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Snack Time

Jun
1
2006

Sometimes when I’m thinking about dinner possibilities, I look at Son the Elder’s school lunch menu for ideas. (Then of course I toss it aside and make pasta.) As I’ve mentioned, his lunch menu puts the average U.S. chicken-nuggets-with-a-side-of-ketchup kids lunch to shame.
(Seriously, drool with me as I look back at May’s offerings: cannelloni followed by an omelet and salad, paella, soup and then roast chicken and potatoes, beef stew, grilled salmon…oh boy, excuse me while I get a snack.)
(OK, back.)
It’s a reflection of that Mediterranean diet and food culture thing. But an email from a California friend reminded me of where the kids’ diet falls short here. She was complaining because her daughter’s kindergarten teacher gave the kids cotton candy. Ah yes, snacks. Whoops. OK, some typical snacks at the school here (they serve them in the afternoon because school goes until 4:30): pastry, packaged cake-like things, even on the occasional day when the kitchen must be down to the dregs – bread with ketchup. There are better things like bananas or turkey sandwiches other days. But in general, snacks are a pretty laid-back affair.
And oh yes, here too (and other parts of Europe, particularly the south) childhood obesity has become a problem. While there’s still a somewhat healthier diet from traditional habits, with more fruits and vegetables and fish and olive oil, kids in recent years have increasingly been eating processed baked goods and snacks and fast foods, and being less active, just like their American peers; and like them, getting heavier. The ways the government is trying to attack the problem are similar here too, such as looking at what food’s available in schools.
So in some areas Spain has unfortunately moved along that American-style continuum from food as food to food as product. The next step we Americans picked up with our usual excessive enthusiasm and marketing complex is food as antidote, taking food even farther away from its origins with reduced-fat fat and non-sugar sugar and calcium-added this and omega 3-fortified that. This has not made us healthier, at least in terms of weight-related illnesses. But there are concerned parents, possibly quite rightly but certainly a bit obsessively reading labels, trying to avoid all sugary, fatty snacks, desperately seeking a whole-grain, natural, vitamin- and mineral-strong fruity snack nirvana that kids will eat (at least until we cave to the whines in the grocery store and buy the choco-woco-slimo chips, with seven kinds of sugar and extra grease – and free stickers).
There are certainly a growing number of reduced-whatever and whatever-fortified products here, but I wonder which way parents, who to my eyes seem they might be concerned but not obsessed, will go. Spaniards after all have a strong, fairly healthy, food culture to draw on. It’s not like parents really want their kids to sit around watching TV and eating junk, but it’s what’s sold to the kids and it’s easier. (But when it comes to eating habits, culture still trumps contemporary trends in many ways – no matter how much money is spent to market them. That’s true for trying to triumph over the effects of an unhealthy culture too. As my Spot-on colleague Matthew Holt points out, even with all the money that gets dropped into health care in the U.S., we’re still less healthy than the U.K. or Canada.)
So will Spanish parents become obsessed, buying even more altered food products but without making any other diet and lifestyle changes, and see that backfire as children get fatter and fatter? Or will Spaniards try to recuperate some of the older eating and exercise habits that have been lost? Will the next generation be shopping for U.S.-style XXXL clothes or going back to dinky European sizes? Stay tuned.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 3:27 PM | Permalink

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