Family life

Have school lunch policies gone too far?

After a British boy is suspended for bringing crackers to class, Jennifer Pinarski wonders if school lunch policies have gone too far.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.

Last week, Colnbrook C of E Primary School in Britain suspended a six-year-old boy for four days after he violated a new healthy lunch policy instituted earlier in the year. The policy, supported by nearly all the parents with kids who attend the school, banned chocolate, candy, potato chips and soda pop from student lunches. The offending item in little Riley Pearson’s lunch box? A bag of Mini Cheddars, a cheese-flavoured cracker similar to Ritz.

Pearson’s parents defended their son’s lunch—which they said usually consists of a sandwich, water, a yogurt tube and a cheese spread snack—saying he eats home-cooked meals, plus plenty of fruits and vegetables at home. The boy’s mother Natalie Mardle told The Daily Mail in an interview: “I would understand the exclusion if he was constantly throwing tables around or bullying other children, but it is just ridiculous for a packet of Mini Cheddars. We just do not see how they have the right to tell us what we can feed our son.”

The situation sounds similar to the Manitoba mom fined by her child’s daycare for not including a grain (which the daycare supplemented with Ritz crackers) in her children’s home-packed lunch.

Whether you agree or disagree that crackers are an acceptable lunch bag item, one thing is for certain: feeding our families is difficult enough and, by policing lunches, schools aren’t making it any easier on parents. Factor into the school lunchtime equation a limited time to eat, picky eaters who may not want anything except crackers and logical food bans (such as peanuts), parents will reach for the food in their cupboards they know their kids will actually eat.

The biggest problems I see with school lunch policies are:
1. It does nothing to educate families on what constitutes good nutrition. Our teachers are skilled educators, not dieticians or nutritionists.
2. It doesn’t take into account a child’s entire diet. A child with a pre-packaged lunch kit may eat a variety of proteins, vegetables and fruit at home.
3. It has the potential to shame families who try to buy their children the best food possible, but may not be able to afford to do so.

With childhood obesity on the rise and physical literacy on the decline, parents and schools need to work together to ensure that children are as healthy possible. Food rules without guidelines, shaming parents who may not be able to afford fresh food and, especially, kicking kids out of school and fining parents, are all ways that misguided school lunch policies do more harm than good.

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