And so begins another term, and as I tune into social media tonight I once again see stories of parents being “food shamed” for putting “inappropriate” choices in their child’s lunchbox.
Earlier this year, one South Australian Mum took to social media to air her frustrations after finding THIS note in her child’s lunchbox.
So what do we think about this? Is there a role for the food police in our schools and kindys?
No I don’t think there is.
Let me take a step back and say straight up that YES we do have a problem in Australia with the food our children are eating on a day to day basis. Our most recent data shows that 1 in 4 Australian Children are either overweight or obese. Couple this with the fact that only 5% of children aged 2- 18yrs are eating the recommended 5 serves of veggies and 68% the recommended 2 serves of fruit a day, and it’s clear that something needs to change. In 2012 Australian dietitian Kate Di Prima surveyed 400 school lunch boxes and found that only 21% of parents had sent their children with home cooked foods. Packaged food was common, as were low nutritional value sandwich fillings such as vegemite or jam.
So clearly there’s room for improvement when it comes to lunch boxes, but whose job is it to make sure our children are eating a healthy balanced diet?
In South Australia the Right Bite policy is a government funded initiative that provides guidelines on can be sold at tuck shops. Most states across Australia have similar policies. Red is used to signal those foods that are high in sugar, salt or fat and should not be offered at school. Orange or amber foods should be chosen with caution as they also contain high amounts of sugar,fat or salt but with a slightly improved nutritional value, and green represents those foods that should be eaten and offered regularly.
I do believe our schools should be “health enabling”, and so I’m all for canteens and tuck shops that offer healthy food choices and avoid “red” foods. Our children are learning about food and we want to place them in environments where they can make good choices.
On the home front, however, I don’t think you can force families to adhere to guidelines.
As any dietitian will tell you, when it comes to analysing someone’s diet, it’s your overall dietary pattern that matters. No food is inherently “good” or “bad” for you, but rather it’s how these foods fit within your overall diet that matters. If your diet is generally high in vegetables, fruits, wholegrain cereals and lean proteins, then the occasional cake, chocolate bar or cookie is of very little consequence. A teacher taking a quick glance at a lunchbox is in no position to determine how a particular food item sits within that child’s overall diet for the day, week or month for that matter, and nor should they.
Not all cake is created equal either. How does someone tell the difference between a low sugar, wholemeal flour, zucchini containing chocolate muffin and a plain old chocolate cake? One is clearly a far better choice than the other.
Ultimately I think its up to us as parents, to make sure we are offering a variety of healthy foods across the week, and only offering the occasional treat.
We also want to encourage our children to have a healthy relationship with food, which means understanding that occasional foods are just that, occasional, but they are not “bad” for you when eaten as part of a healthy diet. I worry about children feeling guilty or bad for having a certain foods included in their lunchbox. No one should ever be taught to feel guilty or bad about themselves for their, or their parent’s, food choices. Our focus needs to be on educating children and families about healthy eating, but not food shaming them for the choices they ultimately make.
Given our children spend a significant proportion of the day and week at school, you certainly want to be focusing on nutritious lunch boxes that predominantly include whole foods from the core food groups. I’d hate to think, however that we can never again send a slice of cake to school. Personally I like to send a little bit of leftover birthday cake on my child’s birthday, and I include home baked goods that I’ve modified to be nutritious options on a daily basis.
Keep occasional foods occasional and there won’t be a problem!
If you’re looking for snack ideas to include in your child’s lunchbox, head over to our recipe section.
Julia @ Bloom 🌿