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Should the Choice Be Theirs?

When I was teaching middle school, teachers would be assigned lunch duty. Our job was to be an authoritative presence in the cafeteria, make sure that kids were calm and orderly, etc.  Our job was NOT to make sure that they ate a proper lunch. I knew that my pleading that they choose something substantial and nutritious from the lunch line fell largely on deaf ears.

But what drove me nuts, more than anything, was to see a 6th grade girl sit down at a table and eat nothing but a Snickers bar and a diet soda. Seriously? And you are allowed to buy that?? I hate to even say it, but I am going to. In my day (*cringe*), we would never have gotten away with that. We were offered one meal. We took it and ate it (or not) or we brought something from home. We weren’t given the option to purchase soda or candy bars. We weren’t even given the option of chocolate milk. The horror!

Between my experience as a teacher and my experience as a parent of elementary-age kids, I see the massive amounts of choice that kids have. I recognize that we want to empower and educate them to make good choices and not just force them to take whatever we offer, but I also wonder if we are expecting too much of them too soon. We don’t give them the choice to sit in car seats/boosters or not, we don’t give them the choice to go to school or not. Why is it so different with food? Why do we not choose the healthiest, most appealing meals and serve those?

I don’t want to make it seem as if “choice” is the enemy. Choice can be done well in schools. Some schools are offering salad or vegetable bars and allowing children to pick and eat as much as they would like from there. I can get behind that. But the choice between an entrée and a candy bar/soda combo? In elementary and middle schools? No way.

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