Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

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Sticky situation: School food bans


I had mixed feelings as I read the recent CBC coverage of peanut butter substitute bans in PEI schools. Part of me thinks that many children could do with a little more variety than the traditional PBS (peanut butter substitute) and jelly. There are loads of other great lunch ideas out there. Parents have blogs showing school lunches, my friend Dallas (@eatrealbereal) often tweets photos of the amazing school lunches she makes for her daughter, many nutrition websites such as Dietitians of Canada and Eat Right Ontario provide suggestions for school lunches and snacks.

Another part of me argued with that initial part of me. PBS is an affordable non-perishable, quick and easy lunch option for parents. It’s also widely enjoyed by children. In a time and economically strapped world, PBS&J is a handy lunch option to have. Taking that option away limits the possibilities for many parents: both those who don’t have much time and money, and those who have children who are known to bring home uneaten meticulously prepared nutritious lunches.

I get where the schools are coming from. It’s extremely difficult to monitor every lunch and not every parent is going to take the time to label lunches as nut-free. School officials don’t want to be responsible if a child dies on their watch; who can blame them?

Soy is also a common allergen. Is replacing one common allergen with another really the greatest idea? Where do we draw the line though? As allergies become increasingly prevalent in our society we’re going to need a better solution than to outright ban every risky food.

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Follow Friday: Never Seconds Blog

Truthfully, I need this girl telling people to read my blog more than she needs me telling people to read hers. Still, Never Seconds is a really great project started by Martha Payne, a nine-year-old girl in Scotland to chronicle her unfortunate school lunches. It’s gone viral and other students from around the world have been sending in photos of their lunches as well. Seemed a fitting follow-up to yesterday’s post about the dismal state of many Nova Scotia school cafeterias.

I was reading an article in The Star about the small (but mighty) victory she’s achieved through this blog – additional fruit and veg upon request – and was sorely disappointed by some of the comments posted by readers. A couple of them suggested that because this girl’s mother is a doctor that she should be bringing a lunch from home. Regardless of the reasons for each student to be eating school lunches they should all be provided with palatable and nutritious meals. I don’t know why the readers making these comments seem to think that they’re in a position to pass judgement and I wonder if they think that it’s okay for children who can’t afford to bring healthy lunches from home to be fed meagre nutritionally lacking meals at school. Someone else commented that the meal posted with the article (white rice, corn, spring rolls, and soup with noodles) looked good. While it’s not the least nutritious lunch I’ve ever seen it’s far from ideal. It’s mostly beige, where are the leafy greens and the colourful veg? Where is the protein? Why should children have to settle for nutritionally lacking meals? Props to Martha for taking a stand!

Unfortunate Update: An article from June 14th states that Martha’s blog has been shut-down due to her being banned from bringing a camera into school by the school board.

Yet another update: Following a huge public outcry, Martha’s blog has been once again given the green light and raised considerably more money. Read more here.

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NS school food policy is a sham and a shame

I was so proud of the Nova Scotia school food and beverage policy. It came out years before most other provinces and still seemed superior to the policy which came out in Ontario just last year. Since returning to Nova Scotia I have become increasingly disillusioned. Several people have told me about issues with foods that are currently available in schools. While it seems that some schools are adhering to the policy others are not or are at least doing so to the loosest degree possible.

The above photo was kindly provided to me by Drew Moore as evidence of the current state of school lunches. Pretty much all I see in this photo are carbs and fat. This is exactly the sort of lunch that’s going to lead children to be lethargic and inattentive in the afternoon. Another friend of mine (the one who prompted this post) asked me if there was anyway that I could get into schools and do some work with the cafeterias as the food choices are dismal. I was puzzled because of the school nutrition policy but apparently this has fallen by the wayside. She told me that large bags of popcorn are always available as well as cookies and fruit and vegetables are scarce. One of her students forgot a lunch one day so she went down to the cafeteria to get him something and came back with an orange and a piece of toast as those were the only two remotely healthy options available. Another parent told me that there’s no cafeteria in his children’s school but the snack shack doesn’t sell soda or chocolate. Upon further questioning it was revealed that there are “questionable alternatives” such as Sun Chips, fruit gummies, chocolate milk, baked chips, and chocolate granola bars. None of these seem like optimal choices to me. Just because something isn’t completely unhealthy doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Replacing regular chips with baked chips may provide children with less fat but it’s not actually providing them with more nutrients.

Why do we even bother having a nutrition policy if we’re not going to follow it? We’re not teaching students to make healthy choices. We’re definitely not making the “healthy choice the easy choice” as the slogan goes. It seems to me that the only things we’re teaching students is that it’s not necessary to follow through and enforce policies and that baked chips are nutritious.

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Boo to the Moo Moo Bar

Last week at the Canadian Food Summit 2012 I was fortunate enough to get a sample of the new Moo Moo Bar  from Dairylicious. Now, I’m not sure if you get the full picture in the photo above so I’ll lay it out for you here as well. This bar is made from cottage cheese and is “great for kids lunch boxes”. Yes, great if you want to send your child to school with a 100 calorie bar (that’s a whopping 1.5 inches long) containing 3.5 grams of fat (3 of which are saturated) and 11 grams of sugar. Here’s the full spec sheet for the original bar. In case you were wondering, that’s a LOT of sugar and fat for about one bite. For the sake of science I took a tiny little bite from the end. I thought “this isn’t that ba… OMG THAT’S SWEET!” It took me several swigs of water to eliminate the residual sweetness from my mouth. So, if you want to feed your child a high sugar, energy-dense diet to promote obesity and tooth decay then why stop at popping just one in their lunchbox? Why not just give them a whole box for lunch? After all, you can never get too much of a good thing, right?

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Smarties sandwiches, part of a balanced lunch

I received a link to this article in my twitter feed today from @yonifreedhoff. It’s about a child being sent to school with a Smarties sandwich for lunch prompting a free school nutrition program. I think lunch programs are great and whatever it takes to initiate one is fine by me. I just think it’s a little sad, and absurd, that a Smarties sandwich was the impetus. For decades now children have been sent to school with utter crap for lunches. Now, I was one of the lucky ones who got to go home for lunch every day, up until high school, and have a balanced lunch courtesy of my mum waiting for me on the table. Other kids were not so lucky (although at the time I was pretty envious). Lunchables? Very little in the way of nutrient content there apart from calories and sodium. How about sandwiches made with cheesewhiz? Or grape jelly? Or “Fluff”? Or… NUTELLA? How many kids did you know growing-up that had “chocolate” sandwiches at lunch? I bet, if you weren’t one of them, that you at least knew one. And really, what’s the difference between a sandwich made with Nutella and a sandwich made with Smarties? I’d say candy coating is pretty much the sole distinguishing feature. We need to be taking a closer look at the marketing of foods and what’s really in them. Just because Smarties are marketed as a candy treat and Nutella is marketed as “part of a balanced breakfast” doesn’t mean that they’re all that different.