How to Develop Unhealthy Eating Habits (Rant of the Week)

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(Uneaten) Goldfish crackers, Ottawa, April 2017

When they were kids, my parents remember being told to finish everything on their plates because there were “starving kids in China.” In China, Feng was guilt-tripped for leaving two grains of rice because “North Korean kids are hungry.” As for me, apparently I could save Africa if I ate broccoli in the 1980s.

I’m not sure what threat is trending these days. “Eat, otherwise Trump will teach you democracy”? “If you don’t finish your carrot stick, I’ll build a wall between your toys and you”?

Let me forget for a minute that the world is doomed. I’m ODing on what-the-fuck moments this week—French are bullied into voting for a neo-liberal to avoid a fascist government, Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA and Saudi Arabia has just been put on the UN commission to promote gender equality.

Let’s face it, I have zero power over world politics—I had a voice, I used it. So back to basics. I need to rant about a minor issue.

Here is the problem: the lunchbox. Why? Because it comes back uneaten.

You’re rolling your eyes. It’s a minor issue, I warned you! But I’m pissed off because at the heart of the problem are the education system and big food companies.

Mark’s diet became an issue the minute I stepped into the doctor office suspecting I was pregnant. As soon as it was confirmed I was, my diet became everybody’s business—there were foods to avoid and foods to eat, a long list of seemingly arbitrary recommendations, most of them not making much sense to me. Towards the end of the pregnancy, when my mother-to-be status was obvious, I had to deal with unwelcome comments from strangers for just being at Starbucks because a pregnant woman is public property—never mind I wasn’t even drinking coffee back then. “Caffeine is bad for your baby!” a woman warned once. “I’m waiting for a friend,” I replied, completely baffled and feeling strangely self-conscious, as if I was in a back alley buying meth.

I wasn’t off the hook after Mark was born. My diet was still his diet since I was breastfeeding, so a similar list of “foods to avoid” was issued. Then, when I stopped breastfeeding after a couple of months I didn’t correct strangers who assumed I did—the pressure to breastfeed for years is intense in North America.

When he was old enough to make the transition to pureed food and then to solid food, the holier-than-thou battle started—good (emphasis here) mothers feed healthy, organic, homemade and prepared by a unicorn food to their kids. I remember feeling ashamed when buying applesauce pouches—surely, a loving mother would grow apples in the backyard, right?

At Mark’s first daycare, meals and snacks were provided and the centre had a chef on site. I remembered how impressed Feng and I were when reading notes—“two bites of vegetarian lasagna, one piece of beetroot, half a whole-grain slice of bread with organic jam.” “Gee,” I noted. “I don’t even eat beetroots!”

The daycare centre declared bankruptcy. His second daycare also provided meals, but they were less elaborate—more mac’n’cheese than wild salmon. When this daycare also declared bankruptcy, we were almost relieved to learn the new centre wasn’t providing meals, thus keeping fees lower (and hopefully, avoid bankruptcy). This is when I was introduced to the world of lunchboxes.

I was proud of my lunches. Mark had a healthy, balanced diet and there were few foods he really didn’t like.

When he started school last September, I quickly realized my usual lunchboxes wouldn’t work—there was no fridge, no microwave and a long list of banned ingredients including eggs and all nut products. At first, I used a thermos to keep his meal hot but he wasn’t even opening it. This is when I understood why the “snack” aisles of the supermarket were packed with kid-friendly products—goldfish crackers, string cheese, pudding cups and peanut-free cookies for lunchboxes. Bastard. Giant food companies are fucking evil. They know their market.

Yet, I hadn’t suspected the biggest issue wouldn’t be the food, but the schedule.

Mark’s school adopted the “Balanced School Day”:

The Balanced School Day is different because it includes two breaks that are each 40-45 minutes long, with one break in the morning and one in the afternoon. There is no one hour break for lunch. 

So four-year-old kids are supposed to grab their lunchbox and eat whenever they want during these two breaks. Problem is, the signal isn’t clear for kids because they eat in the classroom (there is no cafeteria) and at this age, they have zero concept of time.

Mark doesn’t eat anything but the occasional applesauce pouch or piece of cheese.

“Why didn’t you eat your lunch?” I ask.

“I didn’t have time. When I wanted to eat, the teacher said it’s time to go home soon.”

“I was building a tower.”

“My friend wasn’t eating.”

If given the choice between sitting down and eating lunch or playing, what do you think a four-year-old does? That’s right, they play.

Every day, I stuff the lunchbox with easy-to-eat finger foods that I hope Mark will gobble down while playing. Every day, I hate myself for doing so because it goes against all my (French) principles—enjoy the food, take your time, sit down and relax, don’t constantly snack.

In four years, we went from a huge pressure for breastfeeding to homemade food, from healthy eating habits to a diversified diet. And now, thanks to big food corporations and the Ontario education system, we are at this pathetic stage: “can you at least eat the Goldfish crackers? Pizza taste? Cheddar taste?”

Fuck, I’m pissed. Food matters.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

13 Comments

  1. Even though our son is only 3 y.o. (and his current daycare has a chef and cooks good meals), I cringe when I think of the time when he’ll go to school.

    I can’t comment on how food practices are in schools, but in general no matter where we go in the city / outside the city – all I can buy is crap kids food. Greasy pizza, hot dogs, french fries and pop, etc.

    It amazes me how the North American society feeds their children. This is one of the few issues I have with life in North America.

    • Same here, food is one thing for which I’m still very French, even though I really appreciate all the ethnic food options we have in Canada (I find French food… a bit bland!). Except for chips and some cookies, we never had any North American “junk food” at home before Mark. Arguably, Chinese food can be greasy and French food isn’t always healthy either but we cook our meals from scratch.

      I just hate the fact that kids are trained to eat fast, on the go and use convenience food.

  2. Attends c’est super important! il s’agit quand meme de la sante de toute une generation.
    J’ai l’impression d’etre old school ici quand je dits qu’une pause le matin et l’aprem de 10 et 1h entre midi avec un repas chaud c’est le minimum… Je snack de temps en temps mais ca s’apparente plutot a un gouter qu’au grazing
    Et c’est fou ces 2 daycares. Ils n’ont pas pris peur en vous voyant arriver au troisieme 😉

    • Ah oui, la saga des daycares c’était avant qu’on se rencontre! J’ai cru devenir dingue. Genre, le ciel nous est tombé sur la tête, je ne savais même pas qu’une garderie pouvait faire faillite. Heureusement, la troisième a été la bonne, mais on a perdu pas mal de sous (les dépôts, etc.) et d’énergie dans ces conneries. Et c’étaient des centres agréés pas la ville, pas une nounou à la maison.

  3. Terrifies me 🙁 all of what you just said because I have witnessed it and it is true. I hope my girl remembers to eat!! I would be having words if not. I used to love buying liquor at the LCBO when I was pregnant and challenging anyone to question it with my eyes Of course I didn’t drink it but I like how pretty the bottles look on my table!

    • With Mark, I’m always between lecturing him (you gotta eat, etc.) and excusing him because really, it’s not his fault. He wasn’t a picky kid at all. As long as he is given healthy stuff before treats, he eats just fine (of course, if you ask him, he’d rather have candies than veggies…).

  4. Ah merciiiiiii encore une fois, on se sent moins seule 🙂
    Même problème ici… et la fameuse boîte à lunch me déprime…
    tout comme le fait que les enfants mangent soient dans le gymnase par terre soit dans leur classe,
    et même son de cloche les enfants n’ont pas le temps de manger…
    on repassera pour les bonnes habitudes.
    Mais, en tout cas ici, mon fils est un peu plus grand et on insisté avec les repas chauds jusqu’à ce qu’il arrête de demander les Goldfish, les pogo et merveilleuses pizzas que ces amis ont à midi
    … au point qu’il râle parce qu’on ne lui met pas assez de soupes. C’est la seule victoire.
    Alors bon courage!

    • De la soupe? Mais, c’est génial! Il a quel âge ton fils? Je peux l’adopter et te confier Mark en échange pour une éducation à la bonne lunch box? 😆

      J’essaie de limiter la casse au niveau de la junk food. Heureusement, il n’en a pas découvert les trois-quarts… mais, il a vraiment cette habitude de grignoter et impossible de le faire manger assis. J’espère que c’est une phase aussi dûe à l’âge… en voyage, il mangeait très bien. Enfin, beaucoup mieux!

  5. Martin Penwald on

    > If given the choice between sitting down and eating lunch or playing, what do you think a four-year-old does? That’s right, they play.

    It works for forty-year-old too.

  6. Martin Penwald on

    I was appalled when my cousin explained to me how lunch worked in her child’s school in Toronto. They have one 45 minutes break, but they have barely 20 minutes to eat, and the rest is used by the teacher to take a break, so in this time, they can’t eat and have to go back in their class to play.
    What I despise about this is that it creates among the youngs the notion that you have to make it fast for lunch and go back to work. Once in an office job, they’ll keep this unhealthy habit to respect the corporate culture. A two hours break was pretty normal even when I had an office job.

    • Yes, that’s exactly what happens in Mark’s class. I just can’t stand the fact we are training kids to be office drones who gulp down lunch in front of their computer, as fast as they can, because time is money :-/

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