Please don't ban junk food from school lunches

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

When her kids' school banned junk food in packed lunches, this mum led a revolt and now she's found herself banned too.

And it's all sorts of wrong.

You see, Abbey Hulton Primary School in the UK told parents they were no longer allowed to pack chocolates, sweets, sausage rolls, fizzy drinks and flavoured water in their kids' lunchboxes. All the while, kids could still buy fish and chips, and cakes from their school canteen.

Bernadette Finnegan complained to the school on grounds of "discrimination" and after being told she was temporarily banned from school grounds, they are now trying to resolve the issue.

Fair enough, the school and this parent have issues to resolve, but the point remains the same – banning food from lunchboxes is ridiculous.

The only time food should be banned is if there are kids at the school with life threatening allergies. And with three kids with serious nut allergies, I am eternally grateful that kids are encouraged not to bring nuts to school.

But when it comes to "junk food" I just don't see the problem.

Slipping the occasional treat into your kids' lunchbox should be encouraged, not banned.

As parents we generally know what our primary school kids are eating.

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Sometimes a piece of chocolate or a lolly from their Halloween bag or a piece of cake on their birthday provides a welcome boost for your child.

Encouraging healthy eating is vital. Childhood obesity is a problem. Educating parents and kids on what's healthy and what's not is an important step in combating food related diseases.

But banning food just makes it all the more enticing.

It also sends the wrong message to kids and creates an unhealthy relationship with food.

The notion of "sometimes" foods is a good way to teach kids about monitoring their own intake of junk food. It gives them the power to control what goes into their mouth. Banning it does not.

Simply telling parents to cram lunchboxes with yoghurt, fruit and sandwiches doesn't really tackle healthy eating either. Pick the wrong yoghurt and it's packed with sugar. Eating too much fruit is also a sugar trap. A sandwich with processed meat and processed cheese doesn't have much nutritional value. Parents might think they're doing the right thing, when they're not.

It's all about balance. It's also all about what your children will actually eat.

My three kids are very different, despite being exposed to the same food growing up.

One of our children hardly eats meat and would much prefer salads and wraps. Another of our kids would happily eat olives, anchovies and pickles.

While our other child will pretty much only eat red meat and white foods – cheesy pasta, white bread, cheese pizza, you get the drift. The only way we can get any form of additional nutrients into her is fruit juice, multivitamin tablets and occasionally sneaking fruit into her milkshakes (but she's wise to that). Sometimes when she's particularly anxious at school, she stops eating altogether. That's when we find ourselves popping a chocolate donut into her lunchbox in the hope she'll at least eat something.

Then there are the times that parents have so much on their plate with work and day-to-day living, that they don't have the time or money to go food shopping, and are instead forced to cram whatever they can find that day into their kids' lunchboxes.

You see, life happens and bans don't help anyone. Guidelines would be much better. Offering only healthy food options at the school canteen are also beneficial.

I know my kids run around all day at school and when they're not active, they're learning. Letting them have the occasional treat, shouldn't be a crime.

Talking to them about food. Teaching them to understood what is good for their own body is important. Letting them grow into adults who have developed healthy relationships with food and confident body image is vital.

Banning food, making food the enemy, will never work.