10/26/2013 06:30 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Are Schools Snack-Shaming Children?

Is your kid packin'?

Schools across the city already attempt to keep out a myriad of dangerous items including weapons, peanut butter and literary classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird. Soon, they may turn their attention to a sweeter culprit: namely, sugary snacks and drinks.

One Toronto school recently has banned the holy trinity of confections: candy, chocolate and pop. Parents who send such treats to James S. Bell Middle School will find the offending item returned at the end of the day, unopened. A virtual scarlet "A" to shame you for your atrocious parenting decision.

"If we do find something, for example a box of Smarties or a Kit Kat bar, we will just kindly ask the student to take it home," says principal John Currie.

As a parent who agrees with the overall message, I am disheartened by the execution. Inspecting the lunches, the principal asks the students, "What's on the table that we don't bring to school?" The children peer over the collection of lunches and pass judgment on various items.

From a child's perspective, it can feel like snack-shaming. It almost seems as though the principal is leading a group of lithe bullies, chastising the embarrassed student for unknowingly smuggling a contraband item.

Most parents probably do their best to send a fairly nutritious lunch. This often can be hampered by the logistics of kids not being able to reheat food or the life expectancy of certain healthy snacks.

My kids love bananas. But they are too young to peel a banana on their own and my daughter prefers sliced bananas anyway. If I slice the banana in the morning, it will be brown by the time her nutrition break rolls around and I know that this healthy snack will go uneaten. Same thing with sliced apples and other fruit. They love strawberries, but only with whipped cream. I have tried sending a dollop of whipped cream but it was a monumental fail. Whipped cream apparently has a shelf life of exactly four minutes before it disintegrates into a white puddle of nothingness.

While I would love to send more fruit to school, I know that much of it will be rejected. Instead, I do my best to offer these healthy snacks immediately after school and again after dinner, as well as throughout the weekend.

Presumably, if the bulk of a child's lunch is nutritious, a treat-sized candy bar won't spell disaster or diabetes for an active child. But there's the rub. Many kids today simply aren't moving enough. While parents share much of the blame (with the dependency on TV and video games) the school is also failing our children.

Every school in the province should offer daily exercise or gym class. If the infrastructure cannot support this, then some of the classes can be held outdoors (where the air is fresh and the graphics are in hi-def).

Rather than waste taxpayer money distributing pricey iPads to Grade 4 pupils, let's consider building more gymnasiums and expanding playground equipment. (At my kids' school, the Grade 1 class is only allowed on the outdoor play structure one day a week. The other days, they are banned from playing on it. But hey, they can look at photos of slides and monkey bars on their school-provided iPad.)

Recess time should be increased and not cancelled every time it rains or looks like rain.

"Children and youth need to get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day," says Cheryl Prime, an ACE-certified personal trainer with Phoenix Fitness in Hamilton. But the 60 minutes does not have to be all in a row.

"The best way for parents to raise healthy children is to get out and play with them." Prime says the next best way to ensure kids get enough exercise is to walk. "Walk to school in the morning. Walk to the store. Walk to a friend's house instead of hopping in the car. Movement is natural, but we've found too many ways to remove moment from our daily lives."

Most of us can remember growing up and subsisting on a spectacularly high percentage of junk food. The vast majority of kids were thin because we were active. We were not glued to the television or game console for hours at a time. We ran. We climbed. We explored.

For some kids today, the only time they sweat is when their fingers get clammy from clutching the Wii controller for too long.

Schools should talk about healthy choices and the importance of moderation when it comes to dessert or junk food. Parents should be given reading material throughout the school year regarding nutritious snacks, childhood obesity rates and implications and the need for daily exercise.

Snack-shaming kids and parents is not the best way to go about achieving this goal. Nor is denying a child a small treat.

One cannot help but wonder what naughty items we might find hiding in the lunches of teaching staff, or whether faculty members with expanding waistlines may be subject to reprimands and firm warnings.


Lydia Lovric is a writer and stay-at-home mom.

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