Friday, March 11, 2011

Unpacking School Lunches

Unpacking School Lunches...the Good, the Bad and the Ugly….

Hello everyone. I’m thrilled to be doing a guest post on Nat’s blog. My name is Karen and I’m a 20-something primary school teacher at a Launceston public primary school. I’ve taught at several different schools- rural, inner city, private, public. I don’t have any children of my own yet but hopefully I will in the not-too-distant future as my husband has agreed that that time has nearly come (which is good, as I’ve been clucky since the age of 12).

I currently work with grade 1 and 2 students, so six and seven year olds. Teaching is rewarding, challenging, funny and frustrating but I love my job and love working with children. However, one of the more frustrating aspects for me, which I’m going to talk about today, is to do with school lunches.

We all know that children should be sent to school with a healthy balanced lunchbox- it’s been discussed to death in the media, at school assemblies, in school newsletters, etc. However, it’s often difficult for me to witness the contents of some lunchboxes, and even more difficult in that a teacher’s duty of care only goes so far and it’s up to the parents what they put in said lunchboxes. We can advise, we can insert articles in the newsletter, but that’s as far as we can go. I completely understand that they are their children and it’s their choice, not mine, but as a teacher who cares about each student it can be a little challenging. I used to have similar problems in my waitressing days when parents would order Coke for their children, some as young as 3 or 4. It horrified me but I had no choice but to serve the Coke with a smile…again, their children, their choices. I once remarked to the café manager how much I hated serving Coke to children, to which he replied, “Well that’s a bit judgemental don’t you think? My son’s been drinking short blacks in cafes with me since he was two.” (Not sure what would possess a parent to order a short black for their two year old…obviously I was talking to the wrong person.)

I wanted to share a few horror stories with you today concerning some of the school lunches I’ve seen over the years. The first story is actually quite sad and it happened several years ago whilst I was a student teacher at a rural primary school. A Prep child at the school was proving very troublesome as she was constantly stealing food from other children’s lunchboxes. One lunchtime I was on duty during lunch and had to supervise the students while they ate. The girl was sitting with her three brothers and two sisters and the contents of their lunchboxes were identical- one piece of stale white bread, unwrapped, with a squirt of tomato sauce on top. That was the sum total of their food for the day- recess and lunch. It made the reasons behind the theft very clear. My colleague teacher confided that the children’s teachers had attempted to speak to the mother about sending more food, with more nutrition, but on each occasion the tirade of abuse put them off further attempts.

Her children, her choices.

Then there was the time I was supervising some grade 2 children while they ate. I was idly watching one girl as she unwrapped what I thought was a large piece of bread and bit into it. To my horror I realised it was in fact an entire wheel of Camembert, which she ate in several bites. It still makes me feel sick thinking about it!
Very recently I was leading the children out to recess and noticed one seven year old girl holding a large, unopened ‘Party Pack’ tube of Pringles. “R, is that your recess?” I asked. “Yes, and my lunch too,” she replied happily. Further investigation revealed she had been sent to school with nothing but the Pringles as her recess and lunch.
It’s not all bad of course- I don’t want to give that impression at all. These lunches are in the minority and most children have healthy lunches that have been prepared with obvious care. One of my grade 1 girls very excitedly showed me her lunchbox last week. It was brand new and had several different compartments, containing carrot and celery sticks, cheese cubes, ham and crackers. In the middle was a round container with a lid, probably meant to hold dip. She opened it and showed me that it held several strawberries and a handwritten note- “Dear L, I hope you’re enjoying school today. See you at 3 o’clock. I love you. Love from Mummy.” The little girl was delighted.
A lot of parents are steering away from the traditional sandwiches as well, with things like thermoses full of leftover pasta and vegies or soup, wraps, and salad, all of which children seem to enjoy. I know parents are pressed for time on school mornings and can’t always prepare a ‘gourmet’ lunch of course, but I think that a school lunchbox filled with fresh, healthy food and the occasional treat is a fantastic way to help your children with their learning.

Thanks Nat for the opportunity to share a guest post, and thank you everyone who read my ramblings! 


  1. Must be tough to witness what you do sometimes.... I remember having the principal at my primary school take my lunch box and show it to all the students.... My mum had put dried peaches, apricots, some luncheon meat, cheese, an apple etc and he obviously thought it was great! Only now do I realise how lucky I was....

  2. I'm a teacher too and have many horror stories. I still get mad when I see lunch boxes full of sugary treats. It's just so much harder to teach them when they are on a sugar high than drop.