Step away from the pretzels, lady.
Oh schools, how do you overstep? Let me count the ways. There’s this modern-day obsession with indoor shoes that mandates parents buy two pairs of runners for each child, of course. There’s the near-constant monitoring of the clothes our daughters wear. And, of course, there are the de rigueur scolding letters that admonish parents to pack nutritious and litterless lunches.
The latest imposition by a school administration comes to us from Durham Region, a Toronto suburb. A story about parents whose children have had food confiscated by teachers was originally reported by the Durham Region News and republished yesterday by the Toronto Star. Parents claim that a range of snacks and lunch items including chocolate chip granola bars, leftover pizza, and even crackers with cheese and kielbasa have been deemed unhealthy and taken away from children.
Can you even believe it? Sadly, I can. My kids have never had their snacks taken from them, but they have been subject to rules about what they can eat when. “Please, mama, don’t send me that granola bar for morning snack,” my daughter begged one year, “We aren’t allowed to have them until later in the day.” They’ve also been made to feel bad about enjoying a handful of Goldfish crackers at school or at home because a teacher called them junk food. It’s a tough line to walk — the one that separates teaching children about healthy eating from shaming them — and more than a few teachers have misstepped.
But health is the new religion and nutrition is it’s morality. The purity of the children must be upheld! It’s one thing for me to eat a Big Mac and a Twinkie (though still despicable — craft beer and indie doughnuts much more acceptable), but to feed my innocent children McDonald’s!? Send them to school with *gasp* a store-bought baked good? That is to rob them of their innocence and to send them down a dark road with an uncertain BMI at the end.
Even though kids should, of course, eat healthy food, banning snack foods for not being wholesome enough is out of bounds. For one, the teacher has no idea what the child eats outside of school. Pretty much the only processed and prepackaged foods my children ever get are occasional school snacks. I cook from-scratch meals that are chock-full of vegetables and whole grains nearly every night. They are also active kids who play sports year round and enjoy all kinds of healthy foods. One daughter would love nothing more than for me to pack seaweed, all-natural sauerkraut, and veggie pita pockets every day. Except those are not enough calories for her! So I sometimes throw in a granola bar or even a rice krispie treat and call it a day.
Those prepackaged snack foods are convenient and when you are trying to juggle a million different priorities as a parent sometimes having the Costco-sized box of banana bread, granola bars, or “real fruit” gummies is the only thing keeping the train on the tracks. I work from home part-time and all three of my kids are in school all day and I still cannot get by without store-bought snacks. Did I mention that I cook from-scratch meals nearly every night? That my kids are active in sports and extra curriculars? That I do have to spend some hours working? Right, so forgive me if I didn’t get a chance to squeeze my weekly baking in, too. Now let’s imagine I work full-time or that I am a single parent with an inflexible work schedule who is doing her best to pack her children lunch. It is impossible and downright unacceptable for anyone to tell an attentive and caring parent which choices they need to make.
Every single parent whose child had food confiscated had packed them a lunch. They had gone to the store and purchased food for their children. Then they had taken the time to pack the food into a lunch box so their child would have enough fuel to get through the day. THERE ARE CHILDREN WHO HAVE NO LUNCH. There are hungry children who are sent to school on an empty stomach without any lunch whatsoever. Please, for the love god, let’s save the so-called healthy replacement food for them.
And if there’s any better way to ensure children grow up to have unhealthy relationships with food than singling them out in front of everyone, shaming them about the food they brought, and then taking that food away from them, I don’t know what it is.
But, but, but … I know. I know what you’re going to say. But what about childhood obesity? Don’t we have to do something about that? Maybe. But this isn’t the answer.
Perhaps we should let the schools provide the healthy snacks. We’ll give the school boards the equivalent budget and time allowance that a single parent has. The school staff can take the bus to the supermarket in February, knowing that they need enough food to last for at least two weeks, until the next pay day. They can stand in the aisles weighing the cost and shelf-life of fresh produce and unsweetened, protein-rich Greek yogurt against shelf-stable snacks like granola bars. They can worry about spending money on food that the kids won’t eat and how that means they’ll need even more food later and where is the money to pay for that food going to come from? They can stand in the granola bar aisle and look at the dizzying array of options . . . that all contain nuts. Then they can decide whether they want to buy the chocolate chip granola bar or go with the jam-filled Nutrigrain bars for a change.
Then, when they get back to the school after making sure the students have at least something to snack on, let’s just hope some busy-body doesn’t take the food away from them.