Goodbye, Healthy Classrooms. Hello, Cupcakes.
|January 21, 2016||Posted by Stacy under Classroom parties, Competitive foods, Cupcakes, Junk food in school, Making change, School parties, Wellness committee, Wellness policy|
I thought my days of kvetching about cupcakes were over. Last year, thanks to our new district wellness policy, my kids’ school parties looked like they’d been hacked from my Healthy School Party Food Pinterest board. Here, for example, is the spread at my then-3rd grader’s class Halloween party. Seriously, does it get any better?!?
But it’s a new year with new teachers. And as I’ve come to discover, not all are on board with the call for cupcake-free parties. So after years of fighting for healthy school food, I seem to be back at square one in my kids’ classrooms. I can honestly say that I didn’t see this coming.
WHAT WENT WRONG?!?
If you’ve been following my saga from the beginning, you know that my kids’ school was junk food central a few years ago. I’m talking shocking amounts! Practically every birthday, holiday party and school event was celebrated with cupcakes, donuts, ice cream or candy. On top of that, we had monthly bake sales, movie nights and other junk-filled fundraisers.
Fortunately, in 2014, we managed to pass a new district wellness policy, got a grant and did lots of teacher and parent education (see Healthy Classrooms Initiative and Frustrated by Junk Food at Your Child’s School? How I Fought Back–and Won). Not everyone was happy, of course; some teachers, parents and students complained. Still, the healthy changes were immediate and dramatic. Almost overnight, we went from a revolving door of cupcakes and other sugary junk to basically none–at least in my kids’ three classrooms.
At the start of this school year, I expected more of the same. So when I didn’t see a single word about the classroom food policy communicated by either our district office or my kids’ school, I consulted our school principal, who agreed to send out a flyer. Despite his seeming receptivity, the flyer never came. Before I knew it, donuts, cupcakes and cookies were appearing in my 7-year-old twins’ classroom.
Very gently and respectfully, I reached out to their teacher, who responded with a curt email. Let’s just say that she has no intention to adhere to our district policy, which calls for “non-food items” or foods that meet district nutrition standards. Her tone (and suggestion that I instead focus my energy on improving the cafeteria food) made me realize that it was a lost cause. I immediately backed off.
Since then, I have spoken to our school principal again (who reassured me that he would remind his staff and parents of the classroom food recommendations—which, eventually, he did but it was buried in our December school newsletter and showed little conviction). I also met with our district superintendent and a school board trustee, who listened but took no action. Meanwhile, the classroom cupcake parade continues.
Our new district wellness policy seemed like a huge win at the time. And I still believe policy is a crucial piece of the puzzle (with education being the other big piece). However, we failed to create a long-term plan for communicating it. Parents, students and staff can’t be expected to adhere to a policy that they don’t know about.
While we succeeded writing and passing a strong policy, it was not widely accepted. We expected some backlash, but didn’t foresee the utter refusal of quite a few teachers (particularly those who have been around for awhile) to comply. (And I can’t help but ask, what kind of example does this set for students?).
All schools participating in the National School Lunch Program are required to have a wellness policy (see Getting Junk Food Out of School: How Your School District Wellness Policy Can Help) that includes goals for classroom food, nutrition education and more. I do believe this is a good thing. But school districts may need support to create policies that are meaningful and effective. And if district administration and school staff aren’t on board, healthy change is unlikely.
After all this, you don’t think I’m going to just GIVE UP–do you? Not a chance. While I haven’t taken it as far as our state board of education (see What to Do if Your School Wellness Policy Isn’t Being Enforced), I will continue to advocate for healthy class parties and fundraisers.
This fall, I joined our district wellness committee, which plans to develop a marketing campaign to INSPIRE (rather than FORCE) good nutrition, physical activity and social-emotional wellness. It will likely be a slow process, but I’m in it for the long haul. Because our kids need and deserve to be healthy.
As much as possible, I try to make this blog positive and inspiring, to offer hope to other parents that change is possible. But I also want to keep it real about the difficulty in changing the food culture at a school. Ultimately, my hope is that others can learn from my successes–and mistakes.
While food-free birthdays and fruit– and veggie-filled parties may not be happening this school year, there’s still a lot to feel good about. Many teachers and parents in our district are making an effort to serve healthier food in the classroom. Our monthly bake sales are no longer. We ditched our traditional wrapping paper and candy fundraiser for a fresh local foods FarmRaiser that has been incredibly successful. Our 4th Annual Rainbow Day is coming up in March.
So all I can say is: TAKE THAT, CUPCAKES!! Enjoy your time in the spotlight while you still can. Because your days are numbered.
Are you struggling to implement healthy changes in your school? What has worked or not worked for you? Please share your experience in the comments below!
Before Taking on Junk Food at Your Kid’s School, READ THIS
The Ultimate School District Wellness Policy: From Classroom Parties to Junk Food Ads
A Year of Healthy Class Parties Planning Guide for Parents & Teachers