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Encouraging beats pushing

Posted on February 12, 2014 by Lethbridge Sun Times

The move in recent years by schools and daycares to offer healthier lunches and snacks is a welcome development.

Many school jurisdictions, for example, have taken to making healthy alternatives available in school cafeterias and vending machines, along with the traditional chips and chocolate bars. Some schools have gone so far as to ban junk food from vending machines entirely. But in some places, they’ve gone farther still, devising policies designed to ensure children bring lunches or snacks that meet certain guidelines. Nutrition is the apparent intent, but sometimes these efforts are so focused on keeping people within specific boundaries that they miss the target.

Such is the recent case in Britain in which a six-year-old boy was given a four-day suspension from school after a bag of — gasp! — Mini Cheddars was discovered in his packed lunch. True, it’s no gun, but just as deadly, was perhaps the reasoning of school officials.

According to “The Guardian” newspaper, the action prompted a meeting with the boy’s parents, who were told of the four-day suspension for the violation, and that “a permanent exclusion was considered.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to encourage healthy eating habits. But suspending a youngster because a less-than-nutritious snack was included in his lunch seems to be taking things a bit too far. A similar situation occurred in Canada last November, when a Winnipeg daycare billed a mom $10 for failing to include one of the four recognized food groups — “grains” — in her children’s lunches, as dictated by the daycare’s lunch policy. The lunches consisted of roast beef, potatoes, carrots and an orange — a pretty nutritious meal, most people would agree.

The daycare supplied the missing grains — Ritz crackers. While Ritz crackers are undeniably tasty, there might be some debate over their nutritional value.

A couple of years ago, when some school jurisdictions, including the Calgary Board of Education, were moving to get rid of junk food in schools, the Lethbridge Herald ran a story in which local school officials with the Lethbridge public and Holy Spirit divisions indicated their preference for education as the best way to encourage healthy eating. The school divisions offered healthy alternatives in their schools, but stopped short of an outright ban on less nutritious foods and snacks.

That’s the wise approach. As one school superintendent noted, a ban would only send students to the nearest convenience store for the junk food they desired. But by making more nutritious choices available to students, and by teaching them about the benefits of good nutrition and the consequences of poor food choices, students can make up their own minds. As they move into adulthood, they’re going to be making their own dietary decisions anyway. If we can teach them why it makes sense to opt for healthier foods, perhaps they will continue along a healthier path as they grow older.

People are much more likely to follow a road of their own choosing than one that’s forced on them, even if someone else thinks it’s for their own good.

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