Tag Archives: food

Lunchbox politics

29 Sep

Our daughter started public school this month. A veteran of full-time daycare since she was a baby, the transition has been relatively gentle. The biggest change has been having to pack her lunch every day — a task that I soon realized is not free from political controversy and authoritative judgment.


Kiddo’s first school lunch

I remember my school lunches well — often a cheese and lettuce sandwich, a juice box, some fruit and a treat. Remember Fruit Roll-Ups? I think I “ate” one every day for at least a decade. And my brother drank so much apple juice, we were convinced it was flowing in his veins. Neither of us has any major health problems as a result.

Food shame

I grew up in a Jewish home with a father who cooked healthy and inventive from-scratch meals. I soon developed a sophisticated palette and the willingness to taste anything. But my lunches were very typical of the 1980s. And they would be the subject of shame if I packed the same items in my kid’s lunch bag.

To be fair, my kid’s school is fairly laid back when it comes to lunch rules. Nuts are banned due to allergies and juice “is discouraged.” So far, I have not been sanctioned for any of the food that I have sent for kiddo to eat. But I recently started a thread on a feminist parenting board about lunch rules and was shocked by what I heard.

Under the guise of “preventing obesity” or “promoting healthy food,” parents and kids are being surveilled and shamed for packing “unhealthy” food. And it’s unacceptable.

Here are some of the stories I have been hearing:


Food dutifully separated to meet the child’s demands

  • Children being forced to eat their lunches in a specific order.
  • Kids being seated at a separate, “special” table if the teacher deems their lunch to be “healthy.”
  • Children having their lunches confiscated from them and replaced with a school-approved bagged lunch (without the parents’ permission).
  • Long lists of “rules” that parents must obey when packing lunches, including no juice, no pudding, no chocolate (even chocolate chips in a muffin), nothing “with sugar.”
  • No gluten in one school (seriously), because some kids have intolerances (not allergies, intolerances).
  • Teachers telling kids that the food in their lunch box is “bad” or unhealthy, and those kids quickly becoming anxious about whether their lunch would pass the test at school.

Obesity panic

I have long worried that the obsession with “childhood obesity” would lead to fat-shaming of young children. Just today, an article came across my feed about feared obesity in toddlers. BABIES. And yes, even a baby was subjected to the dehumanizing “headless fatty” photo.

This shit has got to stop. If schools want to encourage healthy eating, they can start a breakfast program or offer baskets of fruit and vegetables for kids who need them (our school does this). Encouraging physical activity and teaching about nutrition can be done without shaming parents and kids. So much of this is pure classism.

And can we talk about the juice panic for a moment? I get it. Eating fruit is better than drinking juice. Water is best. But when this Toronto school banned juice boxes, it went too far.

My friend Andy Inkster is a single father and had this to say about juice hysteria:

Juice boxes are so totally completely about class. If you’re broke/poor and a pack of  10 juice boxes costs $3 on sale and will last two weeks because it’s easier to say “Hey,  these are for school” and they’re shelf stable, so you can hide them if you need to, or  freeze them, and of you buy a 2 litre of juice, it’s heavier to carry home, and besides, the kids will drink it all tonight. That reusable juice box thing with the straw costs $2 at the dollar store but you didn’t have time to go there this week, and probably not until after next week. Besides, you bought one last week but junior lost it and it was only used twice, so that didn’t save you any money, really.

If you buy two of those ten packs on sale, that’s juice for lunch for kid for a month. And juice itself is about class. Because the more privileged kids parents can  say “Hey, here’s your $15 metal water bottle, drink tap water, it’s good for you, juice will rot your teeth.

But as a poor parent, you know juice has vitamins and that’s important, right? And besides, you don’t buy apples because sometimes they go bad before anyone eats them and at least this way the kids won’t die of scurvy. And it shows you’re a good parent and care about nutrition and you’re not so poor you can’t afford to feed your kids right.

Besides, it’s faster to shove a juice box in the lunch box, and when you’re trying to get your kids out the door and off to school on your own before running back a 10 minute  walk the other way to catch the bus to work, that two minutes finding the juice bottle and refilling it is time you don’t have.

We talk with our daughter about the importance of “growing foods” and insist that she eat at least one serving of vegetables a day. But we do not assign “good” or “bad” judgment to specific food items. We do not use the words “calories” or “diets.”

When kiddo begged me to include a few heart-shaped ginger cookies in her lunch yesterday, I did. Because food is about so much more than nutrition. Learning to eat well is also about learning how to enjoy treats.

And if any teacher tries to tell me that I cannot give my kid a cookie, they can kiss my fat ass.



19 Aug

One day into my action plan and I am already feeling better. I thought that the act of writing down what I am eating would make me feel like crap. But so far, I feel great. I am already starting to see patterns in the way I eat (usually a snack every 90 minutes during the work day). I have already started tuning in more to what my body likes to eat more. Last night’s Indian food gave me indigestion so I didn’t have leftovers for lunch today. And I chose not to have any wine or beer last night, even though we had it in the house. I just didn’t feel like it. I didn’t want the inevitable headache and I wanted to be well rested enough this morning to go to yoga. Which I did.

This form of intuitive eating really works for me. Rather than strict portion control, I would rather tune into what makes my tummy ache and what makes me feel amazing. Keeping a food diary is reminding me that I tend to eat less vegetables later in the week when it is getting close to grocery day. I eat lots more fruit because fruit tends to be more portable and requires less prep. I rarely make salads because they often go wilty. So I am planning to get back into the habit of making heartier salads on Sunday (coleslaw, tabbouleh, quinoa salad) that will last for most of the week. I am also going to make some bran muffins and hard boil some eggs. Nutritious, portable snacks are always a great idea.

Anyway, I don’t want to become one of those bloggers who obsessively monitors writes about what they eat. Diets and workouts are very boring conversation topics. But being mindful of how food makes me feel and making sure I get the nutrition I need to be active, healthy and sleep well is a positive step that is  fueling my healing process.

Plan of action

18 Aug

So, in a move typical to me and my Type A personality, I am putting forward a plan of action to try and pull myself out of this slump. Here goes:

1. Continue with some sort of significant exercise every other day. This will include gym workouts, yoga and lunchtime Zumba once per week. Fun! I have been trying to find a personal trainer, but to no avail so far.

2. Keep a food diary for the next couple of weeks. I am going to do my best not to judge myself for what or how much I am eating. But I would like to keep track of my eating habits, so I get get a sense of what I’ve been putting in my mouth. I will not count calories or follow any iron clad rules.

3. See a nutritionist. Appointment booked for August 31st. See if I can tweak my (already healthy) eating habits in a way that feels sustainable for me.

4. Continue cooking and eating at home as much as possible. Eat lots of fruits and veggies.

5. Avoid the scale. Pretend it doesn’t exist. Just gauge my progress by how I am feeling and how my clothes are fitting.

6. Keep going to therapy. I love my therapist. Try and honour the fact that I have been through significant trauma and stress over the last year. Not to mention the hormonal experimentation associated with IVF. I am not a super-human. Merely human.

7. Allow for the possibility that I may need to postpone the next attempt if I am still not feeling emotionally solid.

8. Take three weeks off work when we do IVF the second time. Use a combination of sick and vacation leave to give myself space to be emotional and distracted. Treat it like a staycation.

9. Learn how to meditate. I recently bought a package of classes at a yoga studio that offers a meditation course twice a week. In September, I would like to try it out.

10. Walk everywhere. Take my darned bike out of the garage and use it. Enjoy the beautiful weather while it is still here.

And perhaps most importantly of all — love and appreciate my sweet wife and all of our friends and family for supporting me through this. Yesterday was a dark day. Today seems just a little bit brighter.