Navigating the School Lunchbox Shame Game

Karen Phillip

Relationships Expert

The recent media coverage about schools checking the children’s lunch box at the school gate or their classroom teacher checking their lunchbox and not permitting a child to eat their provided food if it does not fit the school criteria, is shameful and concerning.

Most parents try hard to pack a good and healthy lunch for their child each day however we all know that sometimes a treat is a good thing. We also know that sometimes if we haven’t made it to the shops we may need to place a biscuit instead of that crunchy apple, just for the day. To then have the school-gate guard or teacher ridicule or embarrass a child due to this small gaffe surely is not a good thing for the child.

Navigating the School Lunchbox Shame Game

Of course we expect our schools to endorse healthy choices but to do it in a way using guilt and ridicule on the child is simply wrong.

I have read that some children are so stressed going to school fearful of the ramification if mum or dad has failed to pack a completely healthy selection on that day. While we expect parents to do their best, if on occasion this is not the case, so be it. Perhaps they are better to send a note home to parents in the lunch box with some healthy ideas.

We must remember that the child does not shop, prepare or usually pack their lunch box, the parent most often attends to this chore. To have the child made feel responsible and guilty is irresponsible. Surely school educators can find a better way to manage lunch boxes instead of shaming a child.

Our children throughout pre-school, primary and high school are all educated about food choice, the good, the bad and the sometimes foods. Children all seem to know this information however due to their age they are yet to understand the results of bad food choices.

A school role is to educate. Let’s allow them to educate but not police, this is not their role. What will happen if a parent does place inappropriate foods into their child’s lunch box? Is the child permitted to consume it, does the school offer alternative foods, are the parents contacted?

It is all about educating the family and sometimes this includes altering the family history of obesity and poor eating. This can be a slow process. Support is needed, no bullying, no intimidation, no guilt only guidance.

We therefore presume all the teachers eat only small portions of healthy foods? They are all slim and healthy and therefore setting an appropriate example for the children we presume. And does it mean we can only bring carrot cakes for birthdays, or is it carrots without the cake?

How do we achieve a better outcome that will work far better than policing a lunch box:

  • educating the child to want better, healthier foods
  • removing inappropriate foods from school canteens
  • offering helpful suggestions to parents for school lunches

Our schools are supposed to be Family-centered meaning they work with the family, treating the family with respect, to support and discuss issues based on the best outcome for the family. Working with the family to foster the best outcome.

This is a Professionally-centered approach where the teachers and school are This is taking a ‘one size fits all approach’ with teachers making a ‘professional’ judgment about the child and family without consultation. Families are seen as something to fix.

This goes against the philosophy of our educational system. Research has proven this never works and this Professionally-centered approach alienates families (Bronfenbrenner (1979), The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments.).

Food is to be eaten for enjoyment, pleasure and nutritional benefit for our body. Let’s stop making it evil. Most everything can be consumed in moderation and with a balance.

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