Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
Preparing school lunches is often like heading into battle. Having prepared lunches for three children, I understand the challenges working parents face each night. All of us want our kids to eat healthy but the reality is that cost and convenience also influences what what ends up in lunchboxes. Today, parents have to juggle kids’ preferences as well as school guidelines for healthy eating.
Since the 1970s, schools have done a great job educating young people about healthy living and healthy food choices even when the school canteen lagged behind. Times have changed and there is clearly a shift towards healthier canteens. Students should never be put in a position that they are criticised by anyone for the food that they bring to school in their lunchboxes. Sadly, I’ve heard that that sometimes happens. So should schools be policing what goes into lunchboxes? In my view, the answer is no.
Firstly, what ends up in school lunchboxes is the responsibility of parents, not schools. Schools can deny access to fizzy drinks and fatty foods between school hours but what happens outside of school is even more important. Breakfast and dinner choices matter also.
Secondly, not every child buys lunch from the school canteen so the role of schools is to promote healthy eating not to police it. We know that parents shape positive eating behaviours so education needs to begin at home.
Thirdly, there are plenty of websites that provide parents with information and ideas when it comes to creating healthy lunchboxes. The message for parents is to be modelling healthy eating behaviours and encouraging their children to develop a healthy relationship with food. That means that sometimes less healthy food can be okay when eaten occasionally (e.g. once a week) but the best food choices are the ones that deliver high nutritional value every day from the five food groups.
The reality is that few young people today have the opportunity to grow produce in their own backyards. The rising cost of housing means smaller yards and greater demands on working parents. Shows like Junior Masterchef and the kitchen garden program run in schools do impart some important messages about healthy eating. Certainly schools that have invested in kitchen gardens are seeing the benefits. Let’s hope that what these students are learning about healthy food choices ends up influencing what goes in the shopping trolley!
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta