What Food Lessons Are Our Kids Learning At School?Thu 14 Mar 2013
Story by Way Ling Wiesser
In allowing junk food at school, we are, in fact, passively endorsing its role in our children’s lives. Is this really the message we want to be sending to our kids?
It’s not just the canteens and vending, it’s also the stuff brought in from home, class parties and even sporting events!
It’s not that the schools don’t care about healthy eating; it’s just that they don’t always care “enough.” They already have so much on their plate that food just falls lower on their priorities - understandable, but inexcusable.
Good vs Bad, which will they choose?
Until this year, I have kept my lips firmly zipped and sent my kids to school with their packed lunches and snacks. However, upon reaching Grade 5, the school allows children to bring money and buy freely from the canteen, so I went along to take a look…
At first glance, I came across a huge selection of cooked meals, salads, healthy wraps and fruits - all good stuff and I was really very impressed. I also saw a lot of fruit beautifully displayed in different ways. The latest initiative at school was to promote fruit consumption and recent fruit temptations include exotic cut fruit cups and fruits on sticks as well as your ordinary whole fruits, dotted around the canteen.
I continued my exploration until I hit the “darker side” where brownies, cheese cakes, ice creams and more sugary delights awaited me. A perfectly harmless looking coffee shop to most people but a hotbed of temptation to school children with money to spend as they wish.
I raised my concerns with the school as I strongly believe that there is no place for such foods in a learning environment, especially when there are no controls alongside to ensure that kids have at least had a nutritious meal beforehand.
Having managed to organize a meeting with the school, we now have some ways of moving forward to further improve the school offering. They have agreed to look at further ways to improve the baking – alternative flours, agave syrup etc, and I will have a chance to do an “audit” of the junk foods.
I count myself very lucky to be able to engage with a school that is taking the food message seriously. So, I can happily report that our school is well on its way to an even healthier future and for that, I am hugely grateful. All in all, we’re off to a jolly good start!
Classroom Foods… A Different Story Altogether
For years, it has astounded me the kind of food that is offered at class parties – chips, pretzels, doughnuts, mini chocolate bars, just to name a few salty, sugary and artificially coloured delights.
I do understand that parents want to offer “treats” and also something “easy” but these types of foods just simply do not belong in a learning environment!
With the right support, we can affect this - changes in the classroom can effectively be implemented overnight. We don’t need to gain school approval or consult external companies; we just need parents to support each other.
Time to Speak Up
If we want to see changes in the food offered at schools, then we as parents needs to make ourselves heard. Take time to do your research, find some other like-minded parents, and prepare a well thought out approach to the school head, teachers and food service managers.
Ask around other parents and find out whether there are other parents who are also opposed to the foods offered at school – it’s always good for moral support to feel that you’re not all alone as “that mum” or “that dad” and also you will have a stronger voice when approaching the school.
However, proceed with caution and lightness of foot…canteens and vending are hotbeds of controversial discussions. We are not trying to limit people’s personal choices; we are just trying to offer a healthier future to our children.
Any changes to the current offering, with the best will in mind, will take time and patience and may be met with lots of resistance. Patience and gentle persistence is the name of the game when approaching the larger institutions.
“Sugar Free Zones”
Most schools already exercise nut free zones. Well, let’s make our classrooms a sugar free zone! In particular, for snacks brought in from home every day.
If parents absolutely want to maintain the birthday cakes – then maybe a suggestion to group all birthdays into clumps of months – and hold just one party each month…again with suggestions of healthier alternatives – we just need to do things a little differently.
Wouldn’t it be great if all schools had wellness committees who could produce guidelines and ideas for those parents who do want to go the healthier route?
Why not form your own Wellness committee to formalize the messages sent home. Gather together and work out some firm guidelines to help parents in their selection of what foods come in from home. Lunchbox ideas, healthy alternative snacks and shopping tips – there’s a wealth of information out there and they just need to be pulled together
As the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in one day… Change doesn’t happen overnight but if it’s important enough, then it’s worth fighting and waiting for! Whatever changes you make for yourself and your family and within the school will be moves in the right direction. Small changes and many baby steps can take you a long way.
About the author: Way Ling Wiesser, is a Food Revolution Ambassador in Singapore, wife to an outdoor enthusiast, mother to 2 children and an adorable 3 legged cat and slave to the juicer, the blender and the wok! Check out the Singapore Food Revolution facebook page here.
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