Lunchbox wars

By | February 28, 2012

It’s “Healthy Eating Week” at D’s school this week. We were notified on last week’s newsletters and told there would be different PE exercises every day and discussion regarding healthy foods, much the same initiative as taking place in mainstream primaries from time to time.

Might need a slightly different tactic when dealing with the issue in Special Needs schools.

D came out of school yesterday looking very tired, upset and pale. She was also very hungry. Half her lunchbox was uneaten and one of her snacks still remained. She ate most of the remaining food on the way home.

The one thing I do know about my daughter is if she hasn’t eaten her food, there is usually a good reason. She told me – between meltdowns – that her teacher had told her it was “bad” food and should not be eaten in school. I resisted the urge to go back to school and have it out with the staff but it was very tempting.

The thing about autism is that quite often children lead quite a restricted diet anyway, D always has the same things in her lunchbox (part of the OCD/routine element) and if part of that food routine is taken away, she is not going to want to try alternatives. In fact, certain “healthy” foods make her physically sick just looking at them (sensory element) but that will be another blog topic.

This infuriated me, to think that my 7 year old autistic daughter is being told what she can and can’t eat, when we are restricted to a limited choice of meals, snacks and sandwich fillings anyway.

She didn’t want to talk about it after school but I did say to her during her bathtime chat that your body is like a machine, it will run better on healthy food but the occasional snack/choc is okay. You read stories of primary school children having eating disorders from a very early age due to a comment at school, there is no way I am letting that happen to D, she has enough to battle with!

She had a lot of reluctance about going to school today.

I wrote a note in her home-school diary and had a chat to the TA this morning, basically saying that I did not want food described as “bad” and that I expected her to be allowed to eat what was in her lunchbox and for them to remember that they are dealing with special needs children here, who if they are told a certain food is “bad” for them, may reject all foods and we have a potential eating disorder on our hands. Once D had heard me talking to the TA and I had read her the diary note, she was happy to go into class.

For those of you who may think I am over-reacting, my mum has had a lifetime of “being good” and then “being bad” food wise and is in every poor health as a result, both mentally and physically.

As said above, I will do a blog about the foods D is restricted to on both a sensory and OCD element but I thought this warranted a separate blog. It will certainly be something I will be revisiting at parents evening, that, yes roll out the same initiatives as in mainstream but tailor it to your special needs class and definitely DO NOT describe food groups as “bad”.

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Tracy on 28th February 2012 at 2:01 pm.

I believe you did the right thing. The school could of tacked the issue a lot better and choosing the wrong word ‘bad ‘ will effect any child .
As with all things connected with an ASD child slow introductions are the best way to encourage changes.


Sam Potts on 28th February 2012 at 2:14 pm.

Oh Jeanette
I cannot believe that an SEN school didn’t think that one through! Am very lucky that my boy doesn’t have food sensory issues and is happy to eat most foods.
You know your child best. I love the way you handled it with D as bath time is a great chat time in our house too.

Keep up the good work. Xxx


Deb at aspie in the family on 28th February 2012 at 2:21 pm.

I’m glad you sorted it out and D went back in. Its a pity that the school were so thoughtless. Don’t they realise that our children can be literal and take things to heart. My daughter has quite a lot of sensory issues; she can feel physically sick at the sight of some foods and eating some foods can make her gag. As a result her lunchbox is limited to crisps, fruit and drink as she can’t tolerate the sensation of sandwiches. What gets me is that teachers are starting to intrude into something that is our responsibility. I understand the need to teach our kids about healthy foods but I don’t think teachers have a right to tell our children what is wrong with their lunchboxes – that undermines us as parents. Deb


Crystal Jigsaw on 28th February 2012 at 3:50 pm.

How incredibly irresponsible! it’s pretty unbelievable that a teacher should say this to a special needs child, or indeed any child for that matter. I am SICK, SICK, SICK of being dictated to by teaching staff (fortunately i don’t experience this anymore since Amy started special school) about food they can and can’t eat. I get so angry. Teachers have no right putting pressure like this on our children. It undermines a parents’ responsibility and makes the child wonder who they can trust to enable they eat healthily. I am definitely with you on this – I’d be straight into that school and give them a piece of my mind.

CJ x


TSF on 28th February 2012 at 4:07 pm.

We had similar to this when my SEN son was in school (he has numerous sensory issues together with a swallowing disorder). He follows a gluten free diet so has ‘non standard’ packed lunches at the best of times. Despite having NO sandwiches in his lunch he was not allowed to start on the food he had with him til the dinner ladies decreed it was OK (they made all the kids eat sandwiches first)… By stopping him eating when the others started, he was left with insufficient time to actually eat what he had with him. This was on top of the daily taunts and tuts about the fact he was eating the ‘wrong’ food. Not our idea of how things should be handled but we were repeatedly told we were fussy and he needed to eat the same as others do! How is this demonstrating tolerance, inclusivity and understanding?

Standing your ground and, hopefully, educating people as you can is the only way to deal with such incidents. Small things to others are major hurdles for some.


bcmama2012 on 28th February 2012 at 10:40 pm.

I’ve seen stuff like this in the news, sometimes the school’s idea of what is “healthy” or “best” isn’t even right! Really, they need to just chill out. Children are tough, you aren’t starving her.


friendlydragonspouse on 29th February 2012 at 10:23 am.

My daughter was having problems going into her (mainstream) school canteen, so school suggested she brought a packed lunch for a while. Settled into a routine of sandwich, Quavers, drink (every day). Not ideal, but guaranteed to be eaten. Then they decided that she couldn’t bring crisps in (school has just been refurbished and there’s a blanket ban on crisps/snacks, due to mess as much as nutrition), so she then refused the rest of it. As she tends to eat in a room in the Learning Support base, and is supervised, hard to see point of prohibiting it. Wouldn’t mind if the canteen offered truly healthy food, but there seems to be a lot of panini/chips, etc.

Another case of “inclusion” meaning “fitting in with what everyone else does.”


Leigh Forbes (@spectrum_life) on 29th February 2012 at 10:43 am.

I’m shaking my head here, partly in disbelief and party in exasperation. I wish… I really wish… everyone who deals with SEN children would take a BIG step back and look at what they’re doing. To actually think about what they’re doing.

They shouldn’t really be telling any child her food is bad, let alone one with OCD! Tell the parent, sure, if they really feel that strongly about it, but it’s unforgivable to put any child in a position of conflict between teacher and parent. And I am gobsmacked that they did this to an ASD child. It’s ignorant, irresponsible, and unacceptable!

I also get very cross when teachers try telling me what is and isn’t right for my kids. I want to say to them, “just come and spend 24h in our home, then try telling me what to do.”

You did absolutely the right thing. The school should be so much more ADS/OCD aware. You shouldn’t have to be educating them, but if that what it takes… good on you.


Sian Northey on 1st March 2012 at 12:34 am.

Hi Jeanette G had an issue in school when he took another kids crisps I was asked to give him some but pointed out that since it was a healthy eating policy that maybe it should be adhered to however aware that some kids only eat certain foods.they were good with him when he would.only eat enough take away hunger but not refueling him. With my daughter who is neurtypical she had issues with kids calling her fat and she didn’t want to eat some foods even as treats fully pe teacher told her she needed to lose this meaning her tummy. Took issue with school she is a bit chubby but very active.


Tony on 2nd March 2012 at 9:44 pm.

Hi.The whole food/Autism thing has always been a bug-bear for us. Our son R has an extemely restricted diet. It is basically centered on Heinz Baked Beans (no others). He will eat other foods, such as Heinz spaghetti, toast, tuna sanwhiches (must have Hellemans mayo), popcorn (salted only, microwave or fresh, non of the packet rubbish), Walkers (blue) Cheese & Onion crisps peanuts ans chocolate buttons. Occasionally he will succumb to Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and the occasional Rice Crispie. Over the years, we have struggled with the ‘experts’ who know best. You know the type. Every new respite provider promised to sort his food issues. All have failed. His consultant is concerned about him not having a varied diet, but is satisfied he is getting all his needs.He is 5 foot 10, nearly nine stone and is stronger/fitter than me. I think with kids like ours, we have to go with our instincts. After all, we know them best. Keep up the good work, and I look forward to reading your posts. Tony.


bluecrisps on 12th March 2012 at 6:34 pm.

Do you know the daft thing.. and I’m going to add this on the bottom, a fellow school child had her birthday last week so the class had chocolate birthday cake in the afternoon! The very thing that was being classed as “bad” two weeks ago.


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