By TANYA ASHWORTH
On the day that my eldest daughter started school, I sent her off with a lunchbox of freshly prepared, beautifully presented items. Amongst them was a home baked chocolate muffin dusted with icing sugar, which she had helped make the day before.
When she came home that evening, the rest of her lunch was gone, but the muffin was still in her lunchbox, untouched. I asked her why.
‘It was too sweet’, she explained. ‘The teacher said we couldn’t have sweet things’.
Outraged, I did what any self-respecting parent would do in the twenty-first century. I took my anecdote to Facebook, and Facebook did not disappoint. Friends from all over the world responded immediately with their own indignation.
Naoko*, in Japan, is expected to send a clean, freshly ironed cloth placemat with her children’s lunch every day. ‘A new one each day, and woe betide the mother who sends the same one two days running’.
Goldele*, in New York, has received notes ‘telling us not to send sweets to school. I ignore them’.
Samantha*’s school complained about no-added-sugar apple sauce: Rebecca*’s school sent back a note forbidding Graham crackers. Mathilde*, in France, sends her boys to a school which only allows pre-packaged food, whereas Joanna*’s son, in Australia, is required to bring only unwrapped food in accordance with his school’s ‘nude food policy’: a concept which is gaining traction amongst Australian schools, much to the glee of speciality lunchbox manufacturers.
Katherine* relates, with indignation, the message relayed by her children from their teacher to ‘tell Mummy to give you sandwiches next time’ when she sent in imaginative lunchboxes full of healthy nibbles.
In Britain, teachers – and sometimes, other children – have the right to inspect lunchbox contents to ensure that they comply. Australian schools are increasingly following suit.
We can’t win. Alison* summed it up for the rest of us when she said ‘I hate the lunchbox police. It’s just kicking a mum when she’s down’.
These policies are classic examples of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The issue goes beyond allergens. Nobody I know begrudges the ubiquitous nut-free policies in our schools, which are there to safeguard other children. And every teacher has experienced the child who comes to school with a lunchbox full of lollies, crisps and a jam sandwich; that child is the one who will be nodding off halfway through the afternoon from a sugar crash.