A South Australian mum of eight got a rude shock last week when she received a note home about a piece of home made chocolate slice she sent in her preschooler's lunchbox, opening up a lively discussion about healthy lunchboxes and communication between schools and parents.
A friend of the mum's, women and girls advocate and author, Melinda Tankard Reist, took to social media saying, "My friend (mother of 8 healthy children, what follows relating to no. 7) received this today from her 3 year old's kindy. I told her to put in two slices tomorrow and tell them to get lost."
The note is printed in red with a sad face at the top and the message, 'Your child has chocolate slice from the red food category today. Please choose healthier options for kindy.'
More than 400 people have weighed in on the post, many expressing frustration that little lives have become so policed they can't enjoy a lunchbox treat every now and then. While no-one would deny the benefits of healthy eating from a young age, it's the delivery of the message that seems to be the issue here.
Some parents commented that the odd treat in a lunchbox doesn't indicate an unhealthy diet overall.
Ms Tankard Reist was interviewed this morning on John and Garry's 2UE breakfast show, highlighting that the intense policing of children's diets sends alarming messages about food and shame.
While understanding that preschools should have healthy food policies in place, she says that lunchbox shaming has the ability to send eating habits underground, with kids believing they'll "never be able to eat chocolate cake again because it'll make them fat," and with "some children hiding away treats at home to hide them away from the family because they think there's something shameful about it."
She adds that the 'intrusive' style of the note is judgemental of the parent and that the child has been made to feel that "mummy has done something really bad." In fact both parents of this particular child have degrees in health science. It also turns out that the Hedgehog Slice was made by the girl's grandmother for her brother's birthday and that it is a family tradition that any leftovers go to school the next day.
Working with eating disorder specialists, Ms Tankard Reist says that setting up systems of shame around food from an early age can be the catalyst of eating disorders, particularly in young girls. While there is justifiably great concern about obesity, she urges teachers and carers of young children to look at 'other ways of addressing' the issue of healthy lunchboxes.
"I don't want to look like I don't support healthy eating", says Ms Tankard Reist, "but I'm just wondering if this form of letting parents know is any good for the kids or the parents."