To follow up yesterday’s post on making school lunch great again, I ran across two helpful resources which might be of interest to parents.
With all the nonsense about Michelle Obama’s national lunch programme (2010) and the USDA rules about fruit and vegetables in school meals (2012), students and parents are finding what should be an enjoyable midday break difficult.
A New York Times article from 2015, ‘Parents, Not Schools, Should Decide What to Pack for Lunch’, describes the frustration, anxiety — and sometimes sadness — accompanying school lunch (emphases mine):
Based on our review of the available research, we estimate that 10 to 15 percent of all American children and up to 80 percent of those with special needs struggle with feeding challenges. This is not an insignificant concern. These kinds of school incidents can lead to significant setbacks for children with complex food anxieties or challenges. Some children may have special needs around food that aren’t immediately obvious to a teacher, like the sister of a 13-year-old in the hospital from complications of anorexia nervosa, whose parents are desperately trying to teach the girls that all foods, including Oreos, have a place in a healthy diet. Or there is the instance of the little boy with autism spectrum disorder who eats well at home but is so overwhelmed in the loud cafeteria that for him to get enough calories and energy for the afternoon he has to have his most familiar and safe foods. If someone shames him for his sugary squeeze yogurt and Ritz crackers, he may eat nothing.
One child we worked with, who had had multiple surgeries and was weaned off a feeding tube as a toddler, enjoyed fruit cups packed in light syrup as her only fruit. Her teacher held one up in front of the class, calling out the sugar content as unhealthy, and asked the kindergartner to not bring it again. The girl was upset that her cherished teacher thought her food was bad, and refuses to eat it anymore.
Parents have the right to decide what to feed their child, with input from a doctor or dietitian, if necessary. Children have the right to enjoy lunch at school without undue scrutiny, and certainly without being called out in front of peers for a choice the parent makes.
The authors of this article, Dr Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin, recommend that parents enclose a laminated ‘lunchbox card’ stating:
“Dear ____________, Please don’t ask __________________ to eat more or different foods than she/he wants. Please let her eat as much as she wants of any of the foods I pack, in any order, even if she eats nothing or only dessert. If you have any questions or concerns, please call me at _______________. Thank you.”
They acknowledge that the child might be reluctant to do this, so parent and child should rehearse at home before putting this into practice.
They also say that concerned school administrators or teachers should contact the parent rather than confront the child — or, I would add, confiscate his or her food.
School districts have become increasingly authoritarian. The Ellyn Satter Institute, which deals with child nutrition, has a useful page from 2011 on what students encounter. ‘School Nutrition Horror Stories’ spells it out clearly. Recommended reading. Examples and excerpts follow:
All public schools in the St. Paul, MN, district will be declared “sweet-free zones” and second helpings banned by the end of this school year. Reminders have been sent to teachers, students and parents that “sweet, sticky, fat-laden and salty treats” aren’t allowed during the school day.”
New Hampshire schools have authoritarian dinner ladies who humiliate children asking for a brownie as well as hectoring dietitians who patrol the lunchroom criticising pupils who eat a cookie before starting the main course. The end result was that one woman’s son:
was so traumatized that he’s not eating any lunch at all. He tries to find reasons not to go to the cafeteria.
Some parents have been so intimidated by school officials that they related their experiences to the Ellyn Satter Institute only on condition they could remain anonymous — even when they were successful in getting schools to back off!
The Institute recommends that parents talk with the teacher first to get her side of the story, then to explain that you are packing foods your child will actually eat (some nutrition is better than none). If that does not work, take it up to the principal in a non-adversarial way (don’t make it against the teacher, but an information-gathering session).
They also recommend that parents push for a school-wide policy on non-interference with packed lunches:
This might involve the principal, school counselor, school nurse, lunchroom personnel, PTO. It is a lot of work, but it is that important.
Wow, apparently so. We can only hope the Trump administration reverses Michelle’s Meals as soon as practicable.