As any parent with young kids will attest, packing school lunches and snacks is no easy task.
There are allergies to think about and picky eaters to appease. Food should be easy to eat, mess-free and, of course, healthy.
But who decides what “healthy” means?
Increasingly, parents in Durham say schools are policing the food in kids’ backpacks — from telling students they aren’t permitted to eat snacks that are deemed unhealthy, to entire lunches being withheld and sent home.
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Whitby mom of two Elaina Daoust says she was “infuriated” last year when her son, then in junior kindergarten at Romeo Dallaire P.S. in Ajax, was told he was not allowed to eat a small piece of banana bread for his morning snack, because it contained chocolate chips.
Instead he was instructed to eat grapes out of his lunch.
“He came home with a chart (listing healthy snack ideas) and told me he and the teacher talked about it and healthy choices. She also sent a note to me. I was really, really, really mad for several reasons,” Daoust says.
She explains that her son is a picky eater, and that she bought the snack-size banana bread because many teachers discourage home-baked treats, and these were labelled as being nut-free and safe for school.
“It’s not like he had chips or a chocolate bar,” Daoust says, noting that she has sent the banana bread to her children’s new school this year with no issues so far.
Healthy eating is a big part of Ontario’s health and physical education curriculum.
Students in Grade 1 are taught “how the food groups in Canada’s Food Guide can be used to make healthy food choices,” while the Grade 3 component encourages students to eat “local, fresh foods.”
Officials with the Durham Catholic District School Board say there is a difference between lessons on healthy eating, and critiquing what a child brings in a lunch bag.
“There is nowhere in our policy or procedures that says our staff is allowed to take food away from a student,” says James MacKinnon, a teaching and learning consultant with the DCDSB.
He adds there is also nothing at the board level that directs teachers to comment on whether food brought to school by a student is healthy — the same goes for lunch monitors who work in the classrooms.
MacKinnon says class discussions about healthy eating are important, but that individual students should not be singled out.
“It’s up to students to share that information with their parents, we’re educating and promoting but not dealing with it at snack time,” he notes.
Durham District School Board officials declined an interview, however Superintendent Luigia Ayotte did issue a statement.
“We understand there may have been some issues with regard to certain foods students bring for snacks and lunches, but food preferences and choice remain with students and parents unless they pose an adverse allergic danger to other students,” she said.
More than 30 local parents shared stories with the Metroland Media Group Ltd., Durham Region Division.
Common examples of food discouraged in their children’s classrooms include Goldfish crackers, Bear Paws cookies, granola bars, string cheese, Jello, juice boxes, pudding cups, gummy fruit snacks, raisins, Animal Crackers, chocolate milk and Sun Chips.
There is a lack of consistency from school to school, and even from classroom to classroom.
For example, Pickering resident Avani Chaudhary says her daughter, who is in Grade 2, has been told Goldfish crackers and chocolate chip granola bars are not welcome snacks, while her son who just started junior kindergarten has received no comments after bringing those items.
“It’s basically the teacher’s opinion,” she says. “Is a muffin more healthy than a granola bar? Maybe, maybe not. It depends what is in them. Is the teacher qualified to make these decisions? It should be up to the parents.”
Local mom Tami DeVries says when her son was in kindergarten his lunch of kielbasa, cheese and Wheat Thins crackers was confiscated and replaced with Cheerios, while Alicia Nesbitt was “furious” that her stepdaughter, currently in Grade 1 with the Durham Catholic District School Board, had chips removed from her lunch the first week of school.
“She came home and told me they weren’t a ‘healthy choice,’” Nesbitt says. “That may be true, but the rest of her lunch and snacks were very healthy and it’s up to parents if they want to put a little treat in for their kids. Unless the school wants to provide lunches, I don’t really think it’s their business.”
Janae Brangman says there were several incidents last year where her daughter, then in Grade 1 at Waverly P.S. in Oshawa, had her entire lunch sent home because it contained pizza outside of the school’s designated pizza days.
In one instance her daughter was offered an orange in place of her lunch. On other occasions, Brangman says Bearpaws cookies and chocolate chip granola bars were withheld and sent home, because they were deemed unhealthy.
“I felt it was more unhealthy for a child not to eat at all, than to eat a granola bar with chocolate,” she says.
Jillian Follert is the education reporter for the Metroland Media Group?s Durham Region Division. She can be reached at
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