Filling children with knowledge, not junk food

I was in a fast food mood the other night, so I sat down and watched "Supersize Me," the documentary about a guy who lives on McDonald's food for a month.

The concept was intriguing, and I am a fan of fast food - in moderation - so I gave it a taste.

And guess what? It's not healthy to live on fast food. What a concept!

The part that really hit me was when they went into a typical high school cafeteria and showed kids gulping down huge quantities of junk food, provided by the school.

In the next scene, they visited a public high school for troubled kids that served nothing but fresh, healthy, organic food. Their claim was that by getting rid of the junk food, the kids were far better behaved and they did better in school.

And I thought, wow, does the path of quality education really go through a student's stomach?

I'm not ready to believe this is all just about the quality of food, though that may have something to do with it.

I think this has more to do with teaching discipline, something today's kids sorely lack. And what better place to start than basic nutrition?

It reminded me of my school days, where we didn't have a choice of what to eat. We had real cafeteria food, no snack bars, no candy machines, no "junk" food.

I think there was one day every semester that we had hamburgers and fries, and believe me, they didn't hold a candle to a Big Mac. They did not have any tasty sauce, cheese, bacon or anything else. And they came with a side of vegetables. That was as good as it got.

At the low end of our school's menu was, I kid you not, barbecue tuna sandwiches. The thought of them still makes me sick.

But as much as I look back at the horrors of culinary torture in my high school, I know we had it better than kids do today.

The limited choices taught us discipline over the most important aspect of our lives, which is life itself. If kids cannot feed their bodies in a responsible way, how can we expect them to function in life?

Giving kids every option in the world does them a disservice. What sets adolescents apart from adults is the ability to make responsible decisions. Giving children too many options before they have the discipline to make good choices is something that can handicap them for life.

The same discipline it takes for teens to avoid junk food carries over to other problem areas. Teach a kid to eat healthy in a world full of temptation, and it will be a lot easier for them to say no to things like drugs and sex. But let them gorge on junk food, then don't be surprised when they indulge in other feel-good activities.

Educators will tell you that building self-esteem is key to changing bad behavior in students, and they are right, up to a point. But you cannot achieve true self-esteem without discipline.

Discipline and responsibility are qualities that should be taught in the home, but schools have a role to play, too.

There are a lot of people who think schools should be limited to teaching the three Rs. Though without discipline, those Rs don't mean much.

Teaching our children how to eat may be more important than any of the Rs. Teach them about good food and proper diet, and you will give them the tools they need to advance in life.

We need to supersize our kids' minds, not their bodies.

• Kirk Caraway is Internet editor of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at or comment online at


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