Let’s take a chill pill with the healthy eating initiative – I am appealing to you as a Feeding Speech Pathologist and parent (with a personal story).
The media has been full of stories about junk food bans on lunch boxes and canteens with every social media opinion on top of that! Now I understand the rational for a sugar tax and yes with our rising childhood obesity, I understand why we need to promote healthy eating. In fact, my job is all about healthy eating!! However what I do not agree with is parent shaming – parent notes sent home in the lunch box or children reminded in front of their peers that they shouldn’t bring that food to school. And I hate labelling food “good” and “bad”- this makes no sense! Let’s take away the negativity and focus on positive supportive changes with families and not against them.
Am I biased? You bet I am, this term, I put a small chocolate frog in my kids’ lunchboxes and my Kinder child got pulled up by the principal for bringing a “sometimes” food to school. Was my 5 year upset? oh boy, he was so upset, he thought he was in trouble and came home telling me all about it, it was 3rd day at school. Here are what the boys’ lunchboxes usually look like:
A small bliss ball (made into a slice, because seriously who has the time to roll them into neat little balls) and a chocolate tahini brown rice slice. Sometimes foods? Yep – I pack them, because I do NOT believe in shaming my children into “good” and “bad” foods. As a feeding speech pathologist, the discussion about eating the rainbow of fruits and vegetables, eating good sources of meat, fish and eggs as well as different wholegrain options does happen as a conversation every day but I also bake cupcakes, cakes and wait for it… they sometimes have sugar icing/frosting on top! Maybe even sprinkles, Oreos or even smarties! The boys know why it’s a sometimes food and they know why eating a varied diet is important too. I do cringe with the word “healthy” and often search for other words to use.
Before I finish this bit, let me say that I love my son’s school, his teachers are brilliant and his Principal is fantastic. It did cause lots of laughter in my extended family when we told them about “my lunchbox” getting picked up on day 3 of school. I know the Principal would never have wanted my son to feel upset. It did however put the shoe on the other foot and helped me realise as a parent and mother (of my upset son) what it felt like to be on the receiving end of being “shamed” for the lunchbox. You know what? It sucked!
Second reason? There should be better ways to educate families than shaming them in front of their kids. This parenting gig is hard work and yes in some schools I visit, lunchboxes can be full of processed foods – chips, LCM bars, lollies, hot dogs etc. and these “sometimes” foods are now every day foods – do we have a problem? yes we do. But maybe the schools could think more laterally in helping children and families to eat better. Maybe looking into the reasons behind this processed diet – money issues? Lack of knowing? Parents eat the same way? No times to make lunches? And a big one I know plays a huge role – the kids won’t eat the home made versions and want the processed versions. And it can be frustrating as a parent if you pack a healthy lunch box and it comes home untouched. We need to work at that level and there is no one answer for any of these issues. We need positive food messages – very much like what Jamie Oliver practices and preaches. He doesn’t shame – he demonstrates his enthusiasm and tries to get families back in the kitchen and garden.
Third reason? For some children with extreme picky eating, learning about fruits and vegetable is a very long journey, they are battling with so many issues around the colourful food. Food shaming them and their parents is only going to make the matter worse, it makes them sad and makes their parents (who know what to do but honestly, there are very valid reasons why it doesn’t work that easily for them) feel even worse as parents. I see these kids in my clinic every day, I see the hope and sadness on their parents’ faces so please (please) schools and daycares out there, give them a break! Life is hard enough without your opinion on top of that.
So yes, schools – please stop the chocolate fundraising (I can’t believe schools still do this) and reduce the junk food in your canteen – the red, amber and green light system simplifies it for parents who may not understand all the labels and ingredient info.
But let’s also be practical, packaged food like “healthy chips” or “healthy biscuits” are not a better option than a home made banana cake or muffin (yes I know it seems crazy but this is what it has come down to with parents baking home made versions and not being able to send it in).
Wholemeal flour is better than white flour, using less sugar or fruit to sweeten is better than white sugar but let’s take a chill pill. A few “sometimes” food (like a chocolate, birthday cake left over) in the lunch box is just fine. If you as a teacher notice that the “sometimes” food is coming in all the time, then maybe quietly approach the parent, talk to them, listen (oh please really listen to their reasons) and then work together with them to help them move their child towards a better food option. You can get organisations in to help, they can run cooking classes, there are so many other options that are out there….
BUT Let’s stop this parental judgement and shaming, being a parent is a tough gig and some days, with very little reward.
Until next time,
Wishing you happy positive mealtimes together with your child
paediatric feeding speech pathologist
About the author of this blog post
Valerie is an Australian based Speech Pathologist with 13 years experience in Paediatric Feeding. She opened a private practice called ‘Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology’ in 2013 that catered for Newcastle based babies and children with feeding difficulties. Valerie is passionate about working in the area of paediatric feeding and special needs and has been involved in the teaching and training of Australian Speech Pathology University students and allied health professionals. You can find out more about Valerie Gent and ‘Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology’ via her website www.letseatspeech.com.au and Facebook page www.facebook.com/LetsEatPaediatric SpeechPathology or email her on firstname.lastname@example.org