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February 12 2013

Bans on Home-Packed Lunch and Compulsory Cooking Classes

Julie Gunlock

Despite the latest data showing childhood obesity rates declining, demands that government "solve" the childhood obesity epidemic persist. Want to know what the government plans to do next?  Let's take a look across the pond for a clue (after all, in the UK, officials have been peeking in kids' lunch sacks and mandating calorie information for years). 

The Daily Mail reports

A ban on pupils’ packed lunches to help prop up the ‘economically bust’ school dinners system is being called for by Government food advisers.

Restaurateurs Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent argue that this would save parents £2billion a year which could then be ploughed into school canteens.

And they believe that, if they cannot convince ministers to ban packed lunches, schools should police what parents give their children and confiscate unhealthy items such as sweets and fizzy drinks – although they admit it would be an uphill task.

...

Cooking lessons at school will become compulsory for children aged seven to 14 from September as the Government aims to ensure they can make up to 20 dishes before taking their GCSE exams. 

Education Secretary Michael Gove is also considering banning packed lunches as ministers look at new ways of improving diets while they battle with soaring child obesity, reported the Sunday Times.

If you think this is extreme, just consider what's already going on in this country: schools already provide children with not just one meal (lunch), but with three meals a day. Schools even provide meals during summer months when school is closed for the summer. In some schools, parents are actually being told not to bother feeding their children. 

I know this because I've seen it with my own eyes: 

A few months ago, while examining the inch-thick stack of papers that was sent home with my child after his first day of Kindergarten, I came across a colorful pamphlet called “A Parent’s Guide to School Nutrition Services 2012-2013” designed to give basic facts about the school lunch program. But the pamphlet’s true purpose wasn’t information, it was designed to discourage parents from making their children a home-packed meal.  The pamphlet reassured parents that “school meals are more economical and provide the best value from both a nutrition and cost viewpoint.” It offered further encouragement by saying (without citation) that “research has demonstrated that school meals proved more nutrition’s than typical meals brought from home.” 

And in a section called “Skip the Rush—Eat Breakfast at School,” parents are reminded that “mornings can be hectic” and told they shouldn’t trouble themselves with serving their children breakfast at home before school. Rather, parents should just drop their hungry children off at school where they’ll be served breakfast because “research strongly supports the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

That’s true; breakfast is an important meal for children facing a busy day of learning, but the pamphlet failed to mention more recent research on childhood obesity—presumably the primary concern of those who promote changing and expanding the school lunch program—which concludes that a parent’s role in a child’s nutrition is critical to keeping children at a healthy weight. Multiple studies have pointed to the importance of limiting a child’s television consumption, of ensuring children get enough sleep, and perhaps most important that children have meals with their parents at least five times a week.  Turning off the television, putting kids to bed at a reasonable hour, and eating a family meal are three behaviors that, at least at this point, are solely the responsibility of parents.

Yet increasingly, parents are told they are not a part of the solution. They are advised to stand aside as governments at all levels pass legislation designed to do their job. Kids eating too much fast food? That’s okay, the government can simply ban toys in happy meals. Kids drinking too much soda? The government need only place an age requirement on soda purchases or limit the number of ounces a child can drink in one day. Kids eating too much junk food? The government can simply levy a few new sin taxes so that kids can no longer afford their favorite treat. Kids watching too much television? Parents need not trouble themselves with turning off the television, they can simply rely on the government to ban commercials for food deemed unhealthy.

And now the British government plans to deliver another blow to parents by poking around in a child's home packed meal and by taking over the role of actually teaching children how to cook.  You know, there was a time when parents thought it was their job to teach kids basic life lessons--like cooking!  Today, this is just another task handed over to the government. It makes one wonder...what other basic parenting tasks will the British government assume?  

And for those who may think "this just won't happen in this country," I offer this response: it already has. Who can forget the case on North Carolina preschooler who had her lunch taken by one overzealous school lunch official?  As I wrote a year ago in the New York Post: 

As the 4-year-old entered the lunchroom, the state lunch inspector (!!) examined her sack and found the contents to be in violation of US Department of Agriculture nutrition guidelines. Herr Lunch Lady summarily threw the offending meal — including a homemade turkey sandwich, banana, chips and apple juice — into the trash; the girl was given a school-lunch meal consisting of...chicken nuggets.

Ah, yes, a vast improvement over the poison her mother packed. This is a perfect example of the Food Nazis’ victory over — not childhood obesity, but parental say in what kids eat. Nor is it an isolated case. Lunch inspections have been going on in Britain for years now, and the practice fits nicely with the Obama administration’s goals.

It's only a matter of time before we see policy makers suggest these types of solutions to "our nation's obesity crisis."

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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