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School Note Criticizes Mom for Chocolate Cake in 3-Year-Old’s Lunch: ‘We Need to Be Careful About Food Shaming Children’

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Melinda Tankard Reist

A sweet treat isn’t always so sweet!

An Australian mom was in for a shock when her 3-year-old came home from school with a note of warning about the chocolate cake she included in her son’s lunch.

“Your child has chocolate slice from the Red Food category today,” the note, which also featured a big frowny face, read. “Please choose healthier options for Kindy.” (South Australian preschools are known as kindergartens, or “kindy.” )

The mom’s friend, author Melinda Tankard Reist, posted a photo of the note on her Facebook page last month with the caption: “My friend (mother of 8 healthy children, what follows relating to no. 7) received this today from her 3 year old’s kindy. I told her to put in two slices tomorrow and tell them to get lost.”

The post resulted in hundreds of comments from passionate parents on both sides of the issue.

Reist tells PEOPLE that her friend of 20 years, who has a degree in health science, made the cake for her son’s birthday. The leftover cake was divided among her children to take to school the next day.

“It seems the memo struck a chord with many parents,” Reist tells PEOPLE. “While many agreed we want to encourage healthy eating in children, the majority feeling was that this was poor communication, an interference in their parenting, was heavy-handed and could contribute to problems of food shaming in children.”

Reist says she understands the importance of healthy eating policies, but she’s concerned about where this approach might lead.

“We need to be very careful about contributing to food shaming in children, which can lead to harmful ideas about food and eating, contributing to body image issues,” she says. “There needs to be open communication in a way that while supportive of school policy on healthy eating, engages with parents in an open and positive way.”