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How to pack a school lunch – and not get kids in trouble

A LITTLE boy was expelled recently over his packed lunch. We asked some Irish mothers whether schools should be allowed to dictate what their children eat

Everyone knows that childhood obesity is a growing problem and most primary schools across the country have adopted a healthy eating policy – encouraging parents to include nutritious snacks and lunches for their child to eat throughout the day.

However, one school in the UK has taken things a little further by suspending a six-year-old boy for bringing in cheese-flavoured crackers. And when his parents went to the press with the story, little Riley Pearson was expelled.

According to the school this was not a first 'offence' but even so, was expulsion a step too far? The questions surrounding this incident are simple – should his parents have followed the school rules or should they have been allowed to decide for themselves what constitutes a healthy lunch for their son? We asked some Dublin mums for their opinions.

Paola Reyes McCrory from Blackrock is married to Stephen and runs www.aris-ireland.com (second-hand baby goods fairs).

She has two children – Isabela (4) and Patrick (2) – and believes that the incident in England is probably more complex than reported and parents should adhere to guidelines regarding health and nutrition for children.

"It's hard to say what is the true story here because both parties are giving completely different reports – the school is saying that there were multiple incidents where the child was bringing in crisps, biscuits etc and the parents seem to be saying otherwise.

"But I do believe that healthy eating is a good policy because some kids are not encouraged to eat healthily. Also, many parents need some form of education.

"Feeding to appease your child is easy but it is not in the child's best interest, so some parents really need to wake up and take responsibility for their children's diet.

"It's not just about obesity but getting a balanced diet and forming good eating habits in general. I feel fortunate, as maintaining a balanced diet comes natural to me due to the way I was raised.

"Isabela goes to Montessori school and I try to keep her lunch simple but interesting – usually including a sandwich, whether its ham and cheese or smoked salmon with avocado.

To accompany that she gets carrots, raisins, a small yoghurt and a piece of fruit. She also likes hummus with pitta bread and avocado.

"I have no idea what other parents pack but I would say the majority do try their best – but sometimes their best is not good enough.

"Many parents did not experience a healthy childhood diet of fruit and vegetables and this is sometimes carried over in their habits to their children, leaving many without a balanced diet. Then there are parents who are just oblivious to these issues.

"Even at Isabela's age she sometimes tells me that other children have nicer food in their lunchbox, but for me, it's about communication and making things fun for them.

"Sometimes they eat with all five senses, so it all comes down to paying close attention and encouraging them."

Siobhan Berry from Stillorgan is married to Dave and has two daughters – Ashleigh (5) and Jessica (3) – and runs her own company called www.mummycooks.ie which teaches mothers how to cook for their children from an early age.

She believes that while expelling Riley Pearson was an extreme measure, healthy eating is a vital part of every child's school life.

"I think it is quite shocking that the little boy was expelled but I do very much agree with a healthy eating policy and all parents should have to stick to it for it to work.

"Children are hugely influenced by what is around them and it must be soul destroying to try and teach them good nutrition when the child next to them has a biscuit.

"My daughter often asks me why she can't have a cheese string or a biscuit for lunch and I always explain that it's not a healthy food and we can only allow this after our evening meal.

"I run a series of weaning and feeding classes to help mums and devote a whole class to choosing ingredients and what to look for when going to the supermarket. It amazes me how many mums don't read labels and just see 'source of calcium' rather than reading how much sugar it actually contains.

"Too many children's diets are becoming very limited as mums offer a version of a cheese or ham sandwich every day. From an early age it is important to offer variety so it becomes the norm for a child.

"For my daughter Ashleigh I prepare a mix of sandwiches and hot food. I always have a homemade sauce such as pesto, tomato sauce or hummus which I spread on the sandwich to get the vegetables in.

"I use a container which keeps foods hot for five hours and every day I include a different fruit .

"Ashleigh knows I don't like sweet or unhealthy foods and always asks me if a particular food is healthy.

"She thinks it's great that she is healthy and eats such a variety of foods – she is also great for tasting new foods and is always excited about meal times.

"This makes it easier for me as a parent because I would imagine that meal times can be stressful if your child won't eat."

Louise Pearce Hogan is married to Mark and runs her own baby shoe business called www.shoobees.ie.

She has two children – Jack (5) and Lucy (3) – and believes that parents should always stick to a healthy eating policy and learn as much about nutrition.

"We as parents should pay attention to school rules and should encourage a healthy diet for our children. Hundreds of books, programmes, HSE leaflets and studies are there for us because of the childhood obesity increase.

"Of course there are always people who don't want to listen, don't want to take advice from experts, but it is being administered for good reason.

"I think it would be great to have a section in the supermarket for mix-and-match healthy school lunches as then there would be no excuse and it would be easy.

"Jack usually has grapes/berries or a banana as a snack for school and sometimes I give him Philadelphia cheese with carrot or bread sticks.

"For lunch he has a brown bread sandwich or cream crackers with ham or cheese. Lucy has the same but absolutely loves cheese so she may also have a Babybel. She loves all fruit.

"I try to get the kids involved in packing their lunch boxes so they know what to expect when they open it."