Food For Thought

by Patrick McCarty

Your mother always said to eat your vegetables but apparently most of us don't listen to this sage advice. Children in the United States are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. In the most comprehensive study done to date, researchers found: (1) only one in five children consumed five or more servings per day; (2) 50 percent of all children consumed less than one serving of fruit per day; (3) French-fried potatoes constitute 23 percent of all vegetables children consumed; (4) only one in 14 children ate at least 3 vegetables and 2 or more servings of fruit per day; (5) intake of specially emphasized fruits and vegetables (including citrus and dark green/deep yellow vegetables) was especially low.

On the other hand, kids are eating something. The percentage of public schools offering brand-name fast foods (like items from Pizza Hut, Domino's, Taco Bell and Subway) increased dramatically from about 2 percent in the 1990-91 school year to 13 percent in the 1995-96 school year. This makes for interesting school lunch programs and I bet some very interesting afternoon classes.

What Effect Are These Trends Creating?

According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, coronary heart disease risk factors are prevalent at an early age. Researchers found that of the 14- and 15-year olds studied, 41 percent of boys and 48 percent of girls were obese; 14 percent of boys and 8 percent of girls were severely obese; dietary fat and saturated fat intake was higher than recommended; and cardiovascular fitness scores were below average. The results suggest the need to reduce intake of fat while increasing exercise.

A Place to Start

It is unreasonable to think that children older than nine or ten will easily exchange their fatty snacks for wholesome food. Yet, if significant changes are not made their discomfort may become life threatening. As parents which is easier: to go through a period of whining about food or the long-term trauma of heart disease or cancer? The problem is, for the most part, the children are eating the same way as their parents. Not an easy situation to remedy.
Yet all is not lost. Children are flexible and given consistent encouragement they may surprise you with their choices. For very young children, changing eating habits isn't as big a problem.
What are some foods that kids generally like and will eat? Strangely enough most seem to enjoy brown rice, natural-rise whole grain sourdough bread and nori seaweed. That's right, nori seaweed, the stuff of sushi.

Especially for Children

In China, there are often special dishes for infants and children. One favorite is dioscorea. It is often the first food fed to infants because it is highly nourishing yet a bland flavor, of special benefit to the Spleen, Stomach, Lung and Kidney, and because it is quite easy to digest.
Dioscorea is a tuberous rhizome of a Chinese yam-Shan Yao that translates from Mandarin to English as "mountain medicine or potato." This herbal meal has a mildly sweet taste and is therefore appealing to children or adults who have sensitive digestion or are feeling weak.

1 oz. dioscorea (shan yao)
1/2 c. rice
1 oz. poria fungus (fu ling)
8 c. vegetable stock
1 oz. lotus seeds
1 pinch sea salt
1 carrot or yam, peeled and cut in cubes

* Break the dioscorea into small pieces.
* Simmer all the ingredients for 2-3 hours until the dioscorea and lotus seeds are quite soft.
* For infants, this mixture can be pureed in a blender and given 1-3 times a day.