Teachers Are Not Dietitians

In a small Manitoba town, about 100km south of Winnipeg, a mom is sharing information about her son with this year’s teacher.

“My son was eating 100% fruit snacks. No preservatives even. So the teacher says, “Don’t forget to bring a snack for nutrition break in the morning, and hopefully it will be more healthy than that.”

By whose definition?

The Manitoba Ministry of Education’s curriculum guide on Healthy Lifestyle Practices states “students will identify the daily habits and responsibilities for promoting physically active and healthy lifestyles, as well as for the prevention of illness and disease. The skill component focusses [sic] on the planning and managing of personal health practices (e.g., participation in physical activity, healthy eating) on a daily basis.”

Dear Ministry of Education,

Define “healthy”

Grade 2 students are expected to differentiate between “everyday” and “sometime” foods in Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, and identify foods that help you “go, glow and grow.”

This is the same place, by the way, where a Child Psychologist advised parents at a hospital feeding clinic to “take things [the child] enjoys away from him until he tries something new. He can earn his recess at school by eating his lunch.”

Seriously, Manitoba?

When the teacher insinuated that the fruit snack was not healthy enough to bring to school, she did not consider that the child sitting within earshot is a selective eater who is already anxious about eating. The teacher did not consider that a few months prior to this meeting, a bout of flu claimed this child’s appetite for over a month. Mom rushed her son to the hospital after he suddenly fainted from not being able to stomach the sight or smell of food. The teacher does not know that this fruit snack is the closest thing to fruit this child has ever eaten, or the courage that was required to try it for the first time.

The teacher does not appreciate what Mom sees as nothing short of miraculous – the monumental achievement of being able to eat comfortably in public – destroyed in 9 words.

and hopefully it will be more healthy than that.

From her sanctimonious pedestal, the teacher has just made an eight year old feel insecure about a food that has just only recently become a regular part of his diet. Fortunately, mom is wise and fiercely protective of her and her son’s feeding responsibilities. Today, guilt is not on the menu.

My son says, “What? What is wrong with these?” I said “Nothing is wrong with those, Bud. All food nourishes your body.” Teacher looked a little stunned. I told her he does just fine with his food choices. And when it comes to his lunch and snack he has full control.

So save the red lights and the green lights and the ‘glow’ for the intersections and keep the traffic signals out of the classroom. Teachers would be wise to just stay out of what should remain between parent and child altogether. In fact, schools would do parents and students the greatest possible service by not commenting on the food students bring from home. At all.

Besides, isn’t it hard enough to keep a classroom of students on top of their writing, math and spelling without worrying about what every child is or isn’t eating?

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6 responses to “Teachers Are Not Dietitians

  1. Found this blog via a friend and as a former therapist for kids with autism, your writing is both eye-opening and refreshing! Thank you for the reminder that any adult caregiver should be mindful of their own food biases and be cautious about creating guilt around eating (or playing, or dressing…). The teacher could have gone quietly to the parents in a closed-door meeting, or on the phone after school, so as to avoid publicly judging the child! Only the parents needed to be involved, and then they could have had a discussion on the child’s food choices in a mature and friendly way.

    That said, teachers are treading a fine line. The administrators and politicians who make up these senseless health rules for classrooms are pandering to a voting majority (or a school board), not to struggling parents with selective eaters or to the kids themselves. They are also trying very hard to make it look like they’re doing something – anything – to support kids growing up happy, healthy, and strong in the face of such frightening and insurmountable obstacles as absentee parents and food insecurity, poverty, and various “bad influences” (media, peer pressure, our own biological desire for fat/salt/sugars). It’s really sad to realize that we as a society trust parents so little to do their own parenting that we think we have to charge teachers (who as you rightly state, have their hands full enough already) with raising our kids, too.

    From this angle it’s not an unforgiveable crime to ask a parent to send a child with a healthier snack – but it clearly wasn’t a well-executed inquiry. A more sensitive and mindful teacher would have quietly explored the parent’s reasons for sending fruit snacks first, and judged later, and done none of it in front of the child. I hope the teacher learns from this, and the child is able to move past the comment.

  2. One of the reasons we homeschool – one of the ways our son’s Kindergarten teacher bullied him, and encouraged others in the class to do as well, was making fun of him for not caring if the class earned ice cream (as he wouldn’t eat it) nor for eating cookies the day there was a cookie exchange in class. He was 5 yrs old and being shamed for not eating what she felt he should eat. Foods others might be allergic to, not eat for religious or personal reasons, or would deem as unhealthy. This was years before his SED diagnosis, but even then we knew, and accepted, his limited acceptable foods.

  3. Pingback: Judging, Blaming and Shaming the Picky Eater |·

  4. This is horrible! That poor kid. I think schools should educate on different nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc… such as how much the body needs and what foods have them, but not comment on each student’s specific choices in food at all, not even to praise them for eating an apple instead of a cookie. It’s their job to educate and I am confident nutrition will always be one of the topics covered, but it is not their job to dictate what, when, or how much the student eats.

    • Agreed. I’m not at all against using food as a medium to explore different subjects (geography, history, music, art, science…), where it’s easy to leave the teacher’s personal dietary opinions out of the classroom.

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