- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Let’s make supper a more common word for the right reasons.

Hunger. Obesity. Poor learning. Single-parent households. Nutritional deficiencies. Fatherless homes. Food deserts. A 24-7 world. Food (in)security.

Those are but some of the reasons federal, state and local governments push school feeding programs, and federal policies are creeping into summer school and recreational play as well.

It is time to admit a critical repercussion of institutional feeding policies: They hurt children.



It is time to pull away from these programs that institutionalize children, and return them to their families for, well, family meal time.

As things now stand, school-age children are being treated like jail inmates who get three hots (i.e., square meals) and a cot on your dime.

The push for institutional suckling began full throttle during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, as the women’s and civil rights movements began redefining what roles government should play in family life. In short order, first came free lunch, then breakfast and now supper (there’s that word again). D.C. Public Schools, to cite one system, brags that its supper program is the largest in the nation, providing after-school meals to more than 10,000 students. It also boasts that the school supper program boosts young people’s participation in after-school programs.

Meanwhile, a pediatrician in Temple, Texas, recently pointed out that children and parents are missing out on valuable family time when children have their meals at school rather in the kitchen or at dining room table.

“A study out of Wisconsin published in 2014 confirms that children who have at least 4 evening meals per week with their family have fewer problems,” wrote Dr. Alma L. Golden in a recent issue of American CurrentSee, a digital magazine for conservative blacks. “As a measure of time with family, the teens were asked how many times each week they share an evening meal with their family. The chances of serious mental and emotional problems plummet for teens that have 6 or 7 meals per week communicating with parents. The children that had no meals with parents were 7 times more likely to experience bullying than those who had 4 or more family meals.”

She continued: “Multiple research studies have demonstrated that family meals are associated with the following positive outcomes: improved vocabulary, better nutritional awareness with lower obesity rates, increased self-competence and self-control, decreased use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, lower rates of violence and victimization.”

So it seems the more children spend meal time with their families, the better off they are.

And just to drive another point home, Dr. Golden delivers this zinger: “Children who grow up consuming institutional meals in institutional settings apart from their family and support system may have more difficulty parenting. They may assume that care and feeding of children is the role of the state, not the family. Their lack of exposure to procuring and preparing food may significantly diminish their own ability to interact, nurture and support their own children in 10 or 20 years.”

Please, folks. Think about that for a minute.

Children already spend more time in a schoolhouse than they do in their home. From kindergarten to 12th grade, they are dumped off at school during early hours.

They are in before-school (breakfast), during-school (lunch) and after-school (supper) programs.

Eight, 10, 12 hours a day, five days a week, and Saturday school is becoming popular, too.

What’s more, universal pre-K means they are being institutionalized as toddlers.

The school has replaced the family as the chief institution in a child’s life.

We can fix this problem before another generation of children grows up thinking it is the government’s role to provide three hots.

As Dr. Golden said, “Rather than systematically removing parental presence and accountability, policies and programs should equip and encourage great families and satisfying family meals.”

And, I might add, even if that supper is as simple as soup and grilled cheese sandwiches or as uncomplicated as burgers and fries — and at home, with family.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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