From time to time, a story pops up about how a childcare centre or kindergarten has taken it upon itself to assess the contents of a child’s lunchbox and found it lacking. A note, commonly pre-printed and often featuring frowny faces, animated fruits and/or other helpful illustrations, is sent home with the child advising that an item or items in the lunchbox is ‘unhealthy’ in some way and that in future a ‘healthier’ option should be chosen. Outrage ensues.
I seldom lend my voice to the chorus, but not because I don’t have an opinion on the subject. In fact, I feel quite strongly about it, although not necessarily for the same reasons that others do. The usual arguments cluster around (a) parental rights; (b) nanny state interference with those rights; and (c) what constitutes ‘healthy’. You may also find discussion of fat-shaming, socio-economic privilege, judgmental attitudes, power-tripping teachers and hyper-competitive parents, depending on the forum. At some point, inevitably, ‘political correctness run mad’ will make an appearance.
My take? Lunchbox monitoring is an exercise of limited utility, because it can only ever be part of a bigger picture which the carer or teacher does not see. Lunchboxes are only part of a whole day’s food, and that day’s food is part of a wider week’s food. Add in variables such as developmental stages, behavioural management strategies, family customs and gatherings, parental working hours and out-of-school activities, and the picture is much more complex than a carer or teacher can hope, or be expected, to be fully across. Continue reading