Today I got a call from my son’s pre-K teacher about his behavior during lunch today. Lunch in Pre-K is served in the classroom and I’m pretty sure that my son is one of the few, or possible the only one that doesn’t participate. He brings his own lunch to school. I was worried he would feel left out and feel inadequate or something along those lines. But it turns out he was the aggressor today telling his classmates that their food was disgusting, that it was unhealthy, and that it would make them sick. I’ll admit, I was embarrassed.
I always feel like I have to defend our decision to send lunch in. In my family, we talk openly (even with our 4 year old) about the importance of eating healthy, natural foods, and about some of the negative consequences of eating unhealthy foods and highly processed foods. That being said, we never put down the school lunch… they actually do a better job than most schools in providing a healthy well-balanced meal. But here at home, we keep chickens and have fresh eggs. I bake my own bread and make my own yogurt. I buy fresh milk from a local dairy, and we always cook from scratch. So why wouldn’t I send lunch in with my child?
But for some reason, I always feel like I’m going against the grain. I was the only parent at Pre-K orientation who questioned the rumor that participation in the lunch program was mandatory. It turned out it wasn’t, but everybody just participated anyway. She didn’t say it in so many words, but the lunch lady seemed irritated that I was making things complicated… that nobody’s ever done this before… “we had one child once who brought in his own lunch…” One child? EVER?
And it’s not only lunch. I’m not even sure what my son does for the first half hour each day while all the other students are served breakfast. Again, I feel like I’m the difficult parent, constantly going against the grain here. But I LOVE breakfast together as a family each morning. It’s my right, isn’t it to feed my children before we all start our day? It’s my responsibility. And you know what? It’s MY privilege!
I sense that people think that just because we don’t participate in the school meal program, we must be some sort of food nazi family–super-strict on every dietary intake. But we’re not! He gets all the normal childhood indulgences–all in moderation of course! My son gets candy. He drinks soda. Sometimes we order pizza. (He even gets school pizza every Wednesday). In fact, my son LOVES pizza! Homemade pizza, pizzeria pizza, frozen pizza, good pizza, bad pizza, round pizza, square pizza… he doesn’t care! If he asks for something new, we don’t automatically say no.
But I do feel terrible about his behavior at school today. He is channeling what I teach him about food, but I do not condone his negative comments towards his classmates. We do tell him that we believe our homemade food is healthy and natural, but we never explicitly say anything negative about the school’s lunches. (I will however put down Burger King in a heartbeat!) I’m glad the meal program is there for those who need it and for the convenience of those who want it. And I did have the talk with my son about his inappropriate behavior. One day when he’s older, he can eat the school lunch if he wants, but for now I just feel like I am responsible for the food he puts in his little, young, growing body.
I’ve written about education, how we are losing it to legislation and market-based reform. But we lost food a long time ago. I won’t get into that now, but I do want my children to grow up with a natural connection to and understanding of the food they put in their bodies.