Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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The argument against school box lunch police

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A school in Ontario has decided to ban students from eating “junk” food on school property. This means that any student sent to school with a chocolate bar or other banned food will be asked to take it home with them to consume. Unfortunately, there’s no list of criteria, or banned foods, available online. The principal does say that there will be some exceptions around holidays and while chocolate bars are a no-no, granola bars are fine. Sigh. There are a few issues I have with this policy. No, I am not concerned about the Nanny State. Honestly, considering our inability to care for ourselves properly as a society I think that we would all benefit from a little nannying.

My primary concern is the seeming lack of understanding of food insecurity. No matter how many celebrity chefs will publicly state that healthy eating is cheaper than eating “junk” there are still going to be a disproportionate number of food insecure families relying on packaged, processed foods. This is partially because of the perception that healthy food is expensive, and in some cases this is true. It’s also because food insecurity is a complex issue. Many people lack food skills to prepare healthy meals and snacks for their families. There may also be a lack of access to kitchen tools and appliances necessary for the preparation of many healthy options. There may also be a lack of time available to prepare healthy snacks, or a means to transport fresh vegetables home from the grocery store. To ban children from bringing “junk” food to school is an act of privilege which will only serve to ostracize children from less privileged families.

My second concern is with how this ban might affect eating habits later in life. Teaching children that some foods are forbidden, but then sending them home to eat them could potentially contribute to disordered eating later in life. While I don’t support the sale of nutritionally void foods at schools – schools should be providing children with the best possible nutrition for learning and growth and should not be turning a profit from selling them “junk” – I don’t think that policing lunch boxes is healthy. Imagine being a 6 year-old child sent to school with a cookie and being told you weren’t allowed to eat it at school. What lesson is this instilling? Is it teaching the child to make healthy choices. I don’t think so. I think it’s instilling a sense of shame and promoting “secret” eating. Children are extremely impressionable and this is when we should be ensuring that they develop lifelong healthy relationships with food.

My final concern is more with the practicality of implementing this policy. Who is going to be responsible for searching students’ lunches, backpacks, coat pockets for contraband? How much time will this take away from the ever deteriorating curriculum? How will it be decided which foods fit and which foods are banished? As many granola bars are essentially chocolate bars in disguise as health food is there really much point in implementing a ban on chocolate bars but allowing granola bars? What about home-made treats? How will the teacher (or other food policer) know if a muffin is healthy or essentially an un-iced cupcake?

I really do think that we need to be feeding children better diets and teaching them to enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods. However, I don’t think that policing children’s lunches is going to do anything to achieve these objectives. In fact, I think it’s liable to do more harm than good.


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Guest post: The Great Nova Scotia Cake Walk Debacle…Part Two?

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Today’s blog post was kindly contributed by dietitian-in-training Sarah Anstey. Thanks Sarah!

The Great Nova Scotia Cake Walk Debacle…Part Two?

It’s that time of year again! Cakes are coming out of the oven, hot dogs are coming out of their packages, and parents are coming out of the woodwork armed with an embarrassingly long list of reasons why their little darlings deserve a treat. You guessed it! It’s spring fling season in Nova Scotia.

The spring fling is a traditional year-end fundraising event held at many Nova Scotia schools. In recent years, spring flings across the province have been the root of some controversy and this year has been no exception. Diana Chard blogged about “The Great Nova Scotia Cake Walk Debacle” last year and has asked me to write a guest post for her blog voicing my thoughts about this years article on the topic featured in the Chronicle Herald.

The focus of the article is how nutritionally void foods being served at school events and fundraisers go against the mission of the “health advocates who believe that schools should be safe havens from the constant barrage of junk food that children are faced with daily, and places where healthy eating is modeled and reinforced to promote life-long health”. The authors, a posse of concerned academics, point out the undeniable contrast between the Food and Nutrition Policy for Nova Scotia Public Schools and the foods that are provided at many school events.

I strongly believe that children should have access to affordable, socially acceptable, delicious, nutrient-rich foods while at school. I also believe in making “the healthy choice the easy choice”, as the Food and Nutrition Policy promotes, by eliminating access to highly processed convenience foods full of fat, salt, and sugar. However, I love cakewalks. I love ice cream. I love a burger or two in the summer. In a perfect world these foods would truly be “treats” and there would be no problem with having them in schools for special events. I think that by trying to bury these foods in red tape and paperwork our grand plans for long and healthy lives for our children will backfire and we are going to catapult these poor kids into a future of closet eating and shame.

My point is that we are fighting a Sisyphean battle. The war of the cake walks is laughable. It’s like finding a soggy cannoli in the worst bakery in town. Sometimes the entire bakery needs an overhaul. Don’t waste your time on a soggy cannoli! We have a global issue to tackle and the solution starts at home. It starts with educating our children about how to make healthy choices, how to grocery shop, how to budget for food, how to grow a vegetable, how to cook basic healthy meals.

I’m not looking to start a debate about the school food policy and have no interest in the politics attached to it. I won’t even begin to delve into the fact that the policy came into effect seven years ago, but no one has been able to figure out if cakewalks go against the policy or not…….seriously though, is the spring fling a “special function” or a “fundraiser”?

It makes me so sad to hear parents talk about how cake walks only happen once a year and how “everything is okay in moderation”. WAKE UP PEOPLE! Moderation no longer exists in our culture. Yes, cakewalks are special. Yes, they only happen once a year, but most children (and adults) are eating cake, fast food, and other nutrient poor foods on a daily basis. When the day comes when cake is actually a rare treat then I would gladly welcome a cakewalk in schools.

Thanks to Diana Chard for allowing me to voice my concerns on this issue.

Sarah Anstey

Dietetic Intern, Nova Scotia

@SarahAnstey7


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Follow Friday: Yale Rudd Center

Interested in learning about cutting-edge obesity research and policies? Check out the Yale Rudd Centre for Food Policy & Obesity. According to their website: “The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity is a non-profit research and public policy organization devoted to improving the world’s diet, preventing obesity, and reducing weight stigma.” You can also follow them on twitter: @YaleRuddCenter