I have the privilege of working in schools in my capacity as both a teacher and nutritionist. Earlier this year I wrote an article about the over-policing of school lunch boxes that hit a nerve with many. While I am highly critical about ‘Healthy Lunch Box’ policies, I do understand where teachers are coming from in their mission for the health of children in their care. Teachers are very compassionate and prioritise the well being of their students above anything else. My concern with our view of nutrition in schools is that it’s a non-attuned approach and doesn’t support the complexity of the feeding experience and assumes that because we all eat, we just know how to do it. Just like learning to read and write, learning to eat a wide variety of healthy foods is a long and slow process.
I have both parents and teachers approach me to hear my thoughts about the contents of school lunch boxes, especially with a concern about heavily processed foods and what they can do about it. I’m also concerned about this but I’m also well aware of the consequences and pitfalls of trying to manage this with a ‘set of rules’ to be abided by. Part of my role as a nutritionist is supporting teachers and schools in providing professional learning with evidence-based research and strategies that support the health of the school community.
Just as parents support schools in providing their children with quality education, teachers and schools are in a position where they can nurture the child’s experiences with food and eating in a neutral yet positive way. I ask that you read this letter in view that it may help you to take a different approach to the eating and feeding experience; one that physically feeds the body and one that feeds the mind of the people in our care. To further support this letter, I strongly encourage you to read ‘What Teachers Can Do To Support Families To Pack Nutritious Lunch- Boxes’ written by Natalie Thompson, a non-dieting Accredited Practising Dietitian.
I love being in your class. I love learning and I have lots of fun everyday with you and my friends but I need to tell you something important about me. This is about my lunch box, the food I bring to school and how I eat each day.
Please don’t assume…
- that because I have a larger body and I’m shovelling food into my mouth that I’m a glutton; I just want to go outside and play.
- just because I have ‘lots’ of packaged foods and that I eat in a way that seems ‘unhealthy’ to you, doesn’t mean my parents don’t care or love me. This might be their way of showing me their love.
- that because I eat lots of processed foods that my parents are neglectful, maybe they don’t know how to cook or it’s all they know. They may be having a tough time in life at the moment and not able to afford better food.
- that because I have a very limited number of foods in my lunch box each day that my parents are lazy; little did you know that I had a tongue tie and this has affected my ability to chew and my feeding development.
– tell me that I need to eat everything in my lunch box; my body is pretty good at telling me when I’m full and my tummy hurts when I eat too much.
– make me eat the ‘healthy food’ first; my parents have given me a choice of food for a reason and I can decide what to eat and how much.
– judge the fact that I eat lots of white or bland looking foods, this is all I will eat and my parents are doing their best to introduce new foods but I reject them.
– teach me that some foods are bad and some foods are good; I get really confused and think that I’ll get sick if I eat all those bad foods.
– teach me that sugar is bad; I don’t understand how something can be so bad when it tastes so good. How can I be such a bad person if I eat some lollies, cake or chocolate?
– take my food away or throw it out because it doesn’t comply with the school healthy eating policy. Have you ever thought that your policy may be flawed and more harmful than helpful? I feel it’s more important that we learn more about how ALL FOODS can be ENJOYED as part of a HEALTHY BALANCED DIET.
– send notes home to my parents about the contents of my lunch box. Do you realise that my parents may not be incharge of packing my lunch box? This is my job. These notes can create fear in me eating certain kinds of foods and lead to catastrophic thinking as well as a poor relationship with food long term.
– reward me with food for doing something good in my learning. This makes me eat when I’m not hungry. Did you know that this can lead to me forming a habit of rewarding myself with food later in life, with my body misunderstanding an emotional connection with food and actual hunger?
– teach me that eating too much food causes obesity and fatness. It makes me feel sad when people talk about body shapes and sizes that are inheritable. All bodies are good bodies.
– teach me about calories and that the food I eat needs to be burnt off. I eat food for nourishment, enjoyment, satisfaction and survival. My body is not a bomb calorimeter, it’s a living thing that is making new cells to help me grow and learn.
- teach me to love food by helping me learn about it in a non-judgemental way.
- help me to learn about my senses and how I can use them to learn more about food.
- show me where food comes from.
- keep my learning experiences about food neutral yet positive. Talk to me about food in a matter of fact way without labelling it good, bad, healthy and unhealthy. These labels are hard to understand.
- teach me to love my body and what it can do.
- teach me that all bodies are special and they are made to work in their own way and move in a way that feels good.
Thank you for reading my letter. The more that we talk about this, the more we will learn to appreciate that health and food literacy needs to be addressed in a sensitive and supportive way.
A student who loves food.