There are three things that go into my kid’s lunchboxes every day. There’s the ‘brain food’ – a snack of fruit or veg that they eat for morning tea in class time, a lunch item of a wrap, roll, sandwich or Saladas, and then an afternoon snack of their choosing. This could be anything from a peach to a packet of BBQ Shapes to a cupcake. I do it this way because, balance.
As someone with a history and ongoing battle with somewhat ‘disordered’ eating, where food has always felt like an all or nothing battle, I want my kids to have a seriously healthy relationship with food. I want them to eat their fruits and vegetables and enjoy them. Equally, I want them to enjoy in the delight that is a piece of cake or hot, crispy french fries. I want them to relish and savour food without a label of “good” or “bad;” because when they are labelled as such, guilt around food can creep in, take hold and set up negative mindsets very, very quickly.
Now, of course we all want our kids to eat bucketloads of the earth-grown stuff and less of the processed stuff. There’s no doubt that kids need an awareness about the foods that fuel their little bodies in the best way and the importance of eating them as often as possible, but when we get to a point where parents are being chastised for adding a slice of cake to their kid’s lunchbox, things have gone too far.
Think I’m exaggerating? A mother in South Australia got a rude shock when her three-year-old pre-schooler was sent home with a note (above) which said the following:
“Your child has chocolate slice from the Red Food category today. Please choose healthier options for Kindy.”
The note is part of South Australia’s state school initiative, Right Bite, which labels foods in the Green (healthiest choices: strongly encouraged), Amber (foods with added salt, fat and sugar: select carefully) and Red (highly processed, energy dense foods: strongly discouraged) categories. It encourages schools and parents to work together to ensure that kids are bringing the most nutrient-rich foods to school at all times and opinions have been varied. Some parents are all for it, happy that schools are taking the step towards instilling healthy eating habits for their children and others haven’t taken kindly to being told what they can and can’t pack for their own children to eat.
Personally, I think that any time a food is labelled ‘bad’ or ‘red,’ it’s sending a potentially dangerous message to our kids. While I like the idea of encouraging healthier eating habits in schools, I think it needs to be done in a more positive way, similar to the ‘brain food’ set-up. Teaching a child that certain foods will make your brain – and your body – grow up to be healthy and strong allows them to feel more enthusiastic and excited about eating them. Teaching a child that a food is bad, or in this case, ‘red’, signals that they’ve made the wrong choice and could lead them to having a feeling of guilt or disappointment in themselves for eating it.
I’m happy for schools to educate my kids about how GOOD certain foods are for their bodies. I welcome being informed about allergy awareness and have zero issues with eliminating certain foods from my children’s lunch boxes to ensure that all kids remain safe at school – but I’d be annoyed if that sad, red face was delivered back to my home from my kid. As a parent, a balanced lunch box is important to me and while I’m no expert, when it comes to food, moderation, not elimination, sounds like the healthiest (and sanest) way to do it. So I’ll continue to exercise my parental right to do what I think is best for my kids and put both a container of celery sticks AND a mini packet of chips into their school bags; because they love them both.
What snacks do you send your kids to school with?