Do you remember those days when schools didn’t give a rat’s ass about what children brought in their tiffins? I, for one, do. I remember this one girl in my class who would bring oil-dripping French fries in her snack box every day. Yes, every day. Another friend would bring those orange coloured Cheese Balls and would reek of artificial cheese from recess to home-time. Those were the days when a packet of Peak Freans chocolate sandwich biscuits was considered healthy.
Fast forward to 2018 and you’ll find mums going crazy on Whatsapp groups, asking each other for healthy options to send in their child’s snack box. Tasty Junior’s posts are shared and saved on Facebook because, you know, your child NEEDS to eat heart-shaped cheese and olive sandwiches with a side of broccoli florets in snack time.
Eating healthy is good and no one wants their child to become obese or have long-term health problems. However, healthy eating is not just about nutritional food. It is also about taking the time out to eat comfortably. Today, children of all ages have less and less time to a) acquaint themselves to new foods b) enjoy the act of eating itself. Think about it, snack time or recess in most schools is 15-20 minutes. And snack time is not just about eating; at least not for children. This is their time – to breathe, relax after 3-4 hours of quiet, relentless concentration and socialize. It is not possible to eat and talk at the same time and neither is it healthy to shove food in the mouth quickly because the bell is about to ring. Younger children may have to go to the bathroom which means they lose another 5 to 10 minutes of the precious snack time. And older children may be detained by the teacher for incomplete work and so forth, making their recess shorter.
Now, if you argue that children can eat healthy food at home if they are not getting to do so at school, I would like you to pause and consider this. Children are in school from from 8 or 9 am to 12:30 or 1:30 pm after which they go home, shower have lunch and take a nap or have the Quran instructor coming over when they are older. Evenings are packed with a bit of outdoor play, homework/tuition, after which it is dinner and bedtime.
Schools want children to retire early at night in order to be fresh the next day (and understandably so) but there are also other demands on the child (both from parents and the school) such as religious education, homework, extracurricular activities and spending time with family. It is hard enough for a child to manage all this between the hours of 2 pm and 6 pm and be in bed by 8 pm after getting his/her uniform and backpack ready for the next day. Add to this a healthy meal (which children take longer to eat by the way) eaten slowly and carefully and you need 30 hours in a 24-hour day!
No, I am by no means saying that children should not be given healthy food. They should, of course, but the pressure needs to be off. These days parents and hence, children, are under too much pressure to tick off too many tasks in a given number of hours and that is just not possible. Meal times, whether at school or at home, need to be relaxed for children to really enjoy their meals. But the reality is that mealtimes are often squeezed between too many activities and children are either shoving unhealthy, processed foods down their throats or eating on the way to or from some activity and neither of these scenarios are particularly healthy.
So, dear school management, please lay off on the ‘healthy snacks’ and ‘mealtime charts’. Instead, give children enough TIME to chat, chill and enjoy their snacks.
I promise, healthy eating WILL follow.
As someone rightly said,
“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”