As parents, we often struggle to keep our children fit and healthy in the consumer society we live in. We do our best to feed them nutritious meals and educate them on the importance of healthy eating habits, yet temptations are everywhere and frequently make a mockery of our best efforts.
From TV campaigns and billboards advertising delicious looking candy or crunchy chips – typically utilizing a vibrant cartoon character to appeal to the younger demographic – to bright and attractive packaging or toys as giveaways, children are constantly bombarded with messages that make unhealthy foods seem fun and exciting.
And while we might somehow manage to limit how many of these nutritionally-lacking snacks our children consume at home – despite the dramatic meltdowns in the supermarket’s junk food aisle or in front of the fast food outlets – we unfortunately have no control over their eating habits in the place where they spend more than half their day: school.
While schools in Lebanon teach children about healthy eating habits and nutrition as part of the curriculum, more often than not they do not practice what they preach. Most school cafeterias sell chips, chocolates and other unhealthy snacks alongside the sandwiches and packaged salads.
When an elementary school student is given a few thousand Lebanese liras to spend on lunch and has the choice between a sensible labneh sandwich or a bag of crunchy potato chips, it is not hard to predict the outcome.
Children are too young to be aware of the advertising tricks and techniques utilized by producers of junk food to entice them into buying their goods and so often fall victim of wanting the coolest new snack or that cute giveaway, buying these products at every opportunity.
Until children are mature enough to make their own nutritional choices, schools should remove the temptation of unhealthy snack foods such as chips that are so easily available in their vending machines and their cafeteria shelves.
Instead, schools should put their money where their mouth is. They boast about educating the child as a whole, meaning they develop a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and physical health.
And while they do provide physical education classes and teach about healthy eating habits, developing the child’s physical well being takes more effort. It is by making sure that the child is surrounded by healthy foods and encouraged to make the right choices that schools can encourage the best attitude toward nutrition.
Schools in France are forbidden to sell unhealthy foods in the canteens and Lebanese schools should follow suit.
For schools to suddenly take initiative in this regard is unlikely, but it can start with parents’ committees demanding that their efforts to keep their children as healthy as possible on their watch is not undermined once they enter the school grounds. Parents’ committees can demand that unhealthy foods no longer be sold in schools. We owe it to our children’s health.