will make better choices in school cafeteria lines if a little psychology is used, such as hiding the chocolate milk behind the plain, putting fresh fruit into pretty baskets, and selling desserts for cash only.
And the government wants to get in on the act, announcing a major initiative that is giving $2 million to behavioral scientists for coming up with ways for using psychology to improve school lunch programs. No more force-feeding of healthy foods (half of which ended up in the garbage). Using psychology to make kids choose healthy foods for themselves is the key, backers of the plan insist.
Maybe. But will putting the salads next to the cash register, where students have more time to ponder them, actually work? Will calling them "X-ray vision carrots" and "lean, mean, green beans" really entice kids to choose them over French fries and chili?
Substituting carrot sticks instead of the "carrot and stick" approach, say the food behaviorists, will help fight child obesity, and we can only hope they are right. (But is their advice really worth $2 million of our taxes?)
I can tell you one thing. When I was a kid we didn't need psychology to get us to eat. My generation was still feeling the effects of the Depression, which only ended with the Second World War. In fact, I doubt if there was a school lunch program when I was in elementary school -- or even a cafeteria, because no one had money to buy lunch. I carried a Long Ranger lunchbox to school, or went home for a hot lunch. I never ate in a cafeteria until I was in high school. And even then, most of us brought our lunches in paper sacks.
As kids, we didn't have behavioral scientists trying to make us eat healthy foods, but we did have Popeye in the comics who touted the virtues of eating spinach to make you grow strong. Popeye ate his right out of the can, which was the only way it came in those days. I never saw fresh spinach until I visited a farm, and we thought the canned stuff was "icky," Popeye or no Popeye!
I suppose some of the proposals made by the psychologists could actually get today's kids to make healthier choices. For example, keeping the ice cream behind solid freezer doors instead of glass so it can't be seen, and asking "do you want a salad with that?'" on pizza day. Both seem like sensible ideas.
Pizza? We never had such a thing. I'm not sure when it was introduced in this country, but I never heard of it before I was in college. In my high school cafeteria the only Italian dish on the menu was spaghetti, and it came with garlic bread. (Talk about healthy choices!) And chocolate milk? I don't recall seeing that, either. We had Ovaltine, of course, but that was a hot drink you had at breakfast.
Everyone agrees that the statistics on childhood obesity are alarming, and no one doubts the need for better nutrition in school as well as in the home. But obesity is not only a result of eating the wrong things, in my opinion. It's a lack of exercise, as well. Today's kids ride to school instead of walking. They watch television instead of playing active games.
In my novel, "Boardinghouse Stew," I describe how things were when I was growing up. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter:
No one I knew owned a car. Cars were considered luxuries. Kids in the forties had no computer games or Barbie dolls or pricey footwear. There was no television. We played hopscotch on the sidewalk after school and kick-the-can in the street after dark.
For more nostalgic looks back at the "good old days," check out the website: www.boardinghousestew.com.