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Food Bullying is a Thing

How to Cut Down on School Lunch Table issues

Table manners matter at the family table, and we hope our children use those same good manners at the school lunch table with their classmates. It’s our duty as parents to teach our children to be food curious, to try new things, and to not pass judgment when another child is eating something that is unfamiliar. Often, kids will say they don’t like something when they haven’t tried it, or it looks bad to them. It’s not uncommon for kids to make other kids feel bad (cue bullying) about what they have brought from home simply because it is different than the food they eat themselves.

Considering all the different factors that play into the way we eat today, we have to be conscious of the way we talk about food in front of our kids. There are families living with food allergies, and those who eat gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and dairy-free. There are families who have little or no budget for lunch meals, or a diet based on an unfamiliar culture. The list goes on and on.

It’s our job as parents to help our kids see the broad menu of opportunity that exists when it comes to eating. On nights when your family opts for a vegetarian meal, you can mention how some families eat like this all the time, taking care to add in the health and environmental benefits of the diet. When you have tacos, opt for corn tortillas and talk about the importance of corn in some cultures. Take your family out for Indian food and point out the smells and textures of all the different dishes you order. Go to one of the amazing food festivals Richmond has to offer and expose your kids to Greek, Jewish, Lebanese, Vegetarian, French, Sri Lankan, or Armenian foods. We have the power to open their minds and taste buds to world cuisines. Kids don’t have to like it all, but with any luck, they will start to see a world of possibility.

Ask your child how things are going at the school lunch table. If there are reports of food bullying, make sure to listen attentively. Give her tools to discuss what to say to the students at the lunch table, and listen for how – or if – she wants you to intervene. Is your own child’s diet limited? First, remind her that other kids’ lunch choices are their business, not hers. Second, try adding something different to her lunch. If food allergies are part of the equation, remember this can be deadly. Arm your child with a defense plan, including facts and kind words if she has to be the upstander for a classmate who is being targeted. If bullying gets out of hand, talk to the teacher and administrative staff.

Try Something New for Lunch

Is there room for something different in your child’s lunch this year?
Here are a few suggestions:

Hard-boiled eggs, edamame, carrot chips, mini peppers, sliced veggies with homemade ranch, salami/crackers/cheese, Caesar salad with chicken wrap, mini bagels with strawberry cream cheese, baked egg cups, cottage cheese, pretzel sticks and peanut butter, pinwheel wraps, corn tortilla and Monterey-jack quesadillas

Jenny Tremblay West began her career as a pastry chef and currently teaches cooking in Richmond. Jenny, her husband, and their two young boys live in Church Hill. She has worked in food for more than twenty years and is a kitchen coach and personal chef with Caper.
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