When our birdies leave the nest (college cafeteria food)

Over at Mrs. Q’s “Fed up with Lunch” blog (she’s the teacher who spent the second half of the school year eating every day in the school cafeteria, exactly what the kids eat, and blogged about it.  What’s cool is the number of widely varied guest posters she’s accrued over the months. What’s not cool is what she’s had to eat every day as a result of this project.) I just ran across an article by a college student about what happened when she went away to school and was faced by an apparently pretty good college cafeteria.

And it sounds like her college cafeteria was really pretty good–certainly better than mine was.  As a mom now looking at the situation, it looks to me like her issue, and mine while I was away at school and in the years following, was about food discipline more than actually what food was offered.

My own story–I was one of those depressingly tall skinny teenagers who could eat all I wanted, anything I wanted, as much as I wanted, and never gain a pound.  I was the girl who complained about not being able to find jeans with a 33 inch inseam that were a size 1. (Trust me, while that situation in your twenties might be enviable, when you’re 15 and everyone else has breasts and you don’t, it’s fairly humiliating. I think my measurements were something like 20-20-20 up till maybe my junior year in high school.)  So I never paid attention to what I ate or how much, and it certainly never occurred to my parents to worry about it either (I was healthy and fairly active, so why worry?), and while of course the whole concept of “eat at least a serving of veggies at every meal; choose fruit for a snack instead of junk; drink water when you’re thirsty and not soda” and all that fairly commonsense stuff was basic to my upbringing, there just wasn’t a real opportunity to learn how to put it into practice myself, without it being drilled into me by my parents. They were the nutritional gatekeepers of the home.  Isn’t that the way most of us live?

In fact, I honestly have no clue how such habits could be imparted to kids in a way that they won’t burst out and go crazy when suddenly there are no authority-driven boundaries around what they may or may not eat at any given time.  Balance.  Portion control.  Eat-food-not-too-much-mostly-plants. If the very definition of teen-ager-ness involves Freedom And Rebellion, and if the very ethos of going away to college is No Parents Now I Make My Own Decisions, is there any way to really prepare our kids for this, to help them realize that this isn’t just what the grownups always say but is actually kind of crucial to their happiness and health in later life, and that we want them to be happy?  That a rebellion which results in them feeling crappy is probably not a very worthy cause?

My kids are 5 and 7; a little early to be stressing about this, I know.  But it’s a fairly important question. And I have a feeling what I do in the next 10-12 years will be a huge part of the answer.

Kara, the guest blogger for Mrs. Q, sounds like a really smart girl. (Oy. My “mom” is showing. She’s a really smart  woman.) Partway through the semester she realized she was exhausted, sleeping too much, not succeeding in classes as well as she should, and figured out that the huge drain on her body’s resources represented by all this heavy rich eating was the culprit. First she cut the junk; then she went vegan. (And her blog has photos of some of the really decadent-looking vegan foods she eats on a daily basis; I doubt if she’ll convert me fully, but  she makes me want to try some of this stuff, and not just because it’s vegan–because it looks good!  I, being a good dairy addict, would use cheese and eggs liberally, most likely, though…) But I wonder how many college students would be aware enough to put the pieces together and recognize what’s going on, and/or disciplined enough to make the necessary changes.

By the way, my tall skinny girl story has had the proper karmic twist–right about when I got to college, my metabolism shifted and suddenly I couldn’t eat all that food without gaining weight, and my lack of food discipline has meant that I’ve had to learn as an adult what I wish I’d learned as a child.  I’m now a fairly content not-quite-plus-sized woman who’s done the childbirth thing twice, and I don’t worry about weight so much as worrying about whether I’m eating well and getting enough exercise.  (I’m not getting enough exercise. But I try. And I certainly could stand to lose 20 or so…) I know that I need to eat veggies whether I like them or not, and honestly I really don’t much–but I’ve also learned to cook with them and camouflage them and render them in a way I can deal with them.  I know that when I cave to the drive-through cravings I pay for it, and that it’s really not worth it in cost to my own health, let alone that of the planet.  But it’s taken a really long time to get here.

And my daughter, you guessed it, is tall and skinny and shows every sign of following in my metabolic footsteps.

Any of my readers have college kids? Any of my readers who are college kids? I’d really welcome any thoughts on this…

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Posted on June 3, 2010, in articles, Kid Stuff and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Yeah, I think whatever you do your kids are going to rebel and/or find fault with the status quo. I wonder what the newly turned vegetarian college freshmen are rebelling against? Perhaps the schools need to take up the cause of healthy eating as well as the home front – tho given the nature of teenagers, I think whatever is being espoused will be rejected by them. A serious point to ponder…..
    With our oldest son we were indeed sort of food gatekeepers as he had a tendency towards “chubbiness”. He looked and felt great until his senior year in college when he got a job at a seafood restaurant and could eat as much of whatever (except the seafood!) he wanted. He sure put on the pounds – and at that point we just bit our tongues (mostly!)

  1. Pingback: Friday Green Links – 6/4 « Pragmatic Environmentalism

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