Junkfood Science: Lunch box police

January 23, 2009

Lunch box police

Well, it’s happened. School principals in Australia want teachers to have the power to police lunch boxes from home to remove any offending cookies or chips that are deemed by the State Government as unhealthy. Victorian Principals Association chief Fred Ackerman has backed the move, according to the Herald Sun, saying teachers need the authority to enforce ‘healthy eating’ habits.

"Teachers in Victoria should have the power to be lunch box police so they can confiscate chips, chocolates and sugary sweets to ensure children are healthy," the principals said. They’ve found themselves pitted against parents who are reported to be against schools becoming a "nanny state" and that they will continue to put treats in their child's lunch. The Herald Sun added that: “Education Minister Bronwyn Pike also said she was against the idea of taking parents' lunch box rights away.”

A mother in Britain this week contacted the Times to express their anger over being “named and shamed” for what she packed in her child’s lunch box. As the newspaper’s School Gate writer reported, the mother “received a telling off from the teacher” for a chocolate spread in her son’s sandwich.

"It is our school's policy to encourage healthy eating," said the letter her son brought home. "We would prefer it if your son would bring in a nutritious, healthy sandwich for his lunch."

Lydia is not happy, for two reasons. One is that today is her son's birthday and the chocolate spread was a "special treat." Two is that she considers peanut butter a "healthy nutritious" option, but her son isn't allowed it because of what she calls the "nut obsession" (all nut products are banned at her son's school)…

Should treats be banned, and should teachers be getting involved with what a parent packs in her child's lunch each day? The whole issue, bizarrely, is reminiscent of a thread I was reading on mumsnet last week. It was from a mother whose child had his jam sandwiches banned! She wasn't too thrilled either.

So, have we gone healthy eating mad, is this actually sensible advice, or is it, as Lydia grumpily points out "teachers just flexing their muscles and showing us that in school, they're the boss!"

But it appears that a movement is afoot to take away parents rights to feed their children.

At this week’s Gateshead Council cabinet meeting, a principal lobbied to ban lunches packed from home entirely. As the Journal reported, the Council's 2009-2010 budget report read: “It was suggested that Parliament be lobbied to ban packed lunches, or enable schools to monitor the contents.” The government believes it knows better than parents what is best for their children. The Council’s director of learning and schools told media they “have a genuine concern to promote healthy eating and reduce childhood obesity; that while the Government is providing a great deal of support and guidance on what constitutes a healthy school meal, and we work to those guidelines, it could do more to encourage some parents to provide healthier packed lunches for their children.”

This isn't really about obesity, of course. Back when nearly all children brought their lunches from home, children were all fat? One father was quoted as objecting, saying it should be the parent’s choice what their children eat and silly of the state to ban packed lunches altogether. “They are probably thinking parents are putting rubbish in the kids’ sandwiches.”

Dale Robson, head of transport, catering and cleaning at Gateshead Council, the service which delivers the school meals service, added:

The School Food Trust believes in schools having whole school food policies that encompass the provision of packed lunches from home that are consistent with the standards for school food… Having a whole school food policy which encompasses packed lunches is one of the requirements of the National Healthy Schools Standard.

All Gatehead schools are expected to hold the National Healhy Schools Standard by December 2009.

Addendum: A JFS reader sent in this delightful parody written by Angela Paul, a home schooling mother of four, who has a masters in chemical engineering and teaches the Sensational Science Series. The article was "published" on April 13, 2099:

"Home Eating a Threat to Public Kitchens?"

"After much heated heated debate on the house floor, legislation was passed today to allow a growing number of families to cook meals for their families in their homes. The children must have annual physical examinations to assure proper growth and weight gain. Attempts to require weekly meal plans and monthly kitchen inspections... [click on title to read the rest]

Thank you, Katya!

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