Our provincial government has recently brought in laws that will regulate the nutritional quality of foods and beverages for sale in Ontario schools. As the person who organizes sub-sandwich lunches for my children’s school, I was elected to attend a workshop on the new nutritional guidelines by the school’s parent council.
The first thing I noticed was some suspiciously crunchy-looking bagels and muffins at the back of the room, along with some giant bowls of yogurt and fruit. Sure enough, the first announcement made to our group was that the refreshments served at the workshop would follow the nutritional guidelines. Not one person pointed out that the coffee and tea we were drinking are outlawed by the guidelines. In fact, the high school closest to my children’s school has already done away with coffee, with the net result that at lunch time there is a steady stream of students walking away from campus looking for caffeine. Those kids frequently come to school at 7:15 am to participate in extra-curricular activities, they stay at school until 5 or 6 pm, and then go home and do homework until midnight. Is it too much to let them buy coffee in their own cafeterias? I noticed our group sucked the coffee urn dry within the first hour of our meeting.
A couple of very earnest public-health nurses gave presentations on nutrition. I found myself wondering if it was really so awful for kids to eat a cookie now and then. Do we really have to outlaw foods? Just for fun, I did a quick Google search on sugar content. One cup unsweetened apple juice (allowed): 24 g sugar. One cup chocolate milk (allowed): 25g sugar. One chocolate chip cookie from Subway (not allowed): 18 g sugar. Hmmm…
Part of the presentation was on rewards that teachers give kids. Thank the heavens above my children do not go to a school where they get stickers, popsicles, Hershey’s kisses, or pizza lunches for being good. They’re just expected to behave – there’s no reward system. Thank goodness, because there’s no reward system in place at home either. Beyond the toddler years and potty training, and with the exception of families using behaviour-modification programs for children with special needs, I don’t know anyone who consistently gives tangible rewards to their own children for behaving. I’m amazed to hear that it’s still happening in some classrooms.
I’m in favour of paying attention to the nutrition our kids are getting at school, don’t get me wrong. I just think the new guidelines are too restrictive and don’t recognize the reality of our children’s lives.
And personally, if I was a high school teacher, I’d make myself the most popular teacher in the school by giving my students free coffee in my classroom. You see, that’s the loophole in the new law – we’re not allowed to SELL the students junk food, but we’re allowed to GIVE IT AWAY. I don’t understand why this should be, but I am not too proud to make use of a loophole when it’s available to me.
My final observation from the workshop: three hours of being lectured about healthy eating left me with the profound desire to hightail it to the closest fast food place for a large coffee, bacon cheeseburger, and a large order of fries. There really has got to be a better way to teach people healthy eating habits than this authoritarian scolding. I rather think our students will have the same reaction I did, and that can’t be what we’re hoping to achieve here.