Secret Diary of a Teacher: Preparing the kids' lunches

Secret Diary of a Teacher: Preparing the kids' lunches

My husband prepares the kids’ lunchboxes; it’s one of my favourite things about him.

Limited fare, as our kids seem to be getting increasingly picky and divergent.

One wants to be a vegetarian but only eats about six things already, so we actively discourage it.

Another is obsessed with tuna and giant hunks of cucumber. The third, to be fair, is easy going. As long as you don’t include cheese.

Cheese is evil after all, unless melted on pizzas.

It’s a constant strain to feed kids and to feed them well. Seeing nicely prepared lunchboxes in school then, is beyond lovely.

From my perch on duty, I often watch little people opening their containers, their little boxes of home. I chat to them about their lunches if we’re inside on wet days, ask them who made it; remind them to tell their mum or dad how lovely it tasted.

These lunchboxes are a show of love. A show of care. They make our jobs as teachers infinitely easier.

It means the child can concentrate in lessons, no small thing I assure you. One kid I taught with ADHD used to come to school having downed one or two energy drinks on the way. His first two lessons were always disastrous.

The lunch box is a tell-tale sign of what happens at home and it breaks my heart to see kids without them, or to see only crisps and chocolate in their hands. Obesity has been described by the WHO as a ‘global epidemic’. Kids need decent food.

I once watched a student open their lunch to find a napkin with a heart. Written on it in ink was ‘I love you. You are wonderful.’

It’s no coincidence that the girl is one of the loveliest, most polite and diligent students in our school. Because I don’t believe in bad kids, just bad parenting, bad luck. Yet, it’s too easy to treat struggling parents with contempt.

If you’re a single parent with financial or emotional difficulties, you live in a world deserving of compassion.

I wouldn’t call you a ‘superhero’ because it undermines every effort you make, day, after day, after day. And the world of food is made tougher to navigate without education on it. I worked in one of the poorest parts of the East End for years.

Chicken Spot, Iceland and doughnut shops were the only options available on my walk to school. They didn’t have a real Tesco, only Tesco Express, where it was cheaper to buy junk food than it was to buy fruit.

To a struggling parent, hear me when I say that everything you do makes a difference. Keep doing it.

The child who doesn’t get enough attention is recognisable from the moment they walk through my classroom door.

There is a vacancy there, a space where a lunchbox ought to be. We must get better at educating adolescents to cook and care for themselves.

Home Economics is a subject predominantly taken by girls, so our boys miss out. I see male students now becoming more and more concerned with body image, following fad diets of fats and proteins.

So many of them listen to Jordan Peterson promoting beef only diets; it’s scary. One student told me a lot of his friends take steroids to look leaner. What if they were educated in a kitchen every week and explained the science?

Secret Diary of a Teacher: Preparing the kids' lunches

Transition year is a great time to learn life skills like cooking, but it should start earlier. A brilliant primary teacher I know recently taught kids about weight in maths by baking a carrot cake. He made learning a real, lived experience through food.

Children are now force-fed ‘healthy eating’ advice from gurus who advise against dairy and carbohydrates.

Psychiatrists often warn that a vegan/ vegetarian diet at a very young age can mask an eating disorder. Our young girls in Ireland are more anxious than their European counterparts; sadly, this anxiety manifests itself in bad eating patterns and self-harm.

I couldn’t believe it when I found a diary of mine from when I was about 15, detailing what I had eaten that day and how many calories I’d consumed. I was a healthy body size, but it terrifies me to think I was so body conscious.

I love to see students eating a big sandwich or carb-dense pasta. I cringe to see almond ‘milk’ on the desk, unless of course there’s an allergy involved.

The staff room is no better in terms of restrictive diets and I often watch colleagues nibbling a plate of rabbit food, despite having six hours straight of teaching that day.

We have a weird relationship with food, no question; we struggle to find that healthy place between obesity and starvation.

School healthy food policies are generally positive, but we should avoid teaching any obsessive behaviour.

My own children are encouraged to bring a treat to school on a Friday. This seems reasonable.

It reminds me of one of my best friends growing up who used to regularly devour our ‘goody press’ because she didn’t have one. Balance is key.

A student of mine beautifully described hugging his mum as feeling like warm toffee.

The connection between food and our wellbeing is undeniable. We need to feed our kids well, educate them and ourselves about food in general.

And someday, somehow, get them to eat un-melted cheese.

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