Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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What good can come out of teachers acting as food police?

 

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School lunch in Korea photo by Cali4Beach on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Last week I read an article in the Toronto Star about Toronto-area parents outrage at teachers allegedly policing children’s lunches. Of course, this sort of thing is contrary to school nutrition policies which apply only to food served in schools (and from what I’ve heard are rarely adhered to anyway which is a whole other kettle of fish). Teachers should never be policing students lunches. That sort of behaviour is completely inappropriate and could easily lead to disordered eating in children. Fellow RD Abby Langer covers more of the concerns in her column in the Huffington Post.

I’m sure that teachers weren’t allowed to speak to the press about the issue and that’s why the article only quoted parents and school board administration. I do think that’s a shame because I can’t help but wonder if at least some of these situations were simply a lack of communication. We are talking about young children telling their parents what their teachers allegedly said to them. There could be some distortion like you see in the telephone game that we played as children. The message starts as one thing at the beginning and by the time it reaches the end of the “line” it doesn’t even remotely resemble the original message. I’d like to see the teachers be given at least a little bit of the benefit of the doubt and I think it’s a real shame that we didn’t get to hear their side of the story.

Regardless of what’s been happening here I think this provides a great opportunity to talk about how this situation could be improved. We know that many kids are going to school with nutritionally lacking lunches and snacks. We know that school nutrition policies aren’t working. Why not start talking about implementing a national school lunch program? As one parent in the Star article said, “Unless the school wants to provide lunches, I don’t really think it’s their business.” Why not have the schools provide lunches for all the children? A national publicly funded school lunch program could provide children with nutritious, balanced lunches as well as an opportunity for education.

My boyfriend showed me a portion of Michael Moore’s latest documentary on Netflix, Who to Invade Next. In it we saw children in France being served lunch as if they were in a restaurant. Each school had a chef who planned the menus (I think with the input of a dietitian) and prepared the food. The children had a full hour for lunch and it was treated in the same manner as any other subject at school. Learning to appreciate food and interacting with fellow students and cafeteria staff was seen as just as valuable as math and science.

If every school treated lunch as an educational opportunity and provided students with nutritious lunches then this issue of teachers acting as food police would be moot. It would also help to provide a degree of equity to students so that no matter the circumstances at home every student would have the same balanced lunch.


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Burger King rules in New Brunswick schools

Burger King image by Mike Mozart on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Burger King image by Mike Mozart on flickr used under a Creative Commons Licence.

A few weeks ago it hit the news that Burger King has the contract to provide hot lunches for the Anglophone East School District in New Brunswick. Some people were upset that a fast food restaurant is being paid to provide children with lunches. Others defended the program by stating that the foods provided meet the provincial school nutrition policy.

Without knowing exactly what foods are being provided through this program, I would be remiss in dismissing the program as unhealthy. The article simply states that burgers can’t be served more than twice a week, fries aren’t served at all, and they also offer salads and apple sauce. I admit that these claims don’t instil me with much confidence that the offerings are truly healthy, balanced, varied choices. After all, a healthy diet isn’t the absence of the least healthy foods. Offering burgers “only” twice a week isn’t exactly a paradigm of health. Nor is apple sauce and what I’m speculating would be an iceberg lettuce-heavy salad. But that’s just speculation. Perhaps BK is offering a variety of nutritious salad options.

I do think that it’s unfortunate that the decision as to which company receives the RFP to provide schools with lunches is made based on what company can meet the guidelines for the lowest price. Instead of looking at what other hot lunch providers can offer by way of variety and nutrition above and beyond foods permitted, it’s all about the money. Far be it for schools to consider the import of good nutrition on health, behaviour, and the ability of students to learn.

The issue goes beyond the nutritional value of the food being served. Having Burger King provide the hot lunches also allows them to advertise within the schools and build life-long customers out of young children. BK may be providing the food at a lower cost than other providers could but that’s because they’re a huge corporation that sells relatively inexpensive mass-produced food products. They’re also getting more than their money’s worth by being allowed to advertise in schools in this manner, and don’t think for a second that this isn’t exactly why they’re doing it.

In an ideal world, schools would have their own cafeterias with staff and nutritious food prepared for all students at lunch. Unfortunately, our world isn’t ideal. At the very least, school boards could be ensuring that RFPs give preference to local companies rather than large multinational fast food conglomerates.


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Follow Friday: #NourishBrownBag Challenge

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I absolutely love this Brown Bag Challenge that I’ve been seeing in support of Nourish Nova Scotia. Anyone can participate, just make a lunch for a friend or co-worker, tag them on social media, and ask them to donate $10 to Nourish Nova Scotia to support healthy breakfast programs in Nova Scotia. Pay it forward and keep the challenge going. A great way to share a love of food!


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Follow Friday: School lunches around the world

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This collection of photographs of school lunches from around the world has been shared on twitter and facebook a lot. On the off chance that you haven’t seen it yet it’s interesting and mouth-watering. It’s sad to see the American school lunch. Even sadder to know that Canada doesn’t have a national school lunch program. However, it’s nice to see that some countries have nutritious and appealing school lunches. We can only hope that North America will learn from their examples.


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When it comes to lunches do parents always know best?

School Food - Chicken Nuggets

A few months ago a study claimed to show that school lunches (in the US) were healthier than lunches brought from home. At the time, I considered blogging about it but I really wasn’t sure what to say. It’s such a problematic subject. However, when I came across this article I knew that I had to comment.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the article, or can’t be bothered to read it just now, it’s the story of a dad who fights back against the nanny state at his daughter’s school. She was sent home with a note that read:

Dr. and Mrs. Puckett, The cafeteria reported to me that Alia’s lunch today included four chocolate bars, a bag of marshmallows, Ritz crackers and a pickle. Please see that she packs a proper lunch tomorrow

Upon the line requesting a parental signature, the father wrote “request declined”. The father also states that his daughter did not have four chocolate bars, rather, she had three squares of dark chocolate (two of which were for others). He also denied that she had any Ritz crackers, stating that she had some lunch meat. Because that makes this packed lunch oh so much better.

I understand parents desires not to allow schools and dietitians into their children’s home made lunches. I know that if I had children I would feel much better sending them to school with packed lunches than allowing them to eat the school lunches at which pizza has magically become a vegetable.

My concern with the first study is that it’s very difficult to quantify lunch quality. I’ve worked with school boards and teachers to implement provincial school nutrition policy and I’ve had concerns with such policies. There is something wrong with a chocolate chip granola bar meets school standards, but the same brand of bar with added almonds fails to meet the policy due to excessive fat content. When policies present with issues such as this, I wonder how much healthier the school lunches truly were. If children are bringing lunches which are mostly nutritious but contain one treat would this automatically doom them to failure in comparison to the school lunches? Are the packed lunches consisting of chips and candy skewing the results in the favour of the school lunches? If students dislike the school lunches and don’t eat them, should they still be concluded to be more nutritious than home made lunches?

The issue of the father refusing to sign off on the request that his daughter bring “a proper lunch” is another matter. The teacher who sent the note certainly overstepped his or her bounds. However, a lunch consisting of chocolate, marshmallows, lunch meat, and pickles is certainly not a nutritious balanced meal. I’ve heard stories from teachers in which parents are sending young children to school with large bags of chips and king-sized chocolate bars for recess, with more of the same for lunch. Part of the problem with the angry dad story is that he’s allowing his young daughter to pack her own lunches. As independent as she may be, she is clearly not equipped to be preparing her own lunches. Ideally, she would be working with her parents to determine the contents of her lunch bag. No young child should have free reign over their lunch bag contents. But what should be done about parents who pack their children off to school with chips, candy bars, and pop? Anything? I wish I had a good answer. Some parents don’t have the money, time, education, etc to prepare nutritious lunches for their children. Should we have a mandatory school lunch program for all children who stay at school for lunch?