Thursday, August 16, 2012

Education in theory and practice

Last year, I gave several lectures on healthy nutrition to local schoolchildren. I thought that, as something to be done once in a month or two, this is reasonably compatible with my primary and time-consuming job as a wife and mother. A couple of weeks ago, I received an offer of doing the same job on a much more intense schedule, in kindergartens. Of course, such work would not fit in with our goal and vision of family life, as we are living it out now. 

Basically I was offered a choice: should I put my children in the care of others and go and teach someone else's children about nutrition? Or do I continue doing what I've been doing for the past few years - go into the kitchen, put on my apron, and start chopping, measuring and cooking, with my children by my side? We chat; explanations follow. The girls help out with what little age-appropriate tasks they can reasonably accomplish - mixing, stirring, peeling garlic, shelling hard-boiled eggs or whatever. They get to shape dough or roll it out - a much loved occupation. 

We make an apple-pie together. I am about to add sugar, when Shira stops me: "you shouldn't add sugar, Mommy, it's unhealthy!" - my hand stops in mid-air. The nutritionist gets a lesson from her 3-year-old! "Alright. Let's see if we can go without."

In my personal opinion, formal lessons from a nutritionist are wasted on 5-year-olds. To learn about food and wise choices regarding it, such little ones should be taken into a real kitchen and given some job to do, then praised for doing it, until their eyes shine with gratification and their eager little helping hands are ready to do more! Then some things can be explained by-and-by, and later, a meal is served and eaten together. This is learning for little children: real life in real homes. 

If some formal explanation is done, I believe it should be family-oriented, not child-oriented, but of course this isn't possible when everyone runs about in different directions all day long. 

Government health experts fund expensive programs, perhaps with the best intentions, but nothing can replace the vibrant home life and the care given personally by mothers. It is a pity that when women prolong their maternity leave or choose part-time jobs to be there for their children more hours in the day, sociologists and economists refer to this as a "negative trend". Feminists begin talking of government funding for daycare, afternoon care, etc. But no institution, ever, can take the place of real nurturing in a home.

What I did love doing was a gathering for a small group of women I hosted in my home one night last week. We talked about wise consumerism, self-sustainability and healthy cooking; about our power, as wives and mothers, to influence the health of our families. Our job has lots of demands and no promotions or glamour, but we are making a real difference, in this area and others, in the lives of generations for years to come. 


Tye said...

This post falls into line with Hunger Action Month, which is in September. The Atlanta Community Food Bank sent me an email asking me to participate in "Creating A Recipe for Change". The goal is to get your family or friends together and talk about hunger in the community.

So, I planned on having the kids help plan a budget friendly healthy mean and then talking about different topics surrounding food and hunger. And, then also touring our local food bank.

Liora S. said...

Hello Anna,

I agree with you 100% that healthy home cooked meals should be a priority in the home, regardless of whether or not both parents work. However, I still think education programs ARE important, because many modern day homemakers do NOT prepare meals that are healthy, even if they are home made, in large part because they lack knowledge about nutrition. On many Shabbos tables, there is often kugel, salad slathered in mayonnaise, and chicken that is breaded and deep fried. none of which is healthy.
I think that the women gathering you do at home where you educate women about preparing meals that are both home made AND healthy is very valuable and a mitzvah. Also, giving a talk to school children once or twice a month would not take much time from your family and is also a very big mtzvah; 5 year olds ARE capable of learning and maybe one of the 5 year olds will go home and tell their mommy "sugar isn't healthy" and it will cause that mother (stay-home or career woman) to re-evaluate her cooking. While one's own family should undoubtedly be the absolute #1 priority, there is nothing wrong with occasionally volunteering or intermittently working or in some way taking a small bit of time to use one's skills to improve the lives of other people outside of their own family as well.
Keep up the good work with the nutrition education!! In the USA, we have an obesity CRISIS, and we are in dire need or nutrition education. Unfortunately, if Israel follows America's unhealthy trends, they will suffer our same fate of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc. Your knowledge about nutrition is excellent knowledge to know!! Every time you educate another woman about nutrition, you are helping to create a healthier family which is a wonderful thing.

Blessings to you,

Joluise said...

My children always helped with the buying of food and with cooking . As a result they are now excellent cooks. We discussed nutrition, where the food came from, how to cook it and things like organic compared to processed. We also grew some of our own food . All mothers can do this from those at home to those that work. There is no excuse for mothers not to teach their children about food. I always used every opportunity to teach my children.

Kate said...

Amen!!!! Could NOT agree more! As a Dietitian I often get frustrated when parents think all we need to do is wave our magic wand and their kids will be eating healthier when it's all on THEM to provide appropriate choices and it takes a whole length of childhood discussions to produce the healthy changes that will last a lifetime.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Hi Liora, in this particular case unfortunately a once-a-month lecture wouldn't work because they are looking for someone who would do this daily, which is incompatible with my current duties at home. Sure, 5-year-olds are capable of learning; VERY capable as a matter of fact! I'm just saying that at such young ages, home-based learning is the best.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. It reminds me of a newspaper article I read here in the US about two years ago. The jist of it was, that despite gargantuan efforts to provide hands-on nutritional education in the public schools for the past 15 years, researchers simply could not find any change in how children ate at home or at school. There has been, literally, no effect that anyone could measure statistically. (Although of course there must be individual students who have made changes for the better.)

You are exactly right. Children learn all the primary things at home. What they learn, or don't learn, about how to eat will be from the parents. And of course this is why Indian children eat spicy food, and why Scandinavian kids eat fish, and why Japanese children eat seaweed. Whatever your family eats, and how it is eaten, will be the child's default.

To me, this is a rock-bottom reason for one parent (or grandparent) to be at home as a full-time homemaker. Even an illiterate woman can set up her children for lifelong health and good eating simply by her good food choices.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to stop by and let you know how much I enjoy your blog. I am a SAHM and often struggle with feeling like I'm not doing enough. I easily over commit and stress out - and still feel like I'm not doing enough. Your blog is often an encouraging reminder that taking care of my family is my most important job - and the one with furthest reaching consequences.

Anonymous said...

Children learn a great deal at home--not all of it good. Aside from the fact that many homes are simply not equipped with women, or men, who are good teachers, well-informed themselves, or even terribly bright, this is not an either/or proposition; children can and will learn at home, whether in the rather idealised scenarios you seem to feel are absolutely possible, and desirable, for everyone, or in far more common, doubtless-faulty milieux. Either way, instruction in schools, or any other public setting, is an excellent idea--whatever any of us may think about perfect circumstances for this or that, nothing ever _is_ perfect, and receiving instruction and solid information from more than one source is never bad. Is home the best place for small children to learn? Frankly, that depends on the home, and sometimes the children. So while we're shooting for that, let's support other initiatives as well.