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Teachers have no right to police children's diets at school

Toronto dietitian Abby Langer says some teachers in Durham Ontario are taking kids' snacks away or not allowing kids to eat them if they're "unhealthy." She says parents are furious, and they've got every right to be: it's sending children and parents the wrong message about nutrition and health.
Are granola bars healthy, even if they contain things like chocolate chips? (Julie Van Rosendaal )
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"Taking kids' lunches and snacks away is disgraceful."

That is a statement Abby Langer feels the need to make every year at this time. 

Langer, a registered dietitian, was reacting to reports from parents, that some teachers in Durham Region, north of Toronto, have been removing food from kids' lunches if they think it's unhealthy. The definition of unhealthy seems to change, but examples included string cheese, raisins, and banana bread that contains chocolate chips.

Toronto dietitian Abby Langer. (Abby Langer)

School officials say there is no policy that calls on teachers to police lunch boxes, but Abby Langer says she hears stories like this every year, and it needs to stop. 

She says teachers don't always know what their students' home lives are like. If their family relies on the food bank, a chocolate chip granola bar may be the only snack food they have - and it's better that they eat that, than nothing at all. 

And, Langer points out, removing food can inflict shame on children. 

"A classroom is supposed to be a safe space for all children. So what an incredibly horrible example it sets to deny kids their snacks, and to make them feel judged and shamed for something that's beyond their control."

Finally, Langer worries that demonizing food sets kids on an unhealthy path. Teaching kids that there are good and bad foods, instead of a healthy balance, can lead to unhealthy attitudes towards food and eating, she says.

A classroom is supposed to be a safe space for all children. So what an incredibly horrible example it sets to deny kids their snacks, and to make them feel judged and shamed for something that's beyond their control.- Abby Langer, registered dietitian

Even as someone who teaches healthy eating as a living, Langer argues it's ok to indulge every once in awhile, and a teacher shouldn't get in the way of that. 

"My kids get vile junk food in their lunches sometimes, because they like it. That's right! They like Oreos just as much as I do, but overall, their diets are nutritious. Does the school know what my kids eat in the other two meals I provide them, or IF they even eat? No, it doesn't. Teachers should not assume the role of policing kids' diets."

What Langer would like, is for children to get nutritional education at school, from cooking classes to label-reading. And if a teacher has a concern about what's in a student's lunchbox, she says they can have a chat with the parent, in private. 

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