So today I enrolled Charlotte in her first proper playgroup, where she'll stay for 3 hours once a week and glue bits of pasta to cardboard while I lock myself in my office and actually get stuff done. We stopped off at the centre to have a nosey around, had a chat to the teachers and came away insanely preoccupied with what to pack for her lunch.
While I think nutrition is a hugely important part of raising kids, I was a bit astounded that the teacher actually gave me a verbal list of things the kids should have - "a sandwich, yoghurt or fruit, maybe a little treat but not every week and they all have to eat their sandwiches and yoghurt first." Fair enough, but uh...I am quite aware of how to feed my child, thanks! I know many kids eat (and are packed) way too many pre-packaged, sweet, and nutritionally-deficient 'foods',and I do applaud schools for encouraging healthy eating. I had just never assumed it was such a big deal - but then I thought of recent articles and other blog posts I've read, and realised that it's a bloody big deal at this time of year.
Tania McCartney posted on AustralianWomenOnline about the cyber-nastiness surrounding her suggestion that offering kids healthy, fresh and varied diets wasn't so hard. Feeding is yet another raw nerve that jars very easily amongst parents - whether you're talking breast or bottle; nutella or vegemite; carrot sticks or My Little Pony biscuits. McCartney was called "smug" because she offered her kids blue cheese and they happily ate it.
No freakin' wonder the majority of the population is overweight and unhealthy. We have some of the freshest and best produce on the planet, yet we pick at each other's decisions and operate in such a highly-strung environment that we just relent and let our kids eat Roll-Ups.
Reading the comments on Mia Freedman's School Lunch post freaked me out even more. I may have been given a rundown on What Not To Eat, but I wasn't told to avoid all nut-based products or those which may contain traces of nuts or other possible-allergy inducing foods. One reader comments that she got a talking to for packing wholegrain bread! It must be extraordinarily shithouse to have a severe food allergy, or even a minor one, and nobody want to accidentally trigger some horrible reaction. But really how far should we be controlled?
I've got no problems packing a sandwich, some fruit and a yoghurt. It's exactly what I had for lunch all through school (with the addition of a choccie bikky or something similar for sanity's sake). It just makes me wonder as to why parents need to be told that this is what constitutes a healthy lunch for kids. It's not because of a lack of information - the internet, magazines, newspapers and telly are all brimming with loads of lunchbox ideas which don't neccessitate a trip to the snacks aisle. Some are slightly unrealistic (exotic sounding dips and pita/wrap fillings which require marinating?) but you can't argue the ideas aren't there. Is it because we're so scared of being judged on our parenting skills by what we pack into lunchboxes that we've driven ourselves into a corner waiting for somebody to tell us what to do? If we can't even firmly decide for ourselves what our kids have for lunch, what sort of example are we setting to them? "Never think for yourself dear, it's dangerous. Just consult the list." Sounds scarily Orwellian. But if this was the year 1984 as we knew it, there'd be somewhat less of judgement and control, and rather alot more freedom.