A Letter to Parents with Children Who Eat Lunch5
September 19, 2013 by Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
My child’s lunchbox was recently the subject of some scrutiny, so I’m sharing this letter that I wrote to the parents of her 3rd grade class because I’m pretty sure that some of you may have been on the receiving end of this type of judgment, too.
I’ve had a lot of time to think on some of the discussion that’s been circulating about the children having lemonade with their Friday pizza, and I’ve shared some of these thoughts with you here.
I think that in an effort to create a wholesome eating environment for everyone in the room, we’ve derailed ourselves from our true purpose. Instead, parents have taken to chatting with each other about the nutritional value of the children’s lunches, often with thinly veiled contempt for what they perceive to be unhealthy food choices. This is not what we should want for ourselves as a class community, nor is it the type of conversation that we should expose our children to.
Last year, I received an email from our class teacher explaining that one of the other students in class was coming home saying that Scarlett was eating a sugary Nutella sandwich for lunch. The mother was apparently very upset about it and asked that the teacher address me about the “issue.” Incidentally, my daughter was pretty upset about having to defend what her mother had packed her for lunch, too.
For the purposes of this letter, I’m going to clear up the Nutella issue, not because I feel it’s a worthy use of my time to explain it (or yours to read it), but because it’s a perfect example of how this type of misguided judgment can go awry.
So here it is: Scarlett did not have a Nutella sandwich. She had one made from ground almonds, cocoa powder, and xylitol. There was no sugar in it at all. Zero grams per 2 tablespoon serving.
There are a couple of issues that this incident and the newer one about the lemonade have brought to light. The first is that there’s a whole lot of attention being paid to what’s in the children’s lunches—by the other children. This is not a healthy or productive use of their lunchtime and I assert that it is seriously detracting from the good that can come from eating together as a community.
Shared meals are a time to interact, have fun with each other, and nourish our bodies. I’ve heard on numerous occasions of children using this meal time to do macro- and micronutrient comparisons of each other’s lunches, complete with accompanying value judgments. This type of hyperawareness and labeling of food choices as “good” vs. “bad” is the early makings for eating disorders, not to mention how sad it must make the children whose lunches are being criticized.
Here’s the thing: I really don’t feel that it’s anyone’s place to say what we choose to feed our children. Beyond packing a ridiculously unhealthy lunch that is in complete disregard for the student handbook and would make the children’s classroom behavior wonky, it’s really not up to us to determine what is and isn’t a “good” food. The bottom line is that there is NO one way of eating that is proven to be superior to all others.
And here’s another thing: each parent is doing their best to support the health and well being of their child. To suggest otherwise is extremely hurtful, both to the children, their parents, and the overall health of the class.
The second issue ties into the first and has to do with how we’re treating each other and what we’re teaching our children through these interactions. Each family has different priorities/values, means, and opinions; indeed, this is what makes us beautiful and unique.
How about we all just agree to send the best lunches that we know how for our children (I’m pretty sure we’re doing this already) and to encourage our children and each other to know that what each parent decides is best for his or her own child is indeed what’s best for that child and that we are not in the place to cast judgment on that?
That said, if someone reaches out for help, but all means, offer it! I am a naturopathic doctor with oodles of experience helping families to eat “better,” and I’m happy to share my own experience, and I’m sure many others are willing to do the same. We have such an amazing and talented group of parents!
And that “Nutella?” It’s called Go Nuts Chocolate Covered Almond Butter and it’s available at Dave’s Market and Whole Foods. And even if it was Nutella, that would have been OK, too 🙂
Thanks for taking the time to read and please reply in the spirit of acceptance, love, empathy, and non-judgment for all!
Category: Natural Family, The Lovin Spoonful | Tags: don't judge other people's food choices, eating disorders, food as a community builder, food judgment, go nuts almond butter, healthy lunch box options, judge not, kids looking at kids lunches, nutella, parents judging what kids eat
Here’s the thing: I really don’t feel that it’s anyone’s place to say what we choose to feed our children.
If your child is obese, someone has to say something as you, the parent, the person who governs what food your child has access to, are not getting the message to your child about healthy eating habits. Unfortunately, someone else has to do the job that you aren’t doing. Yes, childhood obesity is trending down, a little, but still way too high. Poverty eliminates some choices that I wish all people would have, but to be silent is to consent. You don’t have to be ‘in your face’ about it, but acting like nothing is wrong is not doing anyone any favors, especially the child who is developing habits for life.
I guess a little history of the current discussion would be in order so that I can better address your comment.
My children’s school has a set of suggested healthy eating guidelines that the parents can refer to when packing lunches and snacks. The point I’m making is that we shouldn’t take these suggestions and turn them into an opportunity to judge each other. Likewise, the children should be enjoying good, healthy food, and not worrying about about how many grams of sugar are in Susie’s granola bar. Certainly, if a child has a weight problem, someone (preferably a knowledgable healthcare practitioner) should take the time to educate the family about how to help that child. This certainly isn’t the job of the overweight child’s classmates or those children’s parents, though.
Kim, Well said! I’m so proud of you!
Love it! Fiona does actually get Nutella sandwiches sometimes because that’s the only way I can get food into her at school.