Lunchbox shaming is a recipe for disaster

"I raise your sad face emoji with a poo emoji," says mother of one, Michelle Duff.
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"I raise your sad face emoji with a poo emoji," says mother of one, Michelle Duff.

OPINION: This one time, I got a recipe book from the library called Bebe Gourmet. It promised 100 French-inspired food recipes for raising an adventurous eater.

It took me an hour and a half to cook the carrot-zucchini-lentil galettes, about the simplest recipe the book had on offer. It involved a stressful grating/cooking/blending/frying combo, achieved while a toddler pulled at my legs and left toys helpfully underfoot.

I may as well have chopped up a plate of cold frogs. He batted that galette off his high chair faster than you could say "excusez moi", glaring at me as if to say: "What do you think I am, an idiot? Of course I'm not going to eat your stupid glorified pancake. Now hand me that banana."

I bring this failed attempt at sustenance up because of the story this week about an Australian mum who was criticised by her child's kindy for sending her to school with a home-baked chocolate slice. The note featured a frowning face, and the words: "Your child has a chocolate slice from the red food category today. Please choose healthier options for kindy."

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Figuring out how and what to feed my one child takes up an incredible amount of my time. I am not a nutritionist, yet every day I have to plan out five well-balanced meals that will a) Fill him up, b) Take in as many food groups as possible and c) He will eat.

Make no mistake. This is just as boring as it sounds. It is especially tedious when he is cranky, or being fussy, or we are both tired, or I just need him to eat something like NOW. The vast majority of the time I try and give him healthy food. When it comes to the occasional piece of home baking, I am relaxed.

If I was the mother of eight children and my child's kindergarten sent me home a passive-aggressive note with a sad face on it because - God forbid - there was an un-regulated slice in their lunchbox, I would be tempted to reply with my own giant poo emoji.

This would be created by smooshing the chocolate slice into a piece of notepaper (or would it? Keep em' guessing). Or a note that said: "Fair call. Next time I'll leave the marijuana out."

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From breastfeeding onwards, mothers in particular are given loud and clear messages about how they should feed their children - and the guilt they should feel if they can't always attain the "perfect" diet.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a mum who's not trying to feed her kids to the best of her ability, and the last thing parents - and kids - need is to be lunchbox-shamed.

Yes, New Zealand, like Australia, has an obesity problem. If a school or a kindy has a serial junk-food offender, I would like to think most would deal with it by having a quiet word with that parent.

Recipe books with healthy lunch box ideas or parent workshops, like some early childhood education centres here provide, are welcome. As one ECE teacher told me: "some parents need support, not made to feel like bad parents."

Even better, at a Government level, a real effort could be put into brave public health initiatives like a sugar tax on soft drinks, which research shows would actually work.

But teaching preschoolers they should feel bad for eating the occasional sugary treat? That sounds more like the recipe for an eating disorder than healthy eating to me.

Michelle Duff is a weekly contributor to Life & Style.

 - Stuff

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