The paradigm of nutrition education

It is not often that I rant on here, but we’re all friends right? 🤗
My son goes to an amazing kindy in South Auckland where kids bring their own lunch. As a big food nerd, I always peep at other kids lunches not to shame, but to get an idea of what others eat. My son is quite restricted with his food allergies, my lack of time and being a student I am not on a full income. But he is always fed.

At my sons kindy, some kids have hot lunches, some kids have lunches similar to what we knew as normal in the 90s, some have Instagram perfect lunches and some kids have a piece of pizza or two minute noodles. I believe all the kids are fed, there is free grainy bread for everyone who wants it. At the community daycare down the road, the kids are fed as part of their fees and I hear from a friend that the food isn’t amazing, there is sugar and white bread. But the kids are fed, the parents have one less thing to worry about.

I follow loads of nutrition pages and always read the media driven debates on kids lunches, what we are feeding our kids, what we should be feeding our kids etc. etc. I saw one (wonderful and inspirational) nutritionist comment with good intention on my friends post regarding the food they eat at the community daycare, and if she could ask them if they want her to go in and do a nutrition seminar with the teachers and parents. I shook my head at this, the nutritionist has great intentions (can’t blame her for trying to drum up business) but she doesn’t get it. I feel like all these incentives targeting the working class are thought up by people with education and privilege.

The Mum and Dad who work 50 hours a week each on minimum wage, have 5 kids and no time, energy or know-how to whip up vegan chia seed pancakes for lunch won’t have time to come to your seminar and they won’t want to. They don’t want to sign up to something where they could feel guilty, ashamed, stupid or like a bad parent. When I speak of education, some people don’t know how to peel a carrot because they didn’t have that growing up, or they aren’t sure how to cook so they don’t. They are in a routine which works for them, be it cocoa pops  and takeaways or whatever, and no support or resources to change their routine. Their kids are fed. That is better than their kids being hungry.

These people don’t have time for a seminar, they probably work 7-7 every day or do night shifts and are exhausted then need to tend to their house and the kids, pulling in 35k a year, so a 6-7pm seminar does not work in with their schedules although it probably does work with the schedules of those who earn twice/three times as much and work business hours at a desk. A different approach is needed to work with different lives.

Incentives to educate haven’t worked because well intentioned health promoters are approaching educating others in the wrong way. They keep slapping posters on the walls, they are the Doctors who just tell obese people if they loose weight they will feel better and they send notes home in kids lunches and pat themselves on the back, like they have made a difference. To some people, this is fine but not to those they are trying to target. If you know better, do better. Health promoters know better? So do better. Think outside the square. Come up with something different, something tangible which actually helps. Not the poster I saw on the wall at Manukau super clinic saying “Do not put fizzy drink in your babies bottle” with a picture of a brown baby – the target audience. The Mum who needs to read this is probably so caught up in her own head, worrying about why she is at the super clinic and whatever else is going on in her life, that she won’t look up to read your poster. If she does, then what? She goes home and justifies giving her 2 year old 90c fizzie because it is cheaper than $4 cows milk, and fed is better than starving, so she keeps putting the fizzies in the bottle. Your poster is not effectively educating the target audience.

If something doesn’t work, if the people aren’t learning time and time again then we’re going the wrong way about how we are teaching.

It is so easy for us coming from a position of privilege and education to judge and think, well they need to stop buying noodles and coke and buy fruit and whole grain bread instead, everyone knows that. And stop having so many kids. And get off the pokies. And put your children first. But you sitting there thinking that or being a keyboard warrior doesn’t help either, it is just shaming the working class. Until you walk in their shoes, you won’t understand the struggle. When those with education and privilege look at a 1.5l bottle of coke, we think “40 teaspoons of sugar, caffeine, spiking blood sugar levels, insulin response, phosphoric acid, toilet cleaner, corrosive cavity creator, diabetes in a plastic bottle” and we may assume everyone thinks the same thing. But people could also think “Yum and only $1.39, that’s good because I only have $50 this week”. On that deeper level, in their minds, lies the difference.

To change people we need to change their mindsets. Changing a mindset doesn’t happen by belittling a person, or by telling someone what to think, because they respond to being judged negatively, by feeling insignificant and maybe overwhelmed. Changing mindsets happens by slowly chipping away at a persons default thoughts and replacing them with another thought.

Incentives to help change a persons mindset should include real life, everyday changes such as taking GST off fruit and veg and advertising the fact – that way, when you think of cheap you think of fruit and veg. I wish fruit and veg had more marketing, if it was on everyone’s radar that when you only have $20, you knew you could buy ready to eat fruit and vegetables which only require a microwave to cook (potatoes, kumara, cauliflower etc can be cooked in the microwave) and if we rewired our brains to accept that that real food is filling (as one attitude is that fruit and veg doesn’t even touch the sides, is birds food, wouldn’t be enough) then people would make that choice. Instead people look for so-called “fillers” like $1 white bread loaves as they are perceived to fill up tummies. My kids are 1 and 3 and they can go through a loaf of bread in 2 days. I totally get why people go for the $1 white bread vs the $3 grainy bread loaves, because if you are buying 6, 7 or 8 loaves a week it all adds up.

Incentives to help people with their nutrition need to be real life community based initiatives, not seminars, not posters on the wall, not some person from another suburb who only works 8 hours a day telling others of a different lifestyle what they should be doing. If the initiatives are not easily a part of everyday life (such as taking gst off fruit and veg) then they will not reach the people they need to reach.

We need new thinking to change old ways.

If a person is not learning when you have tried the same thing two, three or four times then you need to change the way you are teaching them.

Stop taking for granted that others even know how to peel a carrot, how to boil an egg, how to shop for groceries.

Maybe they do have that education, ok. Then stop assuming that others have the time or energy to cook when they have worked a 10 hour, physically demanding shift then have kids and possibly a second job to then go to. Their lives might be totally different to yours. Maybe the oldest child has to get cheap cereal ready for the younger ones, and Mum and Dad are just happy their kids are fed. That is the mentality.

I went to a decile 1 primary school in Kawerau in the ’90s. Some incredible people have come out of that school including businessmen, Olympic athletes, teachers and a prominent fitness model. To the kids who stole my lunch, my hoodies, my togs, I am sorry I didn’t help you because I didn’t realise you were going without. I had enough, I didn’t realise you might not of. I didn’t realise ANYONE went without or struggled. I remember one boy who stole one item from my lunchbox everyday, he never wore shoes or had nice things. I was scared of him but told on him for stealing when he started taking my chocolate yogurt. Looking back, he stole out of necessity, not as a personal attack or out of greed. He wasn’t the only one living in poverty at the school either. Why aren’t we doing more to alleviate the need for that boy to steal? Do you think his parents would have signed up to a seminar on nutritious lunches? Read a poster on the wall? Cared about a keyboard warrior telling them not to breed? No. Of course not!

We need to get real if we really want to help. There must be more we can do.

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