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Thursday, 18 July 2013

Sister Points

A couple of days ago, I spontaneously awarded Josie 5 Big Sister Points.

At the time it was just an off-hand remark, in response to her considerate comforting of her sister when Lori had fallen off her scooter for the millionth time that day, and I was too occupied with getting us all along the road in time for holiday club and school to give Lori the sympathy she felt she deserved.

Josie did give her that sympathy, and it was helpful for me, and kind to her sister. So I awarded some points. I've never done this before, it's not like sister points are a thing in our house. But despite that unfamiliarity, Josie's affinity with them was immediate:

"Oooh. Sister points! And five of them."

Later on in the walk, Lori helped Josie in return. She got some too. They both jumped up and down, cheering:

"Hurray, we've both got five now!"

The concept of reward for helpfulness isn't foreign to them. We do have a pocket money system, which is based on the doing of household chores, helpful tasks, perfect play-throughs of piano tunes, and things like that. Pocket money can also be lost, through extreme naughtiness (not that much of a problem) or laziness (more of a problem, thay are little Laws after all).

Sister points are not like pocket money, I've decided. They can't be pre-awarded for specific tasks ("Share that toy, and you'll get a sister point), they can't be docked ("You weren't nice to your sister, 5 points off"), they're just a spontaneous and fun way of saying, "Well done!", which my two have really taken to. The important thing is that they are unexpected and not-looked-for. I don't want two girls who are only kind to each other for a reward, and we certainly don't have that at the moment.

So, it begs the questions...should I allow conversion of sister points into something tangible? Should I keep a formal tally of sister points? If I did, it would be a shared pool. Sister points are not a competition.

Or does that miss the point of Sister Points? Should I keep them just as a fun, light-hearted, and a bit of a silly way to gameify life?

Friday, 12 July 2013

Don't Pack In Our Children's Packed Lunches

Today a report has been published which calls for the government to consider banning packed lunches.

Apparently, parents are providing sub-standard meals, which aren’t as nutritious as the school meals being offered at school. Media reports are claiming that the report (written by owners of a restaurant chain) calls for packed lunches to be banned, and for school meals to be compulsory, and free for everyone.

On the one hand I applaud them for trying to improve the nutritional intake of our children, and doing it while also trying to reduce the cost of raising them. It is sorely needed. When I was on a zoo trip with Lori’s class one child had Nutella on white bread for their sandwich, with crisps, followed by a chocolate bar for afters. I’m mortified if I send my two in with only fruit and no veg, let alone junk food that’s so inappropriate for a child’s packed lunch that it would be funny if it wasn't so sad. On the other hand, for the majority of parents.

I think that a simple comparison between a packed lunch and a school dinner is misleading, and the proposed solutions address the symptom of a disease (parents provide bad lunches) rather than a disease itself (parents don’t know/don’t care what should be in a healthy lunch).

 I’ll confess, I have an inherent bias TOWARDS to school dinners, while growing up, I always had them, and I sent my children to school assuming that I would always buy them school dinners too. It was convenient, relatively cheap (only £1.75 a day), and they’d be assured of a balanced meal.

I was wrong. It was convenient and cheap, but over time I began to suspect that they were not getting a healthy, nutritious, and filling meal made to the standards I would expect.

To illustrate, let’s compare a normal Lindsay-prepared lunchbox with the reports I would get from the children on what they would eat in their school dinners:

Lunchbox: 1 wholemeal sandwich or roll, with a reduced sugar jam, ham, or cheese. Usually eaten
Ham label checked to ensure welfare standards met for piggies. Usually eaten.
Batons of fresh cucumber. Usually eaten.
Red Pepper strips: Usually eaten.
Banana: Almost always eaten
Yoghurt tube/fruit winder/biscuitty bar: Always eaten
Babybel cheese: Always eaten
Orange or apple juice, squash, or water: Always drunk

Anything that isn’t eaten at lunchtime is consumed at after-school club or on the way home under Daddy orders. There’s normally no wastage, and we know exactly what they have or haven’t eaten. This has been absolutely critical with 2 children who tend towards anxiety over eating food in rushed scenarios (and the school lunch hall is loud, and rushed, and stressful), but who are not cunning or naughty enough to hide food and pretend they ate it.

And when they go to school lunches?

Well, the comments below are real ones that I have had back over the course of my lunch investigations:

Josie: I had a quorn burger.

Wow. Processed soya on a white bun. Great.

Josie: I had a baked potato with cheese, but the cheese tasted funny and so I didn’t eat it. Mr Devine [the head teacher] had it too and he agreed with me.

So, she ate the potato bit then had a sponge pudding with custard for after.

Lori: I had a baked potato with cheese, but I got up to go to the toilet and when I came back it had been cleared away and I didn’t know who to ask for more so I just went out to play.

She had no lunch.

Josie: I had strawberry milk to drink.

Filled with sugar. There’s a history of diabetes in the family. I try to minimise these types of hidden sugars in foods that people think are “healthy”.

Lori: Sausages! I didn’t eat my beans.

Oh great. More processed pork.

Josie: There was hardly anything left by the time I got down to eat, so I just had mashed potatoes and sausages.

See above.

There wasn’t a single day where one of them came home and described a meal that had more than a tiny portion of fresh fruit and vegetables in it, or meat that I could be assured was good quality.

My own golden rule when I maked the packed lunches, that I never break, is that I always must put at least three portions of fresh fruit and veg in the packed lunch (and it’s usually 4 or 5), and my bread product must always be wholemeal. The same can’t be said for the school dinner provision: - they might offer fruit and veg, but no one is making sure the children are either:

a) Selecting the healthy option
b) Actually eating the healthy option

And parents don’t know, because anything uneaten is just tipped into a bin. Furthermore, my house has more rules: all eggs free-range, all milk organic, meat from suppliers who are committed to animal welfare.

With school dinners, I have no control over those choices I can make at home. And at £1.75 per child, I highly doubt their using free-range eggs in their muffins.

To me, to ban packed lunches is completely missing the point about what the issue is: teaching parents on budgets how to feed their children healthily, and cheaply.

If some parents aren’t providing their children with healthy and nutritional packed lunches, then educate the parents and treat the underlying issue in the family!

 Don’t penalise the parents like us, who are trying our best to give our children fresh fruit and vegetables, and a healthy attitude to food. We aren’t being helped at all by a privatised school meal system which is failing to provide a decent standard of food, and our children would get much worse food if you forced us to take school dinners.

Further, if you don’t fix the underlying problem, what happens when the children go home? Sure, they might get one vaguely nutritious meal a day at school (and I am not convinced they would anyway), but if the family keeps on eating nuggets and chips for dinner every single day then it’s not really helping much.

Ultimately, plans to ban packed lunches smacks of big business dressing up their interests as a welfare concern. I’m sure all those school meal providers would be rubbing their hands with glee at the idea of millions more captive consumers, paid for by the state, all of whom have no opportunity to opt out or object if the standards are poor.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Taste of Victory

When you’re trying hard to balance a proper, grown-up career with the challenge of being a good Mum to two children, sometimes things become a bit overwhelming. It’s easy to feel a bit down-hearted when something goes wrong, and even though I know there are things I could do to make it easier, I just really don’t like making packed lunches before I go to bed.

Which is silly, because every parent knows that time passes much more quickly in the morning that it does at night. 07:25 becomes 08:25 in far less than an hour, I’m sure of it. My children don’t exactly help. As my own mother would have put it when I was growing up:

 “These children have two speeds. Dead slow and stop.”

Andrew will attest that this is absolutely true. While other children might actively source their own clothes, my two just seem to sit there, and wait. And wait. And wait. I’d do an experiment to see how long I could leave it before they actually got their own clothes and got ready, but I know it would be futile. We’d be late. Every day.

I’ve tried lots of things: no TV until breakfast is finished and clothes are on, no reading until the same, but they don’t really work. The only thing that does is constant chivvying, and that’s quite wearing on me and them:

“Eat up. Drink up. Get your clothes. Where’s your school bag? Have you remembered your homework folder?”

It just goes on and on and on.

So, this morning, because it was holiday club, not school, we adopted a slightly more leisurely approach to getting ready. Didn’t work. Lori ended up in floods of tears because I wouldn’t let her wear her ripped, dirty cat outfit to Carnival Day, and Josie selected a pair of trousers that, at my primary school, would have led to taunts of “Half-masts!”.

Undaunted, I cheered Lori up with proper half-masts, and a bandana that makes her look like a pirate, and then we tumbled on to a very rare thing for us in the morning: a bus.

I felt quite smug. 6 different fruits and veg in the packed lunch (count ‘em: cucumber, tomato, red pepper, raspberries, banana, and a plum), and as a treat, a reduced-sugar jam roll. A bus that meant I wouldn’t be late for work. And two adorable children pretending (Lori) and actually (Josie) reading about Andy Murray’s victory in the tennis and then telling a lovely old pensioner how Mummy had paid for Andy Murray to win Wimbledon (not true, but my employer has been one of his sponsors right from the start of his career, and they had noticed the RBS badge on his shirt and this was Lori’s interpretation of that fact).

Bus over, and smugness lasted for about 5 seconds. Which is how long it took me to realise that something was a bit different about Lori.

“Where’s your rucksack?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Aaaaaaaah!” she replied, “It’s on the bus!”

I delivered her to after-school club, and they said they would source a lunch from the shop down the road. But I wasn’t satisfied. I had made that packed lunch, and it had 6 different kinds of fruit and veg in it!

I couldn’t wait for it to be picked up from the depot. So, I set about finding the bag bus with the aid of the Lothian bus timetable, and the Bustracker app. The 09:23 36 at Broughton Primary School gets to Holyrood at 09:52. The next 36 after that to leave Holyrood is 10:02. The bus driver would be the same, because I know they change outside the Primary School on the way back, and they aren’t on a route that goes passed the depot. On its way back, the 36 goes right past my work. All I needed to do was work out which bus it would be, and wait for it out there. I figured it would be the 10:29, just off Dundas Street, so I ducked out of my 10 o’ clock meeting a little early and went over to wait.

And what do you know? There it was. A black Hello Kitty bag with white stars, and a very surprised bus driver.

No-one had ever tracked down their own lost property on his bus before. But 6 fruit and veg!

I called After-School Club, in some jubilance, to arrange a drop-off, but they hadn’t believed that I would get it back. They’d already bought her a ham roll and some more fruit. No need for me to drop it off.

Never mind. I know what I’m having for lunch today, and the taste of victory is sweet (well, reduced-sugar jam sweet).