Key Points:

Let's say you have a civic-minded neighbour, a building contractor who volunteered to be on your child's school board because nobody else would come to the table to make a three-year commitment of their rare spare time.

He has to decide if the school should try to offset their $250,000 budget deficit by hiring a cheaper tuck shop contractor who promises to turn more profit.

As a business owner, he studied the bottom line but he didn't think to study the menu. Unfortunately, there's the rub. This new tuck shop contractor will offer fizzy drinks, more cost-effective than real juice. Welcome back meat pies and fries. They're so much cheaper to serve than fresh rolls. As committee chair, it's mostly the trustee's call.

At least that's what National is telling us. That good builder may rule on a decision that will affect the nutritional intake of 1500 kids for five key developmental years of their growth, every single day. It's all about individual choice - even when it comes to our children's health as a nation.

As a parent, if I don't like it, I have to wait three years to vote him off or feel comfortable complaining to the powers that be or run for the board myself.

That works if I have the energy, time and commitment. That doesn't work if I'm a parent struggling to keep the family's head above water and volunteering at school is about as realistic as having Jamie Oliver handle it.

The "Nanny State" was so last year. We get it. But let's be clear, that means our Government has just said there will be no minimum nutritional standards in our schools across the entire country.

Congratulations donut eaters, as of this month, schools will still be required to teach healthy eating but no longer have to provide it. Do as I say, not as I serve in the tuck shop.

We are only too happy to set standards on reading or maths but when it comes to literally feeding our children's minds while in school, this Government now says it's open slather.

Sure, many schools will still make nutrition a priority but what about the ones that get it wrong?

With no guidelines, they can hire an outside contractor who cares more about beefing up his bottom line than beefing up our children's bottoms.

By eliminating any standards whatsoever, who wins here? The Coca-Cola vending machine companies?

I can tell you who loses - and it's not just our children. It's you and I who will be footing the healthcare bills for the 640,000 New Zealanders who are either diagnosed with or currently deemed at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

It's you and I who now pay $500 million a year in healthcare costs for the obese. Sadly, it is these burgeoning numbers that will be overwhelming our hospital beds and wait-lists for surgery for the next generation.

We'll sort it ourselves, school by school, right? Sure, if schools had been doing a good job without contributing to the problem themselves. But they have not. For years a Green Party survey found that tuck shop healthy options were going nowhere until real change began with the Government guidelines brought in last year. When schools suddenly had to pay attention, they did. Not so any more.

We have the dubious honour of being the sixth fattest people in the world. One quarter of us are now obese. Our schools can be part of the solution to change that, not a source of the problem.

Other countries understand what's at stake. France banned all vending machines from their schools. Latvia has initiated a total junk food ban. The US and England have national nutritional guidelines in place with local governments legislating even stricter controls. Australian children in Victoria are only allowed junk food twice a term.

It's ridiculous to say this is about policing occasional sausage sizzles. This is about teaching the right lessons to our kids. It's about walking the talk in our own schools. It's about setting a minimum bar that the country's best nutritionists agree will pay off for us all in the next decade.

It's a no-brainer. Don't serve bad food to our schoolchildren on my tax dollar.

Of course parents are the first gatekeepers to teach healthy eating but our schools shouldn't work against us six hours a day.

If I put $5 in my child's hand, I want to rest easy that he won't have to walk a kid's landmine of junk food choices to find something healthy.

That builder means well. But we now have to trust he'll make the right choice for our nation's healthcare bills two decades from now.

We were on the right path. We just decided to turn around and run backwards.
* www.traceybarnett.co.nz