Crisps are a human right

It's healthy-eating week in our school. Everywhere I look there are children designing posters in praise of calcium and vegetables and boasting to each other that they've just eaten their first kiwi.

Our children seem pretty clued up on healthy eating. They know about fats and sugars, they can earnestly tell you why the body needs fruit and vegetables and why Coca-Cola is the devil's brew but, like their teachers, who can collectively demolish a tin of Quality Street in one break time, putting the theory to practical use doesn't come easily.

I don't always notice what my children are eating, but I got to check out the lunchboxes on a recent school trip. Some were very healthy, others markedly less so. One child had three packets of crisps and a cheese string, one had two chocolate bars and a piece of cold pizza, another had what looked like half of last night's kebab. Clearly, some parents were taking the message of healthy-eating week with an inadvisably large pinch of salt.

But persuading them to encourage good eating habits is fraught with difficulties. For some, food is the burning issue in education today. We can test their children to within an inch of their lives, cancelling school plays and PE lessons to make way for endless Sats revision and you don't hear a murmur, but ban crisps or sugary drinks and they're storming the gates, complaining that we're violating their child's human rights.

The last time we sent a reminder out that drink bottles should be filled only with water I got a furious phone call from a parent telling me we had no right to dictate what she gave her child to drink. She was absolutely right - schools shouldn't be telling parents what to feed their children, but for those who hand out fizzy drinks for breakfast and send their offspring to school with a lunchbox filled with crisps and chocolate, a few pointers don't go amiss.

Food is an emotive issue. If you are struggling to control your kids, it is an easy way to bond with them. It can be used as a bribe, a reward and a way of asserting authority. For a parent who lacks confidence in their cooking skills and is struggling on a low income, a few Pot Noodles and a half-price bag of oven chips are a lot more appealing than organic veg and a free-range chicken.

Schools need some backup in educating parents about food without getting their backs up. They need Jamie Oliver. I'm a big fan of Jamie's. His school dinners campaign changed the food served in our school overnight. When other celebrity chefs were creating giant ice-cream cones out of enough ingredients to feed a village in India, Jamie was waging war on the Turkey Twizzler and staking his reputation on the ability of schools to deliver a healthy meal to children who classified a dollop of ketchup as one of their five-a-day.

May he continue to be a roaring success. And perhaps he can find time to help us with our human rights issues.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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