Talk to your school
School Mealtimes aims to create safe and empowering school food environments that help school-aged children to become confident, adventurous eaters.
Here are some examples of letters that you can send to your teacher about this approach. Use these templates to learn more about your school’s policy and current practises, and to advocate for change within your school. Copy and paste the sections that work for you to send to your classroom teacher.
Step 1: Do some research
Look up your school’s Healthy Food and Drink policy and get to know it. Some policies are available from the school's own website or you can try searching [Insert school name]’s Healthy Food and Drink policy on Google. If you can’t find it online, ask your school’s administration staff for assistance.
Use the policy to help you understand what you are going to ask the teacher or school for.
- If the policy aligns with School Mealtimes principles but your child has reported differently, you might ask that staff to clarify the policy (see below).
- If the policy contradicts School Mealtimes principles or doesn't include anything about mealtimes, then you might ask for the school to review their policy.
Step 2: Ask some questions
Before you send a long letter to your teacher or school, ask for more information. Find out from your teacher what the classroom rules are and what is actually happening. If you need to clarify something about the school's Healthy Food and Drink policy you can ask some questions here too. Using the template below, copy and paste the examples and questions that are relevant to your concerns.
INITIAL CONTACT TEMPLATE
Dear [teacher’s name],
I am writing as the parent of [child’s full name], to find out more about current classroom rules for mealtimes. My child has told me [insert your child’s words], and I am hoping you can help me understand the context of the situation, and if [he/she] has misinterpreted the [conversation/activity].
Mealtime practises such as [insert relevant examples from the list below, or write your own], are concerning for me as a parent trying to support my child to build a healthy relationship with food and their body. I would be grateful for the opportunity to discuss my concerns further with you.
Examples of concerning mealtime practices:
- not being able to choose freely from their lunchboxes
- being restricted to only fruit and vegetables at morning tea
- having to finish their sandwich/main item before other food items
- having to finish their lunch prior to going to play
- labelling food as “healthy/good” or “unhealthy/bad” in front of children
- being told not to eat something in their lunchbox because it is an “unhealthy” food
I would also like to learn more about [insert school name]'s Healthy Food and Drink policy. I would like to know [insert your question, see examples below]?
Examples of questions you might ask:
- when was the policy last reviewed
- what is the usual review process (i.e. are parents and teachers involved)
- were there any changes made to the policy at the most recent review
- who I am best to contact to request a policy review
Let me know if you are open to discussing this further. I am happy to meet in person, or you can reach me by email or phone.
This conversation might resolve things for you. If not, move on to step 3.
Step 3: Ask for change
This is when you can outline all of your concerns, provide some actual evidence and ask for the changes you would like to see. Using the template below, copy and paste the examples and evidence that are relevant to your concerns, and leave out the section headings.
FOLLOW-UP CONTACT TEMPLATE
Dear [teacher’s name],
Thank you for taking the time to reply to my previous [email/letter]. As I mentioned previously, [Child’s first name] has mentioned some things about eating at school that have concerned me. I’m pleased you are willing to hear my concerns, so we can work out a way to overcome them.
DESCRIBE YOUR CONCERN
[Child’s name has told me/I have noticed] that [insert examples, see below or add your own].
- [He/She] can only eat fruit and vegetables for recess
- [He/She] has to eat a certain amount of food before being allowed to play
- [He/She] has been told to eat [His/Her] food in a particular order (i.e. sandwich first)
- [He/She] has been talking about “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods, which is something I have been very careful to avoid up until this time
- The policy states…
EXPLAIN WHY YOU ARE CONCERNED
These practices concern me because [see examples, or add your own]
- I am raising [Child’s name] to respect [his/her] body and trust [his/her] hunger and I would like that to continue throughout their schooling years.
- I choose the food for my child’s lunchbox based on a number of factors including health, my child's eating skills, preferences, likes and dislikes, what's available and affordable, and what else the family and my child eat outside of school hours. I do not expect teachers to know about all of these things for every child, so I respectfully ask you to let me make these decisions for my child.
PROVIDE RELEVANT EVIDENCE OR SUPPORTING POLICIES
This generation of children are growing up in a time of extreme diet culture, body dissatisfaction and disordered eating, but there are lots of things we can do to minimise harm.
[Include the relevant evidence statement(s) listed below]
Evidence and supporting policy statements:
- Children need energy to learn and they need access to a variety of core foods at meals and snacks. Enforcing the consumption of only fruit and vegetables as a main snack is not based on current evidence. Fruit and vegetables are not “healthier” than grain, protein or dairy foods. In fact, whilst fruit and vegetables are naturally nutrient dense, on their own they lack sufficient energy (or kilojoules) to give children sustenance for learning. This health halo around fruit and vegetables is misguided and reflective of the harmful diet culture that pervades a lot of nutrition messaging.
- Research also consistently shows that pressure around eating, feelings of guilt associated with food, or dictating the order in which children eat can contribute to poorer eating habits. I understand that these outcomes are unintended but there is significant potential for harm.
- I support the inclusion of fruit and vegetables in recess and lunch offerings, however, mandating the consumption of only these foods does not align with current Department of Education or our school’s specific policies.
- I appreciate that Crunch and Sip guidelines mandate for only fruit and vegetable consumption in the classroom, but this should occur in addition to recess and lunch. Crunch and Sip is an extra opportunity to include these foods in the day, not a rule to reduce consumption of other core foods. A school policy that limits the consumption of core foods misses the needs of children who have natural appetite spikes mid-morning, which includes a significant percentage of young children.
- I am familiar with the Department of Education Healthy Food and Drink Policy and appreciate that the school is committed to promoting good health. However, commenting on or dictating their food choices is not conducive to good health. Research consistently shows that pressure around eating, feelings of guilt associated with food or restrictive feeding practices contribute to poorer eating habits.
- The traffic light system applies to food sold in the canteen and not those sent from home. Again, I ask you to trust that I am making informed choices about what I feed my child.
DESCRIBE WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU LIKE
I appreciate that you have my child’s best interests at heart, and so I ask that you:
- allow [insert Child’s name] to eat freely from [his/her] lunch box at mealtimes and
- avoid commenting (either positively or negatively) on the food [he/she] brings to school.
Please also see the attached open letter from Dr Kyla Smith, Paediatric Dietitian, and colleagues to explain further about the steps that we can take to protect our children from unintended harm at school mealtimes.
Again, I am happy to discuss this further with you by email or phone, or in person.
Step 4: Consider taking it higher
If you feel that there are significant concerns with mealtime practices or policies, beyond your classroom teacher’s control, you can edit your letter (from Step 3) to send to your Principal. I recommend letting your classroom teacher know this once you have established that your teacher is unable to change practises, without direction from above or without a policy review.