For the past two years I have been volunteering at a local elementary school in my hometown. Only recently did I have a chance to see the cafeteria. Scanning the trays I saw the “typical” cafeteria foods : pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers. Rarely did I see fruits and vegetables, but I always saw some sort of sweet on nearly every tray in the cafeteria.

This is part of the reason why there is a childhood obesity epidemic taking over the county. Kids are simply eating the foods that they like best, most of these foods being processed and lacking the essential nutrients that their bodies need.

Unhealthy diets do not only reside in the school, however. With the increasing amounts of microwavable meals and packaged foods, a home-cooked meal is quickly becoming a rarity and a thing of the past. We are trading health for convenience. Popping something into the microwave or oven takes less energy and time than making a home-cooked meal. The nutrients that we could be getting from fruits and vegetable are overshadowed by these extremely processed foods. Theses foods are often high in fat, sugars, and calories and lacking important nutrients that aren’t only harmful to the health of children, but to adults as well. Adults must then serve as an example. If they are eating well then their children will eat well also.

Children are almost completely reliant on their authority figures to provide them with appropriate meals. Therefore, it is important that we go to those authority figures, the school administrators and the parents, to encourage healthy diets for children. There must be a shift in the way that children are eating. No more should their staple foods be that of pizza, hotdogs, and hamburgers. More fresh and prepared meals must be given to children.

It may take a little more time and effort to make home-cooked meals or pack a child’s lunch, but the small amount of time and effort added to preparing healthy foods should not be overridden by the health benefits. Also, the packing of a school lunch and preparation of a meal can be a learning experience for children as they can learn how to cook and pack their own lunches while learning about what foods are wholesome.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.