A 2006 study conducted by researchers at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute provided fascinating evidence that the diet of one’s grandmother decidedly affects the health of her grandchildren. The researchers studied the epigenetics (inherited changes in gene expression that can be influenced by several natural factors) of mice. The study is almost unreadable, but basically demonstrated that the “memory of nutrition during pregnancy can be passed through the sperm of the male offspring to the next generation.” The researchers found that if a woman was undernourished when pregnant, her “male offspring…[would be] smaller than average and, if fed a normal diet, went on to develop diabetes. Strikingly, the offspring of these were also born small and developed diabetes as adults, despite their own mothers never being undernourished.” Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith of the University of Cambridge offers further explanation: “When food is scarce, children may be pre-programmed to cope with undernourishment. In the event of a sudden abundance of food, their bodies cannot cope and they can develop metabolic diseases such as diabetes.” Interesting that this study very possibly explains, at least in part, the large percentage of adults worldwide who are obese and/or who have diabetes – grandchildren of the Great Depression. A subsequent study by Green C. Chung and Christopher Kuzawa expounded on past evidence by studying the diets of 3,000 Filipino women and their children from 1983 to 2011. Their findings echoed the earlier study by demonstrating that grandmothers who had full access to nutritious food while pregnant, and who provided ample nourishment to their children, had heavier and healthier grandchildren.
Last week I wrote a post (No More Whole Wheat Wiener Wraps!) about school lunches and how many people are now realizing the overall value of providing nutritious food to children. I was pleased to learn of a government program (Farm to School Program) that is in wide use as well as efforts by non-profit organizations (Conscious Kitchen) to alter the foods we feed our kids. The piece elicited a few responses, and one that struck me later was that “it’s up to the schools” to ensure that nutritious food is served. While the work the USDA and Conscious Kitchen does is indeed worthwhile, I take issue with the notion that “it’s up to the schools.” I think, instead, that it should be up to all of us.
When my son was in school, we provided him with nutritious food at home and at school, rarely taking advantage of the school lunch program because of its poor quality. I don’t remember what we put in his lunch bag, but I do remember him getting teased by other children for his “weird” food. He begged me once to let him have a “normal” lunch, so I asked him what he wanted, which was a baloney sandwich. I bought the stuff and made him a sandwich, which he said later was “awful.” In fact, other children, presumably not the ones teasing him, routinely wanted to trade away some processed food item their parents had given them for his fruit. On the same note, I had a friend who complained that she couldn’t get her very young daughter to eat anything but Spaghetti O’s. My question to her was how would her daughter have developed a taste for something if she hadn’t introduced it to her in the first place. And yes, there are outside influences. My son would sneak soda pop when out with his friends, but to this day he eschews sugary drinks and declines fast food. And as he grew up with a mother who cooked everything from scratch and who taught him how to cook, he has become an excellent home cook himself, providing a variety of nutritious foods for his daughter.
We learn much, one way or the other, from our parents and continue with those practices throughout our lives. If all we present to our children at breakfast, lunch and dinner is processed food, fast food and soda pop, their palates and bodies will develop a hankering for the stuff and they won’t be able to fully appreciate the subtler flavors of home cooked food. What they’ll want is fat, sugar and salt. I offered up a recipe last week that I thought would be good for a school lunch, a savory bread salad. One response suggested that my offering would most likely end up in the garbage can as no child would want to eat it. Again, if a child is never exposed to the flavors of ripe, organic tomatoes, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil, they’ll be more likely to prefer something they are used to, like pizza or a hamburger, or something else they saw advertised on television.
I know people work long and hard, which makes it more difficult to cook, but it can be done, even if one has to do a week’s worth of meals during the weekend. But baring a refrigerator full of home cooked meals, one can easily prepare an omelet and salad in under 15 minutes. I think that if parents are unsure of their cooking abilities or lack nutritional knowledge they should take the time to teach themselves. Clearly, aside from the advantages to our own health and the health of our children by providing nutritious food we’re also ensuring nicely plump and disease free grandchildren.
Recipe of the Week
Here’s another suggestion for school lunches which is easy to prepare and nutritious.
1 can organic garbanzo beans, well rinsed (if you want to make this more difficult and time consuming, remove the skins from each bean as it results in hummus that is much creamier)
3/4 cup of tahini
juice from two to three lemons (taste the mix after you add juice from two lemons – it may be enough)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree for about three minutes. Taste for salt.
You can send the hummus in a container as a dip to serve with vegetables, or make a sandwich with pita, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.