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The Kids Menu: Scoop & Interview with Joe Cross

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"From little things big things grow." ~ Paul Kelly, singer-songwriter

Sick, Fat, and Nearly Dead has resonated with people across the globe; millions have joined Joe Cross on his journey from obesity and sickness to vibrant health. All of us can re-create balance in our bodies and thus enrich our wellbeing -- and if we do it together our success will compound.

[Joe Cross. Photo credit: Richard Lohr Studios]

I'm thrilled to be sharing The Kids Menu with you! Aside from being a well-rounded edu-mentary, it's entertaining and inspiring. Watch it with your whole family, invite over the neighbors, share the news with your community. The tools to transform our lives are right here in bright daylight, waiting for us to finally use them. Living a healthy, joyful life is neither hard, nor expensive, nor ascetic. Be willing to make some changes and watch your life come to life.

[Veggies can be fun]

It's vital to teach children about a healthy lifestyle as the food choices they make early on turn into powerful habits. Childhood obesity and its downstream effects are burdening our kids' and humanity's future. How do we get to the root cause and find out how to fix it? Imagine how we can change the trajectory of our kids' future if we get them started on healthy eating right from the beginning. If Joe had learned as a kid how to eat healthfully he would not have ended up fat, sick, and nearly dead (but then again, the world would have missed out on the massively powerful message he's here to share... so in his case there's divine purpose behind it).

[Joe Cross and Sam Kass, Former Senior Nutrition Policy Advisor, talking health and veggies in the Big Apple.]

Joe's brought together rebels and visionaries who're creating change right now. Maybe in your community. They're teachers, chefs, professors, activists, media, and community organizers who're as skilled as they're passionate. The Kids Menu is a must-see and -act. I'm grateful that Joe's taken the time for an interview to help us learn even more. Enjoy and share.

"If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves." ~ Emily Dickinson


1) The Kids Menu reveals both the holes in society that've been filled with frankenfoods and the paths toward a brighter future abundant with real food. How can we, as a society, inspire kids to make healthy meal choices?

Firstly, believe it or not, it oftentimes comes down to education, just simply knowing which choices are healthier is step one.

Beyond basic education, I think the best way to inspire kids to make healthier choices is to get them involved in the process and to make it fun. When you give a kid a hands-on experience with their food, be it picking out the vegetables for dinner in the market or growing their own basil plant, or harvesting from a full-blown vegetable garden or farm, they begin to take ownership and pride in what they're doing and that really goes a long way toward getting them to choose the healthier things for themselves. And finally, kids need positive role models, if they see their parents or teachers or coaches making healthier choices, it will become like second nature for the kids to follow suit!

[Filming at Union Square farmers' market]

2) There's a lot of attractive advertising for processed foods via celebrities, superhero characters, and cool imagery. Do you think the media have a responsibility to advocate for wholesome nutrition, and if so, how could they go about it?

I do, I think it's not at all helpful that elite athletes will stand there and say that they think fast food or pizza delivery is a good choice. I see that as a real sellout of their brand power. But there are many celebrities that are putting their endorsements toward more positive items; for example I saw that Cam Newton was in a Greek yogurt ad, is that the best choice ever, maybe not, but it's miles ahead of sugar beverages and fast food. Also, I am really impressed with the Produce Marketing Association for putting Sesame Street Characters on fruits and vegetables, and I believe they've seen a big increase in sales since doing so! Marketing works, and I would be very happy if I saw more role models putting their power toward a healthier future.

3) What does it take to ignite health consciousness in communities and how can we energize kids, parents, and schools to apply this knowledge?

All communities are different, but generally speaking, change happens slowly and incrementally. But it always needs on-the-ground champions. I think if a community has a small group of people dedicated to making change, then they have a good chance of igniting something. I hope this film helps more of those local champions come out of the woodwork and realize that it's not that hard to start something in their own neighborhood. Or even at their own kitchen table.

[Windy City Harvest, Chicago, Illinois]

4) From your experience, what're the top 5 things schools can do to improve the health and wellbeing of their students?

Well, I'm not a teacher or a principal, but from what I've seen and learned during the making of this film, I would say:
Start hands-on activities like growing seeds and vegetables from an early age.
Make smart swaps in the lunchroom; if a student wants water instead of milk or juice, let them have it!
If possible, start an actual vegetable garden and coordinate classroom curriculum utilizing the garden.
Don't cut Gym Class!
Re-introduce a new version of home-ec -- where kids actually learn real, applicable cooking skills. A little goes a long way in that department!

5) How can parents be encouraged to offer healthier meals at home?

I would say to parents that it's not hard to make a few small changes to get started. See, incremental change again! First of all, we learned that the best place to start at home is to commit to eating dinner together as a family - that helps a lot. Other good ideas that we learned from Dr. Brian Wansink would be for parents to use smaller plates or bowls to serve smaller portions; and also to make the healthy snacks at home more convenient to find than the treats. Finally, parents shouldn't necessarily re-invent the wheel, but try to find places for smart swaps --for example, try serving roasted broccoli and cauliflower instead of mac and cheese as a side one night-- but you don't need to overhaul the WHOLE menu.

6) What have the kids you got to meet taught you?

I've learned so much more from the kids than I even thought possible. But most of all I learned that when armed with a little information and hands on experience, they are ready to conquer the world -- and that's a good thing... I think! :)

7) What're the key ideas you'd like people to remember from The Kids Menu?

I would like for people to feel like Change is Possible and Change is Happening. And the beauty is that if we work together, it's not even going to be that hard. People want to be healthy and they're realizing it and learning it from a young age. I think the future is bound to be a healthier one and that's a good news story.


[Joe Cross interviewing Michael Nischan, Founder & CEO, Wholesome Wave, Bridgeport, CT]

[Garden at Ocean Knoll Elementary School, Encinitas, CA]

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