This is my favourite time of year. Don't get me wrong I love the warmth and sunshine of summer but there is something that I love more about fall. The changing colours, the cool brisk air mixed with the suns warmth, the smell of the air, cozy sweaters and pumpkin spiced everything! I always loved back to school. New clothes, new shoes, new opportunities to make new friends at school and try new things. I acknowledge my privilege in this as I was very fortunate to grow up being able to afford to buy some new things for school and be able to look forward to joining groups and clubs that were offered. For me September was like the New Year. A chance to be everything I thought I should be. I would often clean and rearrange my room the long weekend before school started and set up a "work space" for my homework. I would carefully pick out what I was going to wear the first day of school (who am I kidding I did it for the whole first week). I would be organized this year! I would be on top of all deadlines! I would not procrastinate!! All this usually lasted a week....then I returned to me. I was always disappointed when I went back to just being the way I always was. I would get frustrated that I set goals and was unable to fulfill them. Yet the reality of it is this- I am so much better when I am just being me; in all aspects of my life.
So as we plan for the start of school- Me back to teaching college students and my kids entering grades 1 and 4 it is not really surprising to me that I am sitting here writing this instead of buying the oldest a backpack or working on a first lecture as really...I have 6 days...well 5 as no stores are open on Monday...hmmmm still so much time...
As a Dietitian I find that I get asked the same question over and over again the end of August. "What do you pack in your kids lunches that is healthy and what they will eat??" Nobody ever seems to believe or like my response. " I pack what they ask for and throw in a refillable water bottle." Just google "kids lunches" and you will get a million hits of sandwiches that look like ducks, or bento boxes with colourful perfectly portioned veggies and dips and flat breads, or cute little muffins with "spinach hid inside" that your child will love. That is not my reality. Nor my children's. I say "what vegetable would you like?" they pick I pack. "What would you like for your fruit?" they pick I pack. "what would you like for your main- thermos or not?" they pick I pack. Do you see the pattern? I know that this does not sound like magic but if they pick it and like it they might eat it. Sometimes they pick things I don't have made or ready to make (my youngest LOVES homemade tomato lentil soup with quinoa) and when that happens we pick a day later that week or next when I am able to make it for them. And if they don't eat their lunch? Whatever...maybe they were chatty that day or maybe they decided that cucumbers aren't the greatest vegetable ever or maybe they weren't hungry at that point. Whatever the reason I am not able to predict the night before therefore I pack what they want and we discover together the next day if it was enough or too much. (Not going to lie-this took me awhile to get to this point)
When I was in school I don't recall anyone really looking at my lunches. Now I have friends that show me letters from their school's saying what is "healthy" to pack and even telling kids which foods from their lunches they are allowed to eat and when. I even know someone who told me that their daughters crackers were thrown out by the teacher because she deemed they were too high in sodium to be eaten. The child was 4 and in junior kindergarten. This upset me on so many different levels. Not only should educators be aware that some families need assistance buying food and that may be all they could offer the child, the act of deeming a food "bad" enough to throw out puts a moral issue on food. Kids grow up idolizing not only their parents but their teachers. Many teachers are role models to their students. By throwing out the crackers this teacher showed the student that her parents are not capable of feeding her properly and that some foods need to be avoided if we want to be "healthy". Kids at this age are very black and white, good and bad. They have no ability yet to look at it as grey. By creating food rules we are creating some negative behaviours around food. This child might feel shame eating these crackers in the future because they were only good enough for the trash and therefore might only eat them in secret so that people do not see them eat a bad food. The child might not trust what her parents are packing for food and not eat it. I don't know exactly what would happen but I do know that by putting a morality on food we change how this child will select her food in the future. She could start looking to only eat "good" foods or foods that make the adults around her "proud" she chose. She may avoid foods that she truly enjoys and wants to eat because she is afraid of eating "bad" foods and ruining her health. It is hard to determine how one comment will affect a child but in today's diet culture immersed society it is pretty safe to say there will never be just one comment.
Food Shaming- not just in schools but everywhere- needs to stop. It is not just the adults in schools as both of my kids have come home at various times saying that another student has told them that what they were eating was not healthy. I want my kids to have a healthy relationship with food but I also need to let them be in the world. So for now if my kid wants to eat their chocolate cookie for first snack- let them. If my kid wants to eat their thermos of rice at last snack- let them. If my kid wants to eat his soup for snack and not lunch- let him. Let them eat the foods that they so wonderfully picked for themselves to eat. Let them learn what makes them feel nourished and well at school. Let them learn how much fuel they need for the day. Let them be without judgement or comment.
And I ask the same when you see me posting a blog post at 4am the week after school starts because my big plan to be organized this year fizzled and I am back to being.....
Unapologetically Me RD