By Ellen Sturm Niz
May 01, 2015
Girl eating lunch 36264

While I've never received a letter from the school about my daughter's lunch, I feel for Colorado mom Leeza Pearson, who was scolded for sending Oreos in her four-year-old's lunch last week. My third grader is a picky eater and not a fan of "typical" midday foods like PB&J or sandwiches of any kind, so we've tried a variety of things. One of those is slices of pepperoni along with cheese, crackers, and fruit. Very European, right? Maybe? In any case, my daughter came home once and chided me for the inclusion of unhealthy pepperoni, parroting a lunchroom aide who had criticized her lunch. Hey, lady, we're doing the best we can!

So I mostly understand why, when Pearson was out of fruit and vegetables one day last week, she just tossed a pack of Oreos in with a sandwich and some string cheese in her daughter Natalee's lunch bag. When the girl returned home from school, however, the cookies were untouched and accompanied by a stern letter:

"Dear Parents, it is very important that all students have a nutritious lunch. This is a public school setting and all children are required to have a fruit, a vegetable and a healthy snack from home, along with a milk. If they have potatoes, the child will also need bread to go along with it. Lunchables, chips, fruit snacks, and peanut butter are not considered to be a healthy snack. This is a very important part of our program and we need everyone's participation," read the note, provided to ABC News by Pearson.

I don't understand Pearson's logic in swapping in Oreos for fruit and veggies (maybe just extra string cheese next time?), but the school's reaction was uncalled for. While I appreciate a school looking out for the health and well-being of its students, this is a total overreaction. The occasional treat in a packed lunch is not a big deal, and parents should be able to include them as they see fit—within reason, of course. If her daughter had Oreos in her lunch every day, or consistently was given a lunch bag full of unhealthy items, then I'm totally on board with the school sending home a note expressing concern and offering advice on packing a well-balanced lunch. "Lunch shaming" the mom is not okay, though—nor do I think it's effective. The tone of the note the school sent home is off-putting and more likely to put a parent on the defensive than inspire change. Plus, the child should be left out of this exchange entirely. Don't embarrass her at the lunch table in front of her classmates, or prohibit her from eating what was packed. That's unnecessary.

I'm also not sure what kind of weird healthy eating rules the school is following. Other than the allergy issue, peanut butter can be a healthy snack, in moderation. And what's up with the potatoes-and-bread rule? Starch needs a starchy friend? That makes no sense. It sounds like Pearson's school has trouble following its own rules, too, having class parties with candy and giving jelly beans in the after-school program. Hypocrites much?

Look, neither parents nor schools are perfect. Moms and dads run out of time to stop at the store and re-stock everything for a healthy lunch. Schools want to celebrate special occasions with some treats. It's all good. Everything in moderation, right? Everyone just needs to R-E-L-A-X.

Ellen Sturm Niz is a New York City-based editor and writer who loves a good cheese plate. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Image: Girl eating lunch via Shutterstock