1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

When did school lunches become a political statement?

Jennifer Pinarski | posted Friday, Oct 3rd, 2014

girleatinglunch-featured

“Why can’t I have a juice box or cookies in my lunch like all the other kids?” my daughter, Gillian, whined.

Since starting full-day kindergarten this month, Gillian has eaten everything I’ve packed in her lunch—but it hasn’t been without complaints. Typically, her comments are related to what’s missingfrom her lunch—i.e. sweet treats and packaged snacks.

My son, Isaac, now in the third grade, is used to my no-nonsense, nutrient-dense lunches and rarely complains anymore. On that particular day, he backed me up on the lunch debate, albeit with a surprising rebuttal. ”You can’t have a juice box because they’re bad for your brain, because it’s just sugar and water. Mr. L. said so,” Isaac said, a little too haughtily for my liking.

Read more: Fear mongering and the anti-sugar obsession>

“Wait a minute…sugar isn’t bad for your brain,” I responded. “Your brain and your body need sugar to work. My problem with juice boxes is that I know you’ll drink them all and not have room for food.”  I try to hide the my frustration at the fact that the school is trying to teach my kids (inaccurate) nutrition lessons.

Forget stroller wars…lunches are the new battleground. And it makes me wonder if packing a child’s lunch for school was this difficult before the days of Pinterest?

Reminiscing recently with a friend, we realized we ate the same brown-bagged lunch growing up—a frozen juice box, a mac and cheese loaf (or PB&J) on white bread, a Wagon Wheel and a red apple. Invariably, the juice box thawed and tore the paper bag, the sandwich was crushed and soggy and the apple bruised and inedible. The only item in our lunches that survived was the Wagon Wheel.

Read more: Bento box lunch ideas your kids will love>

There were no bento boxes in my day: Lunches from my childhood were utilitarian and definitely not Instagram-worthy. I remember hating school lunches, but I also remember not having a choice in what was in them since our family lived on a very limited budget. It’s clear to me that there’s been a major shift in the last 30 years as to how we feed our kids, and while awareness of the benefits of healthier and less processed food is positive, the shaming and the guilt parents seem to pile on themselves for packing a less-than-perfect lunch isn’t healthy at all.

For example:

  • The Lunchbox Dad recently declared that he was going to stop making fun lunches for his kids, because he was fed up with people making fun of him for making his kids’ lunches so fun.
  • Peanut butter has been long banned by schools (and justifiably so). But when schools started bringing in rules banning nut-free spreads, parents of picky eaters were outraged. Schools defended the decision by saying that nut-free products look too much like real peanut butter, which stresses out children who have life-threatening allergies.
  • Taking lunch policies one step further, some schools dictate what parents can and cannot pack in their kids’ lunches. Banning treats or processed snacks put teachers in the role of nutritional authorities—something I strongly disagree with.
  • Litterless lunches are a great idea—if your child remembers to rinse out their containers and close the lids. A friend of mine showed me what her son’s lunch looks like at the end of the day and it’s like a bento-box bomb went off. And while the idea of a litterless lunch is noble, the upfront expense of buying reusable containers only seems to pay for itself after the containers have been in use for a year—those lunch kits are expensive!

Read more: School bans eggs, dairy and nuts due to one student’s allergies>

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

Comments

  • Mama T says:

    I’m all for healthy lunches and being considerate of other children’s allergies but unless the school wants to start providing lunch for my kids free of charge every day they’d better not try to tell me what I can feed them. Specifically my youngest child who as a rare metabolic disorder and is limited in what she can and cannot eat…..So, if I come across a treat or a snack that she can have you can bet your ass I’m going to give it to her in her lunch. And to restrict nut free spreads because they resemble the real thing is just stupid (I’m sorry but it is) if parents are going that extra mile and buying something to accommodate an allergy then that’s great and the child with the allergy should have this explained to them. My daughter can’t have coconut, or anything with palm oil or palm kernel oil in it, does that mean I expect everyone to stop giving their kids that….No, I have educated my child and she reads labels, every label and if she’s unsure then she just doesn’t have it. When is it going to end!!!

Leave a Comment Below

Sign in to comment.

All fields are required.

Want to embed media into your comment? Just paste in a URL in a separate paragraph to the page where you would normally view the media (like on YouTube) and it will automatically be embedded into your comment.