Listen: Social activist Melinda Tankard-Reist chats to Katrina Roe about school lunchbox policies.
Melinda Tankard-Reist never expected to answer phone calls from the media about controversies involving chocolate slice.
The activist from Collective Shout normally gives interviews about why she believes pornography and sexualised imagery are damaging our society. But this week, an image of a child’s lunchbox that she posted on her Facebook feed has gone viral.
“It’s gone around the world,” she told Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe. “I’ve called it Hedgehog-Gate.”
The controversial picture is of a stern note that a teacher has sent home with her kindergarten pupil, depicting a sad face and saying that chocolate slice is unapproved and not allowed in lunchboxes at school.
“Your Child has Chocolate Slice from the Red Food Category today. Please choose healthier options for Kindy,” read the note.
Healthy Eating Rules Gone Too Far
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Melinda reacted to the note in anger, saying that it’s a case of school rules gone too far.
“My friend is the mother of eight, a great mum, I’ve known her for 25 years, she knows what she’s doing,” Melinda said. “And she and her husband both have degrees in health science.
“They have a tradition where the children get Hedgehog Cake for their birthdays and then any leftovers get taken to school the next day. It hasn’t been handled well… These are not neglectful parents who fill their kids up on junkfood.”
While Melinda said she understands healthy food policies and that the teacher was just doing their job, it may be a policy going too far.
“It is a bit of a put-down and makes it hard for the child to see that ‘We’ve done the wrong thing’.”
She said followers of her Facebook page gave several similar examples of their own experiences with lunchbox policy.
“When we start shaming children around food…we are setting them up for eating disorders in the future.”
“I’ve heard of even worse examples since this, where food has been sent home uneaten because it wasn’t approved, so the child has had nothing to eat,” she said. “Mums have told me about organic sugarless zucchini muffins being sent home, banana and chia muffins being sent home because the child has to have a sandwich not a muffin, even if the muffin is possibly healthier.
“One mum decided to investigate and discovered her [banned] cupcake had less sugar than the approved muesli bar.”
She said some children have felt so ashamed after having had snack food sent home, that they have hidden treats and eaten them away from their family.
“They’ve absorbed this message that this is shameful behaviour,” she said. “I find that particularly sad and I think that’s my biggest concern, when we start shaming children around food. We are setting them up for eating disorders in the future.”