Lunch box policing

First of all, I am not a parent. However, I have nieces, nephews, friends with children all of whom I adore. I write this because they deserve a better future. One that we have a big say in.

We live in a society that is afraid of fat. We are surrounded by diet talk but worse so are your children. It’s important we teach our children in a non judgmental manner how to feed themselves, to grow up healthy, to learn where their food comes from.

Lunch box policing occurs for many reasons and is a cause of debate. There is nothing more emotive than a child’s health. Healthcare and the education sectors historically have been the main access to health information, often driving health campaigns. However we know that sometimes the campaigns are not a “one size fits all” pun intended. The messages are often outdated.

Lunch box policing originated with the intention of helping children, but it has actually the potential to cause harm. It assumes that all parents have equal access to all foods, it instills rules around eating which can lead to disordered eating. There is a strong undertone of focusing on weight rather than health. This is stigmatising and not accurate, body size is not holistic in terms of overall health. Whilst it is important to educate children it is important to do this in a nurturing manner. This could be outside of the “lunch box”, teaching them where food comes from in the classroom.

The following is a letter I have written for anyone who wishes to use or not, in the event of “lunch box policing”

An open letter to schools, clubs and whom ever

Dear teachers, peers, coaches

Thank you for taking such great care of our children. We appreciate all of the lessons and compassion you provide.

Whilst we need to teach our children the importance of eating nutritious foods we also need to teach them that food has no moral value, there are no “good and bad foods”. For example a packet of crisps is exactly that, a packet of crisps.

Please be cautious in the language you use around food and body size, the child you are talking to may have a sibling or parent with an eating disorder. A comment such as “that is bad for you or fattening” can be particularly dangerous, children with relatives with an eating disorder are at risk of developing one themselves. We have a broad body of evidence thats supports the fact that eating disorders are genetically driven with environmental and biological triggers. This comment may be the match that ignites the fire. So please consider your language.

Additionally there may be medical reasons for a parent’s choice of their lunch box provisions, or socioeconomic factors influencing access to particular foods. When it comes to lunchboxes, and if you have concerns please talk to the parents as the first step, without shaming them or the child. Parents generally know best for their child, and you may not know what goes on in the background to influence their choices.

Diets have negative health consequences. Studies have substantiated evidence that dieting in childhood can impact upon development. Health is not determined solely by weight, bone density or periods, they are all important components and can be impaired by dieting. Fat is an important part of a person’s diet and function. It is not something to be taught to fear.

Some of you may not be familiar with the concept of “lunch box policing” or aware that you are doing it. It can be subtle. The following are examples of lunch box policing; excluding certain food items or groups, advising a child they have to eat “healthy foods” before other items, this only helps to further reinforce the “good & bad” food notion. More subtle examples may be commenting on the volume of food, comparing peers’ lunches or appearances.

You can help our children develop healthy relationships with food and their bodies. Please refrain from commenting on the content of our children’s lunch box, please consider the language you use when talking about food and bodies and if you think you do need to say something, please contact the parents first and do this in an appropriate setting.

Thank you for reading this, by continuing the conversation we can help path our children’s future in health and developing healthy relationships with food and body.

Feel free to share or use this as a template if it may be of use!

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