Frustrated by Junk Food at Your Child’s School? How I Fought Back–and Won
|November 13, 2014||Posted by Stacy under Classroom parties, Food rewards, Healthy classroom treats, Improving school food, Junk food in school, Making change, Teachers, Wellness policy|
Three years ago, I was a mom fed up with all the junk food that my kids were getting at school. From cupcake and ice cream parties to Froot Loop necklaces and McDonald’s field trips, it felt like they were being handed unhealthy processed food left and right–the very foods that we were trying hard to avoid. A couple moms with older kids told me not to bother trying to change it–the situation was hopeless. I didn’t listen.
Flash forward to today, and my kids’ classrooms are essentially junk-food free. Instead of cookies and donuts, they have clementine pumpkins and apple tastings. Birthdays are celebrated with additional recess or a healthy snack such as popcorn–not cupcakes. Ice cream and candy rewards? Now, they get a pajama party or extra time on the playground.
Changing the food environment at a school–or an after-school program, childcare center, or summer camp–is rarely quick and easy. But it’s necessary if we are going to reverse rising rates of childhood obesity, diabetes and other deadly health problems threatening our children. Since every school district is different, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. I personally tried many avenues (from starting a wellness committee to talking to my kids’ teachers and their school principal) with hit-or-miss results before joining forces with a local registered dietitian and other concerned moms for the big win.
HOW WE DITCHED THE JUNK FOOD
What finally worked was a stronger district wellness policy combined with teacher education (SEE Healthy Classrooms Initiative: Educating Teachers on Healthy School Celebrations, Non-Food Rewards & More). I managed to get a spot on a committee that was convened to update our policy according to the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. Not all district officials wanted to do away with cupcakes–one even argued that junk-food celebrations can be an important part of cultural traditions. But we had enough support on the committee to push it through. We then found a grant to help launch our Healthy Classrooms Initiative, which helped ensure that the policy was directly communicated to all staff.
At my kids’ school, the new policy was announced at the start of the school year. Our principal issued a strong message to parents: Cupcakes, cookies and brownies do not meet our district nutrition standards and shouldn’t be served at parties. Some teachers balked–particularly those in the habit of using candy as an incentive. But to my knowledge, there hasn’t been a ton of push back from parents. In fact, I’ve heard many say that they’re pleased with the change. Rumor has it other schools in our district have experienced more of an uproar.
I figure it’s like the seat belt law. Some people were outraged at first, yet we all now wear them without giving it a second thought. And every day, lives are saved.
All I know is, since the change, my kids are eating better and demanding less junk food (shocker, yes!). They actually eat their lunch at school and are hungry for a healthy after-school snack. Their teachers have come up with ways to reward them without dishing out ice cream or candy. And now, every once in a while, I can treat them to special dessert (whereas before I felt like I never could) and relax on holidays like Halloween.
And it isn’t just about MY kids: Think of the potential difference it’s making for children who don’t have access to healthy food at home.
So to all of you who are working hard to change the food environment in your classrooms and schools, KEEP FIGHTING! (SEE Calling All Moms: How YOU Can Make a Difference in the Fight for Healthier School Food). Trust me, I know how arduous and frustrating it can be. There are plenty of times that it felt hopeless. So every time a door shuts, please take a deep breath and look for a window (or a chimney–thank you, Fear Nada Healthy Mama!). And remember that change IS possible.
Are you fed up with junk food at your child’s school? What, if anything, are you doing to fight back? Please scroll down to leave a comment!