Dietitian mom accuses son's school of 'food-shaming' and writes letter of 'advice' to teachers
For many of us, school lunches probably seemed like more of a punishment than a treat. They were almost always too cold, they were never seasoned properly (if at all), and the options to choose from were always incredibly limited.
The solution, of course, was to bring in some food from home. But even that has its problems - especially now that institutions are trying to have more influence on the health of their students. Some schools have taken this so far that they have started sending notes home to parents to inform them of whether their child's lunch was "good" or "bad": an act which one mother has described as "food-shaming".
Natalie Thompson, a parent and dietician from Queensland, Australia, caused a bit of a stir on the internet recently after her son was sent home from school with a note about his packed lunch. "My son received a card in his lunch box ... and a newsletter stating the school rules around what can be eaten at each lunch break," she wrote on her blog.
It may surprise you to find out, however, that the note was not a negative one. In fact, it was the complete opposite. "We love your healthy lunch," it said - obviously intended as a compliment. Thompson did not take it that way, though, and penned a lengthy letter to her son's principal in order to explain why she viewed this action as a form of "food-shaming".
"I have concerns about the approach the school is taking around educating parents and students about food and nutrition," she wrote;
"Judging food as ‘healthy’ and ‘treats’ is assigning morality to food, which is a typical dieting behaviour leading people to feel a sense of fear, guilt and shame, particularly around their weight, body shape or body size. These feelings can result in individuals valuing themselves in response to what they have in their lunch box and what they have eaten."
Thompson then went on to say that, while her son was happy to have been complimented on his choice of lunch, he was now in the mindset that foods are inherently good or bad, and that only some foods should be allowed to be eaten.
"[My son] now views foods as ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ and is fixated on receiving another card. As a concerned dietitian and mother, I am now working to repair the damage this school nutrition guideline has caused my son and our family. I am particularly concerned that if the next round of cards are given out and my son does not receive a card he will become distressed.
"All children are worthy, regardless of the choices their parents make around food and nutrition. I feel the card system judges food and eating in attempts to educate parents through their child."
"Food is neither ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Food is food with varying nutrient contents and can all nourish the body, mind and spirit. A variety of food is the key to health and happiness, as food is not purely eaten based on its nutrient content when biologically hungry. Food also serves a role socially and culturally."
Thompson then went on to suggest that, rather than use the card system, the school should educate children to "eat intuitively" and to enjoy food without judgement - and she certainly has a point. After all, while it's obvious that the school were trying to reward children for eating properly, all they did was push the idea that those who eat well are "good" and those who do not are "bad" - and that sort of thinking can lead to bad habits later on in life.
Of course, it's good to encourage healthy eating - but it's also important to promote a sustainable and positive attitude towards food.