Four year old Natalee Pearson left for school with a ham and cheese sandwich, string cheese, and a 4-pack of Oreo cookies that her mom packed her for lunch. When she came back home the Oreos hadn’t been touched and she explained to her mom that her teacher wouldn’t allow her to eat them.
The teacher had sent home a note to clarify:
Dear Parents, It is very important that all students have a nutritious lunch. This is a public school setting and all children are required to have a fruit, a vegetable, and a healthy snack from home, along with milk. If they have potatoes, the child will also need bread to go along with it. Lunchables, chips, fruit snacks, and peanut butter are not considered to be a healthy snack. This is a very important part of our program and we need everyone’s participation.
This raises a lot of questions, but let’s start with this one: Who the hell wrote these guidelines? I have no problem with a kid eating potatoes and bread together but it seems like an odd thing to require. They can have bread, cheese, and lunch meat on a sandwich, but they can’t have crackers, cheese, and lunchmeat (aka lunchables.) They are apparently required to drink milk regardless of preference or lactose intolerance. They can have potatoes (fried?) as long as they also have bread, but they can’t have chips. Peanut butter isn’t “considered to be a healthy snack” by whom? Who gets to decide what is “healthy” for a child – if the teacher is vegan can he insist that kids only bring vegan food? If a teacher thinks that paleo is the most healthy diet can she insist that kids bring paleo meals? Apparently if a teacher thinks that potatoes are only healthy when accompanied by bread they can enforce that rule on the class.
When Natalee’s mom Leeza called the school they told her that they had given her kid some “healthy alternatives” instead of her cookie. Leeza replied “They don’t provide lunch for my daughter. I provide lunch. It’s between me and the doctor in terms of what’s healthy for her.” The thing about “healthy choices” is that health can vary for different people (a vegan kid might find peanut butter to be a great source of protein, another kid might die if he eats it) but the operative word here is “choice” which the school took away from both the parent and the child.
I think that this is a really important thing to notice: Not only did the teacher refuse to allow a child to eat food that her parent chose for her, but they offered her food that her parent did not approve for her to eat. So not only doesn’t the school think that the kid can make the decision about what to eat from her lunchbox, they decided that the child’s legal guardian isn’t allowed to decide what to feed her child, and that it’s their right to offer the child whatever food they decide is healthy.
The school director reportedly refused to speak to Leeza, but once the media got involved the director said “the note should not have been sent out and is being investigated… the school does not have any policies regarding telling students what they can or can’t eat at lunch time.” All evidence to the contrary.
Other parents have been chiming in online, talking about the difficulties they’ve had when the school food police thwarted their attempts to get their kids through picky eating phases, growth spurts, or *gasp* providing a variety of foods and let their kid make some food decisions.
One mom talked about packing a lot of different stuff in her kid’s lunchbox so that the kid can pick and choose what to eat based on how hungry she feels at lunchtime, but the teacher took her dessert away and told her she couldn’t have it until she ate every single thing in the lunchbox. Another parent found out that her kid had taken to hiding in the bathroom to eat dessert after her teacher humiliated her by taking away her cookie in front of her class and lecturing her on healthy choices – that’s definitely setting her up for a healthy relationship with food.
Upsettingly people are justifying this based on the need to “prevent obesity” which suggests that because fat people will likely continue to exist (as we always have) parents should lose their right to choose what to feed their kids.
I am tremendously grateful to teachers for the difficult work they do, and I think that they have enough to contend with, without being asked to serve as the food police. Let’s keep our eye on the ball here and focus on making sure that all kids (and all people while we’re at it) have enough food to eat, and all parents have access to the foods that they would like to feed themselves and their kids instead of trying to have the teacher supplant the parent as the person who chooses what to feed a child, if only on the off chance that the parent doesn’t think that potatoes must be accompanied by bread.
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