Lauren Dishes on Family Food in Texas

Photo Credit: Martin LaBar via Compfight cc

When people think of Texas, they think cowboy hats, tumbleweeds, and cows. Lots of cows. So when other Americans imagine the foods in a typical Texan diet, I’m sure more than a few are thinking steaks, baked potatoes, baked beans, and corn bread. But the truth is that Texas cuisine, and particularly the foods eaten by most families, are as diverse and widely varied as the very people who live there.

That being said, Texas does have a justifiably terrible reputation for being a “fat” state. Two Texas cities (McAllen and Beaumont) were featured in a recent study of the ten “fattest” cities in the United States, which comes as no surprise considering that the state has one of the highest obesity rates in the country. Unfortunately, the obesity problem in Texas (and other states across the country) isn’t limited to adults. Millions of children suffer from obesity in this country, including many children in the state of Texas. It’s a problem that I’ve seen firsthand, and one that I’d like to inform fellow parents about.

T-bone Steaks and Tofu

While the stereotype of steak-eating Texans isn’t exactly wrong, it’s hardly representative of the real food problems facing the state. I think if most families could afford to eat T-bone steaks then people would be better off in general, but that’s another story for another day. No, the main food problem in Texas is fast food. Quick, cheap, and totally unhealthy fast food options abound in the state, and they’re a popular destination spot for families who want a no-hassle and consistent meal. Most kids and parents will choose cheaper and unhealthier foods simply because they cost less and have less impact on finances. But these cheap foods are usually full of sugars, preservatives, and sodium, all of which impede a child’s growth and development when eaten in high doses.

Fast food joints might dominate the Texas landscape for now, but there are healthy oases out there. For instance, the food selection in more rural areas looks nothing like the options available in big cities like Houston, Austin, and Dallas. Small towns in Texas tend to have a few gas stations, a few fast food restaurants, and one or two grocery stores. The healthiest food is in the produce section of those grocery stores, but it’s a rare few parents and children who will choose the items in that section over the much easier to access burgers and fries in the drive through. And honestly, who could blame most kids? If you have five dollars in your piggy bank, would you rather spend it on a few heads of broccoli or a milkshake and fries? Why wouldn’t a college student choose ramen over a salad if it costs a fraction of the price?

Big cities have the same fast food joints and grocery stores, but they also have many more healthy options to choose from. Organic produce stores, farmers’ markets, and vegetarian and vegan restaurants (yes, even in Texas!) offer much more diversity in healthy fare for people to choose from. It’s much more likely that the children who live in these more urban areas will have a healthier diet, but only if they look out for it. You can get a tofu sandwich in Houston, but you can also just as easily get a plate of fried chicken.

Earnest Reform in School Playgrounds and Cafeterias

Fortunately, it’s not all gloom and doom in the state. Texas schools are currently undergoing a huge overhaul to address the obesity epidemic that affects so many children. Government funded programs such as the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) have been founded in order to evaluate and target the specific causes of child obesity. Programs like CATCH have been instrumental in changing the ways that schools approach child health. Their efforts have affected many areas of the Texas school system, including reforms in cafeteria foods that meet healthier standards, increased physical activity in physical education classes, and increased health education.

The goal of such organizations is to ensure that kids are properly informed about the risks of obesity at a young age so as to avoid bad habits when they go to college and eventually becoming independent adults. It’s a huge task considering the sheer size and complexity of the obesity problem in this state (and country), but it’s one that needs to be done if we want our kids to be healthy.

We’re not so different from the rest of the country

All in all, the Texas landscape closely resembles the rest of America. We’re struggling to crack down on unhealthy eating habits and a shortage of physical activity, but we’re trying. I’m sure all parents would agree with me when I say that we don’t want to see our children grow up to become unhealthy adults. If children are raised to understand the values of healthy eating and proper exercise, then they’ll at least have a good start at a healthy life.

How would you describe the state of children’s health in your state or city? Let me know!


Lauren Bailey is an education writer and freelance blogger. She frequently writes about online colleges and courses and welcomes comments and questions via email at