Teaching kids to use the school canteen wisely5 min read

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One of the challenges with the kids at school for hours each day is that there is less control over what they eat, and school is not a primal lifestyle friendly environment. I (Sharon) thought I’d share with you some of the challenges and the approach I have taken to them.

We had only really started to get into the swing of Primal eating a month or so into the start of the school year. Initially it was hard to stop my preppie (in Victoria this is the first year of school) from getting over excited about being able to go to the school canteen and spend money. Not that she got heaps of money, but she did manage to crack open her money box without my knowledge a few times. She really wasn’t thinking about what she was buying, she was just excited about doing it.

We need to take responsibility for educating our kids in regards to their health. The kids and I have talked about what are the better choices for them and it seems to be working. Although, we are all human and at times its still hard for them to resist.

My kids go to a fantastic school which has had input from a chiropractor into the writing of the canteen menu. So there are some pretty good things on the menu. But take away the grains and sugars and there isn’t much left (as per the ‘guidelines’).

Public school canteens in Australia run on the traffic light system (green, amber, red) for classifying foods. I found the National Healthy School Canteens Quick Reference guide PDF (http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/phd-nutrition-canteens) for you to learn more details. Interesting, and pretty scary too. (There’s a whole other blog post there to do with learning, good fats and brain function etc.)

So what did I do?

1. Educate (continuously!!)

Initially it was lots of talking about what was ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and the ingredients of the foods. Not as easy as it sounds. When they have been eating a S.A.D diet, the one we have all been told is perfectly fine for us (& is promoted at school), it can make for some heated conversations, especially if they really want that ‘donut’.

I got out the canteen menu and went through the items on it. I asked them all to tell me what wasn’t good and why. If they didn’t know the ingredients, we went through what we thought might be in each thing and talked about it. I will be doing this again when the new canteen menu comes out.

2. Deal with things as they come along.

For instance this week we have our term “themed” lunch order day. It’s a day where the canteen has a set order for that special day – not necessarily healthy though. This terms theme is football, so the menu is meat pies and hot dogs, just like you would get at a football game. It’s my trade off for them only having one lunch order a term (approx. 10-12 weeks). I apply the 80/20 rule to this one.

Another time I found that I gave them money for one thing but discovered that they saved it up and used it to buy another, not so great, thing. Of course one of the other siblings usually sees this and tells me what they had. If its not on the ‘good foods’ list we talk about it and why it is or isn’t.

3. Limits

I don’t think it is wise to fully ban your child from the canteen unless the food on the menu truly makes them really sick. I think that it’s better to educate them about the foods so that they know the ‘why’ and are able to make informed choices. I found my tastes changed over a few months and I don’t want or even like certain foods anymore. The kids are the same.

I have maintained my one lunch order a term policy this year. I could see that it was going to get pretty expensive over the years if I did it even monthly (4 kids over 12 months @ $6-$7 per go equals lots of $$$’s.) So that one works in my favour.

As much as they like to let you think they do, kids don’t need to have money everyday, or even every week, for the canteen. Make their lunch boxes more exciting than the canteen. My girls love it when they have something as simple as a slinky apple – either made at home or from the school canteen.

4. Foundations

We are trying to set up a good solid foundation for eating and nutrition for our children. The best time to start that is of course at home before they even go to school. I have had to start it in primary school with my older three and I am hoping that it will be strong enough for when they hit high school.

When Miss Ames started Prep it was the first year the green, amber, red guidelines were enforced at her school. I really do hope that they start it in high school the year she goes. I don’t know what is happening with that but it will be interesting to see how it goes in a few years time.

I’d love to hear how you handle the school canteen challenge. Feel free to leave your ideas here.

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