Making lunches for my three kids can be excruciating. One likes apples but not other fruit. One likes bananas, but only if they’re not too ripe (how ripe is too ripe depends entirely on mood). And one only likes raspberries, but they get squishy by lunchtime so now the only plant matter I can pack is carrot sticks.
Thankfully each of them likes Vegemite sandwiches.
But each and every day my kids come home with leftovers in their lunchboxes they either didn’t feel like or didn’t get time to eat. And once those yoghurt pouches and cheese sticks have sweated it out in a lunchbox for a day, they are no good to anyone.
My eldest daughter has a friend in her class who she says never has much lunch at all.
“I don’t think her family can afford much food,” my daughter told me. “She won’t admit she’s hungry and take some of my lunch but I know she is.”
Stuff like that breaks my heart because there isn’t much I can do about it, but I continue to pack a little bit extra in my daughter’s lunchbox just in case.
But one school in the US has come up with a wonderful idea to ensure kids are eating what they want to eat, and that no child goes hungry.
It’s called a Share Table.
Basically, a table is set up in the middle of the lunch room, where children can put items from their lunchbox they don’t want, and perhaps pick up something they would prefer to eat. And children who don’t have enough to eat can simply help themselves to more food.
One woman whose kids attend the school is Katy Anderson, and she wrote about it for Babble.
“I often worry that my son is not eating enough at school,” Katy wrote, “but now those fears have been diminished. With the share table in place, I know that if he doesn’t want to eat what I packed for him, he may pick up something off the table (even if it’s not the healthy snack I had hoped he’d devour).
“I also try to pack extra food and encourage my kids to place it, and anything else they won’t eat, on the share table so that another child will be nourished.”
Katy also said she spoke to the school lunch manager, Melinda Shearer, who told her the program had been beneficial. Melinda said there are simple rules in place to ensure the Share Table system works safely and fairly.
- You can only take one item at a time.
- You can’t share food from home that isn’t pre-packaged.
- Perishable foods are checked carefully.
- Fruit must be whole, not cut into pieces.
- No adults are allowed to participate in the Share Table.
Staff also keep an eye on students who are known to have allergies, to ensure they are kept safe.
Melinda said the program had been especially helpful for older students who often have a larger appetite and not enough lunch.
With our more spread-out approach to lunches in Australia, and students sitting all over campus to eat, the challenge of a Share Table may be greater. But with a shady central location, it could still be a solution to a whole lot of lunch problems. It would be wonderful to see our schools considering a similar program here.