Speaking Up for Healthy School Food: A Letter to the Principal—and His Response
|March 22, 2013||Posted by Stacy under Cupcakes, Improving school food, Junk food in school, School parties|
I’m taking a big deep breath right now. I’d planned another post for today but something came up. You see, a couple weeks ago, I sent an email to my first grader’s principal about the junk food problem at the school. Yesterday, I got his response. More on that in a minute.
Just so you know, I feel very fortunate to have a principal who values healthy eating. Seriously, he really gets it! And he has taken steps to encourage more nutritious noshes at parties. He believes positive encouragement is the way to go and feels creating policies about food would result in more parental push-back.
Do I feel like his efforts have helped? Yes, a little. But I still see a preponderance of junk food flowing freely down the hallways. I know that change is happening, but it is slow. And it’s really hard for me to sit around and watch helplessly as my children are loaded up with sugary processed gunk at school of all places.
Bottom line: Our system is broken, and I believe that the best way to fix it is through a combination of education and policy. We can encourage parents to bring in healthy food. We can suggest group birthday celebrations and non-food rewards. But to really get people to comply and make a lasting difference? I say, put it in writing!
My Email to the Principal
I spent a good hour crafting my letter to the principal—I really wanted it to have the right message and tone. Using this sample from Red, Round or Green as a guide, I started by explaining how much we love the school and my son’s teacher (it’s true!) and thanking him for his hard work and all the ways that he supports wellness at the school.
In my email, I was polite but candid about all the unhealthy food circulating around the school. To make my point, I listed all the junk that my son’s class had chowed down on and that had been served at PTA events during the month of February. I mentioned sugar intake, excess calories and the dangers of artificial food dyes.
After building my case, I included a call for action. At the beginning of the school year, the principal put a paragraph in the student handbook requesting parents to bring healthy snacks to classroom parties. Would he be willing to reprint it in the bi-weekly news bulletin? I also inquired whether parents could receive advance notice when food was to be served in the classroom. This would allow us to talk to our kids about how to incorporate the treats into their day and plan around them.
Finally, I raised the idea of placing a cap on classroom parties involving food. That way, kids (and parents) could still have their beloved cupcakes, just not quite as often. Having guidelines to limit the frequency of parties would help create consistency throughout the school and (hopefully!) give teachers the conviction to say “No” to parents bearing trays of sugary goodies.
The Principal’s Response
Well, it wasn’t all bad. He agreed with most of what I had to say, which was reassuring. He brought up his own concerns over genetically modified foods (which I hadn’t even mentioned!). He was amenable to the idea of placing nutrition reminders in the school news bulletin. He acknowledged that it was sensible to curb the number of birthday celebrations and change the culture of how birthdays and other occasions are celebrated. And he promised to discuss my concerns with the staff.
However, he remains firm in his conviction that the best way to initiate change is through education, not policy. For every parent like me who wants less junk food in the classroom, there are two or three more who are offended that someone is trying to control their choices, he explained. He believes trying to initiate change through the implementation of too many policies and regulations would only strengthen their resistance.
Final Food For Thought
Though it didn’t change much, I’m glad that I sent the letter. I am going to put it into the category of Planting the Seed. I did fire back a response to his email but he didn’t write back. Yes, I could be more forceful and demanding, but I don’t want to alienate a potential ally. Plus, the principal seems resolute about not implementing new policy. At this point, I feel it’s better to bide my time and working on trying to get the school district to strengthen our district wellness policy.
Meanwhile, I am left with some hard questions that I’m going to file away for my next interaction:
• Why is it OK to have a policy that prohibits students from wearing baseball caps inside the building but not one to limit junk food (which is known to be bad for our kids’ health)?
• Does it make sense to leave decisions about classroom food to individual teachers who may or may not value healthy eating? Is it realistic or fair to ask them to play food cop?
• If more health-conscious parents spoke up, would administrators consider creating a policy to limit the availability of junk food? Doesn’t the mountain of scientific evidence on my side count for anything?
• Why should another parent’s right to distribute junk food at school supersede my desire for a healthy family?
What do you think about the idea of having a school policy that limits the number of food parties? Should every school have nutrition standards for foods served in the classroom? Please weigh in!