A new computer system telling parents what their child has bought in the school cafeteria that day is being used in some American schools. The idea is that parents can make sure their children are making appropriate choices and spending their money wisely.
In principle it sounds like a great idea but on the other hand, are we not depriving them of an opportunity to use their own decision making skills, in what would surely be a somewhat controlled environment?
As with most things I guess it depends on how we put it into practice. Food police parents are likely to be pretty vigilant at home and will aim to encourage the same at school. Many would argue that the school cafeterias should not be offering ‘inappropriate’ food choices anyway. But those children who want to beat the system will always find a way, whether it’s at school or elsewhere.
At the other end of the scale there are the permissive parents who, given their more relaxed attitude are probably not going to worry too much anyway – at school or home. And somewhere in the middle – my personal favourite – one hopes that common sense prevails.
For younger children I am sure that it could be a useful tool to help them learn about making healthy food choices. But as they get older surely we need to offer them the chance to make their own decisions? Yes there will be some downsides but with a good foundation they will eventually realise that eating only treat foods isn’t all that fulfilling.
I often wonder if parents of children who are growing rapidly are in fact offering sufficient high energy density foods to meet their needs. A teenage boy for example can burn twice the energy of a sedentary adult male. A desire for high energy snacks is just as likely to be due to a genuine need for energy in some as it is due to poor decision making in others.
On the other hand we know from the national nutrition surveys that as children get older and begin to exercise more free will, the overall nutrient intake changes – and not usually for the good. In particular consumption of dairy, fruit and vegetables goes down.
So what is the best way to encourage children to choose the right food and beverages at school? Should we not be putting our energy into making sure what is on offer is appealing, tasty and good quality – nutritionally and aesthetically?