It seems like every week there's news of a school declaring it's their place to decide what children eat, to the extent that they'll stop a pupil eating the food their parent has sent them to school with.
What the actual hell?
These wellness initiatives brought out by schools seem to have very little scientific research to back them up. According to one parent on Facebook, their child's school has deemed homemade biscuits awful but decided shop-bought muesli bars are okay if they say "now with extra fibre" on the packaging.
It seems we are dangerously blurring the lines between education and upbringing - what exactly is and isn't the role of the school? What a parent feeds their child is a personal decision and one that needs to stay within the realms of parenting. Schools are crossing boundaries and overstepping the mark. They need to take a good few steps back.
Educating is not the same as enforcing
Educating children (and parents) on nutrition and healthy eating is a great idea (and it'd probably save Kiwi parents many lonely hours on Google typing variations of "healthy lunch snacks"). But this should not mean enforcing rules.
If a school wants to hold nutrition seminars for parents and children or release brochures on healthy lunches (preferably backed by a nutritionist), that's a great public service. Stopping a child from eating the food the parent sent to school for them is not.
General rules ignore parents' and children's personal circumstances
Food is personal. Food is so personal that I'd argue it is borderline private. It's definitely none of anyone's business other than a) the person paying for it and/or b) the person eating it.
A parent's decision about what they feed a child can and should be balanced out by better education but that information cannot be force-fed to parents, bulldozing over their personal circumstances, such as finances or even their cultural background (which heavily influences the food people eat).
Any food is better than no food
Sending food back is insulting. I was always taught any food is better than no food and throwing food out is incredibly disrespectful to those going hungry.
Telling a child they can't eat the lunch their parent packed is degrading
Schools do not exist to shame children. A child's right to enjoy a lunch break without being bound to school rules is something worth preserving.
And no one has been convinced to adopt healthier habits by being bullied and shamed into them, as opposed to being educated about why they should do it.
An unscientific poll on the NZ Herald Facebook page shed some light on the widely varied realities seen in Kiwi households and raised some very good points.
The vast majority of Kiwis who voted in the poll say it is none of the school's business when it comes to what goes in a student's lunchbox.
When asked, "Should schools have a say on what goes in your child's lunchbox?" one mother had this insightful response:
"No, from a mum with a child who has autism. Nothing about my son's lunch is healthy but if it means he eats then so be it."
It's not just children with autism. Anyone who hangs around small humans for a decent amount of time knows they can be extremely fussy and strong-willed people. If a child decides on any given week that all they want to eat is Gingernuts dipped in chocolate sauce, good luck getting them to eat anything other than that.
"If the schools are paying for the students lunches then yes... if not then they need to mind their own business," another parent wrote.
One Facebook user mentioned a school where it is common practice to go through each child's lunchbox individually and pick out what doesn't fit within their "healthy guidelines".
"I find that degrading to the child as the child is made to feel bad for the lunch the parent can afford. if you wanna give our kids a complex about food, your [sic] going the right way about it," they posted.
Another mum shared that her daughter had come home from school upset after being told her lunch wasn't healthy.
"My daughter has just started school and she came home from school and said that her popcorn was unhealthy so she didn't eat it and was very upset. I was so annoyed as the popcorn I give my daughter is homemade. Okay it's not super healthy but it's better then [sic] some stuff," she wrote.
"Teachers shouldn't be given the right to decide what is in children's lunch.... They are our children we will give them what we think is appropriate. Don't judge children for what they eating."
A small percentage of people expressed that they think some parents aren't responsible enough to make nutritious lunches and believe schools should intervene in those cases.