Sandwiched between the announcement of the PTA’s latest fundraising drive and the Principal’s pleas for kids to stop shoving each other on the playground, the administrators running the Friday morning assembly at the Bean’s elementary school offered up some thoughts on nutrition. The Principal said that kids who didn’t bring a “nutritious” snack to school would be “sent to the cafeteria for a sandwich.” It was clear that gummi bears and Flaming Hot Cheetos were deemed inadequate snacks. It was not clear if after sending a kid to the cafeteria, the school would pay for the healthy sandwich or if the kids were on the hook for it themselves. Listening to this, my hackles raised a bit.
We’ve had issues with this school and food before. Last year, the lunchtime monitor deemed some items in the Bean’s lunch unhealthy and scolded him for bringing them to school. The Bean happened to be in the midst of a brief obession with food where every bite he took was preceded by the question, “Is this healthy?" WonderWife™ takes pride in packing nutritious lunches for our kids. And as a person raised on fast food, who doesn't have the world’s best eating habits (read my numerous posts on candy and bacon if you don’t believe me), it’s really important to me that my kids learn to eat well. The woman at the Bean’s school was plain wrong about judging the yogurt he was eating (it was healthy) and she certianly had no place saying anything to my son about it. The issue was discussed with the school and it has not happened again. But it was running through my mind as I listened to the Principal address the students.
The school’s heart is in the right place, but I don’t think schools should become food police.
We are a nation of overweight, processed-food junkies who are getting exponentially bigger while passing our terrible eating habits on to the next generation, and we need help. Schools should play a part by offering healthier food and not making soda and candy readily available in the hallways. But should they have the right to tell a kid what kinds of food they are allowed to eat? Shouldn’t this be up to parents?
A school dictating what is considered nutritious for a student takes away the ability and need of the parent to make those kinds of choices by removing them from the decision making process. Parents need to be able to choose their own paths and influence their kids behavior as they see fit, not because a group of public school administrators says so. Doing so is forcing behavior change. And as we parents know, forcing will inevitably cause backlash from our kids.
Recently Flaming Hot Cheetos have been banned in schools in California and New Mexico because of the poor nutritional value of the snack. While I personally find them to be tasty, I agree that Cheetos aren’t even in the realm of healthy. But is banning or confiscating these snacks the answer? Taking away snacks in school doesn't stop kids from eating them when their not in school. It just makes them forbidden fruit. So wouldn't it be better if the people educating our children attempted to teach them about nutrition instead of policing it? Let's give the next generation the information and tools to change instead of forcing our will upon them.
To my son’s school, I offer this suggestion: How about if you notice a kid eating unhealthy food instead of punishing the kid, maybe send a note home to engage the parents who are providing the food in a discussion? Explain why the food in question may be problematic and allow the now-informed parents to make a decision they deem best for their child. But stop being food bullies. Because nothing is going to get better by forcing it.