Stay Out of My Child’s Lunch Box

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Stay Out of My Child’s Lunch Box

As a brand new school mum, I’ve recently discovered that schools have assumed the role of the Lunch Box Police. Every morning tea and lunch is a test to see if kids and their parents have faithfully followed the laws of healthy eating.

It’s a nice idea, but it’s questionable whether this has anything to do with health. In fact, in the quest to promote nutrition, schools may unintentionally be damaging kids’ relationship with food.

One school in Brisbane is so strict that the children have to show their lunch boxes to the class each morning. I know of one child who is so anxious about having ‘bad’ food in his lunchbox that he doesn’t want to go to school.

Another school in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs was conducting food inspections at the school gate, prohibiting ‘junk food’ from entering the school grounds. Some enterprising pre-teens had an early lesson in supply and demand and realised that prohibition is a golden marketing opportunity. They started a black market trafficking doughnuts behind the school shed.

“What more evidence to do you need that food policing by schools is dangerous?” asks Clinical Psychologist Louise Adams. “It’s teaching kids to hide their eating and to binge eat.”

Adams who runs Treat Yourself Well Sydney, a healthy weight management clinic, says that the risks of schools having food policies far outweigh the benefits.

“From the US research, we can see that this sort of food policing has not resulted in a reduction of body weight in children,” she says.

“As a psychologist specialising in this area, all I can see happening is that children are developing a fear of food. Fear is not going to make children healthy; it’s just going to make their relationship with food disturbed.”

The food rules of most schools appear to be less extreme than the examples above, but they are still inappropriate, if not damaging.

At two of the primary schools in my inner-Melbourne suburb, children are only allowed to eat fruit, vegetables and yoghurt for morning tea. This means that by lunchtime the kids are often starving. This is hardly conducive to learning.

But even worse, it’s teaching children not to trust their bodies, and to develop an almost hysterical fear of certain foods.

One friend packed a biscuit made by grandma for her daughter’s morning tea. Her daughter came home feeling embarrassed that she had ‘bad’ food in her lunch box.

“I put one biscuit in, not six,” says my friend. “What’s missing from this situation is the love and care that grandma put into making special biscuits for her granddaughter.”

I’ve put a lot of effort into teaching my daughter to listen to her body and to decide when she is hungry and when she is full. If she’s hungry and wants to eat two sandwiches for morning tea, then I encourage it. I don’t tell her that she should ignore her appetite and only eat carrot sticks.

And we never discuss food in moral terms. There’s no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ food in our house. Consequently, there’s no shame or guilt.

But the food policies of these schools undermine our efforts as parents to help our kids develop healthy relationships with food.

It’s also a stretch well beyond the school’s realm of authority. As a parent, what goes into my child’s lunch box should be my decision. It’s based on our family values, my intimate knowledge of my child’s current appetite, preferences, and wellbeing, our family budget, and what’s in the cupboard.

So long as it doesn’t threaten the wellbeing and health of other children — as, say, peanuts and nuts do — then it shouldn’t be the concern of the school.

Coincidently, Adams’ daughter came home from her school on Sydney’s northern beaches just last week, distressed because she had a muffin for lunch and she was told that it was unhealthy.

“My daughter was told that she should only eat fruit and vegetables and there was such shame on her face, like she’d really done something terrible,” Adams says.

“Kids go from just eating food and being in tune with their bodies, to being scared and feeling worried that they are doing something wrong. This is the breeding ground for an eating disorder.”

Adams says that schools should not be delivering any health messages about food to children.

“Kids are very black and white. Their capacity for nuance is not developed. If we tell them that something is good and something is bad, they believe that absolutely. Then they relate it to themselves, that they are then a good or bad person.’

“Maybe we as parents need some support and help with how to provide a variety of foods to our kids, but it’s psychologically damaging and unnecessary to discuss it with children.”

There is no doubt that the schools mean well and they are implementing their food policies with the best of intentions. But given that school food policies have not resulted in a reduction of childhood obesity and that eating disorders are skyrocketing, it’s time for schools to examine if they are actually contributing to the problems they are trying to solve.

– Kasey Edwards

via Stay out of my child’s lunch box.

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11 Comments

  1. smudge08 March 10, 2015 at 8:18 am - Reply

    The flip side of this argument is that when a student’s lunchbox is full of high-sugar, additive-laden food, the school is then left to deal with behaviour highs and lows, inattention and restlessness. A school staff wants children ready and able to learn. Surely it’s not too much to advise that while on the school grounds, parents ensure the child is supplied with food appropriate to learning, not a birthday party.

    • Katrina March 11, 2015 at 3:14 pm - Reply

      Exactly, if parents were more responsible and put appropriate food in their child’s lunch box in the first place the ‘policing’ would never have started. I suggest new mum tries teaching 25 five year olds who have eaten junk food at lunchtime. I’m sick of teachers being blamed for everything. It’s time parents looked at themselves. And new mum instead of moaning why don’t you take action…volunteer to teach other parents the importance of the great looking lunchbox in the photo you shared. Just saying.

  2. Rachel March 10, 2015 at 8:49 am - Reply

    If only that were the case at the school I teach at, to find the odd muffin or home baked biscuit. Instead I watch the students eat a daily fruit roll up that sticks to their teeth, followed by another processed fruit bar or a jelly lolly that ‘contains real fruit’, followed by a packet of chips, followed by a packet of biscuits…..and I could go on. Our school encourages healthy choices but we do not restrict foods. Unfortunately not only are the children given awful food but it must cost parents a fortune in packaged products.

  3. Kel Robertson March 10, 2015 at 9:30 am - Reply

    I “shared ” this to our Junior School teachers!

  4. Louise March 10, 2015 at 10:57 am - Reply

    I’ve hear of schools being OK with packaged foods with low fat, sugar, salt but an awful lot of ingredients with long chemical names, and then sending notes home for an additive free home made muffin. The world has gone mad.

  5. kim March 10, 2015 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    when I was in high school (a long time ago now) the canteen had all sorts of great stuff with a good variety of healthy but you could also exercise your sweet tooth occasionally (when the pocket money allowed). Then the canteen nazis took over and everything even slightly un-good was removed. Luckily I had to walk past a convenience store on my way home and was able to satify my sweet tooth to my heart’s content – while no one was watching. Banning it at school just makes it more attractive outside of school. Keep the junk in school where consumption can be managed – don’t encourage them to do what I did! I’m not blaming high school for the weight problems I have in my 50s but every little bit helps / hinders, doesn’t it.

  6. Ros March 11, 2015 at 6:55 am - Reply

    “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” .. Marie-Antoinette – is that you??

  7. Claire March 11, 2015 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    ‘Adams says schools should not be delivering any health messages about food to children’.

    Well, in a perfect world, all parents would be conscious of the food that they pack for their kids, and would teach their kids, as Adams does, about listening to their bodies, etc..

    But let’s be realistic and talk about schools other than Northern Beaches or inner-Melbourne schools, where many students don’t have wonderful parents. There are numerous students that don’t eat until they get home from school. Some have no access to, understanding of, or role modelling of healthy eating choices and have no idea how their food impacts on their moods, energy levels, etc. School may be the only opportunity they have to learn about healthy eating.

    As a School Youth Health Nurse with a background in Public Health and Health Promotion, I totally disagree with Adams. Education is critical, and health literacy is a big part of this. Although it sounds as though some schools are not implementing the policy as it was intended, I don’t think it is wise to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  8. Karen Phelps March 12, 2015 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    As a teacher we see all sorts of rubbish in lunch boxes. Nanas home made cookies are wonderful and wholesome compared to ‘fruit’ roll ups, chips and other high fat high sodium, high food additive sort of food lunches. And they are better than no lunches. With respect to the writer, I am happy to check the lunch boxes of the kids in my class with out making judgments of good or bad food. it helps me understand why I see some behaviors and helps the children with their learning.

  9. Rita February 8, 2017 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    My son is 6 his nonna died everything she made he ate – since her passing we cook together he eats food but placing food in his lunchbox he will not eat any of it.. Only thing he takes pleasure in Oreo biscuits I put 2 I know he loves them — DAYS have gone by (he is not allowed to eat them) he has had ZERO food in his stomach as he will not touch anything (no chicken – no ham – no corn beef – no pork – no sandwiches – no fruit – no crackers – no rolls – no rice – no pasta – no wraps – no salad – no cheese) he only came out of hospital 2 weeks ago from his tonsillectomy – adenoidectomy – nose corterised — he lost a lot weight with his ops now the only thing he wld like to eat he’s not allowed (GP SAYS DOESNT MATTER WHAT HES EATING AS LONG AS HE EATS)

    Yes at home he eats – but we cook together he eats food out of the oven – sets the table – it’s a special activity with the involvement around food – he enjoys therefore engages in eating happily – this cannot happen at school

    • Generation Next February 10, 2017 at 10:18 am - Reply

      Hi Rita,

      I’m so sorry to hear that – have you tried going to a dietician/psychiatrist? Seems like there is a root cause that needs to be addressed first before he can go back to enjoying eating.

      Generation Next

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