Thursday, 6 November 2014

School dinners, snacks and sugary treats

One day during the recent school half-term holiday, my son said that he thought he would like to try school dinners when he went back (he has been taking a packed lunch since he started school). I asked him again the day before he returned to school and as he had not changed his mind, school dinners began for him this week.

For any non-UK readers, the government here decided to provide free school dinners for all children in Reception, year 1 and year 2 (4-7 year olds), as part of their policy to 'giving all children a healthy start in life'. I have always given my son the choice of whether he takes a packed lunch or has school dinners and until now, he always wanted packed lunches.

Part of me was secretly pleased my son had opted for packed lunches for so long, as I get particularly annoyed by the sweet puddings/desserts that are on offer every day! Part of the idea of the free school meals is to try to discourage those people taking unhealthy packed lunches (containing crisps, cakes, chocolate etc) and to bring healthier food to more children. I fail to see how the sugary desserts can be part of the 'healthy' school lunches.

No surprise to me at all that this first week of his school dinners, my son has had a chocolatey/sugary dessert three days out of four. The one day he had fruit instead was because he knew he had a friend coming over after school and that I would be making something yummy for them! I am hoping the novelty will wear off after a few weeks but we will see.....

Also this week, I came across this article, Why I became a Snacktavist, by Audrey D. Brashich and I felt it really describes the way I feel about children and sugar and treats. The opening lines are:
"Dear everyone who interacts with my children anywhere at all:
Please stop feeding my kids sugar."
She goes on to explain how sugar has become part of nearly every event for children, from after-school clubs, to holidays (Christmas, Easter, Halloween), to birthdays and play dates. Part of her wants to remove some of the treats they might enjoy at home as a family, just to get some nutritional balance in her children's diets and yet, " I don’t want to have to give up the treats we enjoy together as a family just so my kids can eat their fill when they are everywhere but our house".

The article discusses snacks and how once they were simply something to keep hunger at bay between meals but now have become more of a 'treat' in themselves, with parents trying to outdo each other.
"Kids today are getting about 500 calories daily from snacking, and most of their snacks contain primarily refined white flour, salt, sugar and artificial additives, which is a dangerous combination given how childhood has changed, too. “There’s more inactivity and kids are eating more calories and artificial food dyes than at any time in history,
Do have a read of the article in full and let me know what you think.

As a parent to young children, I would like to be the one who decides when and how they consume sugary foods. I am happy for sweet treats to be offered to my children when they go to a friend's house to play and usually do the same here when my son has a friend over. I like to bake and have something a bit special on a Friday at the end of the week and perhaps make a nice dessert at least one evening over the weekend for the whole family to enjoy together. Every day at school as well? I am not so keen on that.

I do think school dinners can be a positive thing overall. Several parents have told me the good effect they have had on their fussy eaters, who start eating foods they previously refused and who surprise them by being more adventurous with their eating. Even my son on day one, chose a meal which had broccoli with it (which he detests) and ate it all!

What are your thoughts on school dinners, snacks and sugar treats?! Do you try to provide healthy snacks for your children to balance out some of the less healthy food they might consume at other times during the day or week? Does your child's school do a good job of providing plenty of healthy options for school dinners?
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