The gift of health

By: Alison Dunn Dec 14, 2010
  Editorial
The gift of health

I’m sure teachers everywhere dread the holiday season.

That’s because I’d be willing to lay bets that most of them have boxes in their basements (or garage, or attic) filled with a ton of ceramic apples, “World’s Greatest Teacher” mugs and wall-hangings with inspirational quotes about what it means to teach children.

Add to those endless “teacher” gifts the boxes of chocolates, candy and baked treats they must get, and they most probably start quaking in fear the minute the calendar hits December. Sure, it’s nice to be appreciated, but year after year of the same gifts can be a little tiring.

I’ve always been relatively convinced that’s the case with my own children’s teachers, and so – like a lot of parents these days – I’ve started just giving them gift certificates at Christmas. Not terribly original, I know, but I figure a gift card to Tim Hortons, Starbucks or a chain restaurant is probably more appreciated than yet another knick-knack of an old-fashioned school house.

But as I compiled my gift list this holiday season, I started to wonder: Does it really make sense to give people on my list a gift I can’t really stand behind? A gift I don’t really believe in?

Let me back up a bit here. In October, some news came across my desk I just couldn’t ignore. KFC, the popular fast food chain, announced that its new “Double Down” sandwich was coming to Canada. If you haven’t heard of it yet, it’s basically a cheese, bacon and sauce sandwich. Sounds okay… but instead of bread, it was two pieces of breaded, fried chicken.

Now, I’m the first to admit I’ve never been perfect with my diet. I’ve eaten fast food (and lots of it) and I have enjoyed KFC (especially when served cold, the next day, for a picnic lunch). But for some reason, the very idea of this sandwich made me sick to my stomach. Not even a piece of bread to soak up the grease? Wouldn’t your hands get all greasy eating it? Not to mention each sandwich is 540 calories, with 30 g of fat and 1,740 mg of sodium (more than the daily intake recommended by Health Canada.)

I started researching other types of fast food. Did you know there are more fat and calories in a Wendy’s or McDonald’s specialty salad than a small hamburger? If you think you’re making a healthy choice by choosing salad, those numbers will quickly tell you you’re wrong. And while I can’t say I’ll never eat at a fast food restaurant again, all that research made me think twice about what to order and how often to eat at one of those places. (Same goes for dine-in chain restaurants… the amount of fat, calories and sodium in a meal will astound you. All restaurants post nutritional information online – I suggest you check it out before going out.)

Which brings me back to this year’s gift list. Now that I know all I do about these places, can I in good conscience buy a fast-food or chain restaurant gift certificate for all the teachers, caregivers, housecleaners, bus drivers and paper carriers in my life? I’d never tell them where they can or can’t eat… but do I have to endorse it with a gift card?

That’s when I started to research healthy gift alternatives that go beyond the “World’s Greatest Teacher” mugs, but also don’t endorse the fast food industry. The end result is the article “Thinking outside the box… of chocolates” this week on Health Local. If, like me, you’re sick of giving gifts that can make us sick, why not check out some of these ideas and give the gift of health this year?

I did, and I think many of the people on my gift list will be just as pleased with these gift certificates as they were with the fast-food ones. Now we’ll all enjoy a healthy and happy holiday season.

What did I choose, you ask? Well, I can’t tell you that yet! I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.