Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Australian kids and parents resisting food fascism

Students are getting pizzas and Big Macs delivered to their schools after turning up their noses at healthy new canteen food. Some schools are offering students raffle prizes to get them to eat nutritious lunches, and other canteens are in danger of closing. Some parents are also defying the move to rid canteens of junk food by dropping off "treats" to their children.

Schools across the state have been introducing healthier menus after concerns over childhood obesity. Salads, sushi, sandwiches and fruit are replacing pies, chips, hot dogs and doughnuts. The State Government has announced it will ban soft drink from schools and is also looking at restricting the sale of lollies and chips. But parents, teachers and unions say there have been some challenges in the transition from junk food to more wholesome alternatives. Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said she knew of some "entrepreneurial" students who were ordering pizzas and having them delivered outside the school gate. "Students themselves have buying power," she said. Ms McHardy said many had part-time jobs and disposable income.

Ms McHardy said that while most parents did the right thing, some working parents dropped off food to get around canteen menus. "Some parents believe a delivered hot lunch to school from the local McDonald's or KFC is OK, too," she said. Ms McHardy said it was up to parents, students and schools to work together to get kids eating healthy canteen food.

Australian Education Union state branch president Mary Bluett said many canteens were struggling financially with the change. She said the "double whammy" of healthier food's higher production costs and some children's reluctance to buy it was having an impact. "Some are doubtful their canteens will survive," she said, "because kids will bring food from home rather than buy it from the canteen." Ms Bluett said many schools relied on canteen revenue to pay for activities and amenities. She called on the State Government to subsidise healthy eating. "It would be good if the Government would be prepared to cover the gap for a short period of time," she said.

Victorian Principals Association president Fred Ackerman said some transitional support would help schools introduce healthy food. But a spokesman for Education Minister Lynne Kosky said the Bracks Government already supported initiatives to encourage healthy eating habits in schools.

Box Forest Secondary College in Glenroy is one school that offers students prizes in a raffle as a way of tempting them to eat healthy food. Canteen manager Sheryle Hind said students got a raffle ticket every time they bought a nutritious item from the menu and their names went into the draw to win a donated DVD player. She said the initiative was going well.


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