top of page

How to replace food policing with a helping of kindness and trust

Updated: Aug 4, 2019

Child eating healthy snacks from a lunchbox

Teachers have perfected the art of wearing many hats. Juggling multiple responsibilities, we are accountable to the children in our class and their families, centre policies, and broader national health initiatives, such as the Healthy Heart Award. Our curriculum Te Whāriki encourages us to view education as a holistic process. Every part of the day, including meal times, is seen as a learning opportunity. We know our children and families well. Those children who are still learning to try new foods, the parents who will always ask how much their child has eaten, and those who struggle with getting 'hangry'! Keeping everyone safe, and as happy as can be, is all part of the role.

Constant news of the harm from excessive 'junk' food and the 'obesity epidemic' results in policies that focus heavily on food rules. These policies imply that if we educate enough, kids will stick with 'good foods' and avoid the 'bad ones'. Such policies can lead to practices that moralise around both food and body size, making a teacher's role more about 'food policing' than happy, healthy children.

No one will follow our children into adulthood and ensure they get their daily 5-plus-servings of fruits and vegetables! Our health-promoting policies need to focus on empowerment and intrinsic motivation so each child can learn what works for them. Compassion and understanding to meet our children and families where they are at is also essential.

For children with larger- or thinner-than-average bodies, our policies shouldn't be telling them that only average size bodies can be healthy. Children naturally grow both up and out during childhood, according to their genetic predisposition. Children tend to grow in a way that's right for them unless we start to interfere with pressure or restriction. While nutrition is a factor, food choice is not something the child is in control of.

With so many factors affecting what parents/caregivers provide, it's not helpful to place judgment, especially when the rules have the potential to do more harm than good. When children feel shame around their size, it hinders a positive relationship with food and body, which certainly doesn't lead to empowerment.

Those living in situations of food insecurity, who don't get to choose what goes in their lunchbox, or even if they have one, shouldn't be feeling judgement about what they bring. I've met children over the years who often only had a bag of chips to get them through the day. There's always a bigger picture involved. What those children and families needed most was compassion and understanding.

For those who have allergies or additional needs, and for all children, as they learn to listen to their bodies, they shouldn't be feeling pressure around how much or what they have chosen to eat.