Our Kids Are Being Shoveled Full of Junk Food. So What Should We Do About It?
|June 28, 2013||Posted by Stacy under Classroom treats, Junk food, Junk food in school, Making change, Obesity, Sports snacks|
Last week, baseball season wrapped up for my 7-year-old with a rain-delayed game and an after-party featuring pizza and store-bought cake. The junk-food celebration might have fallen into the “special occasion” category except that, just two days earlier, the team had chowed down on brownies. (What some parents consider an appropriate “team snack,” I call dessert.).
Now, if that was it for junk for the week, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But it wasn’t. In addition to the baseball treats, my oldest scored big at a birthday party (hot dogs, chips, soda, cake and a chocolate, caramel and M&M-covered pretzel sent home in a goody bag), bike camp (soda and sports drinks for five days straight), and end-of-bike-camp festivities (hot dogs, Doritos, soda, frosted cookies).
At this stage of my mom career, I’ve ceased to be shocked by all the unhealthy edibles given to my kids. But that doesn’t mean that I’m OK with them. I’ve lobbied for healthier snacks with everyone from our sports and leagues coordinator to my kids’ camp director to the head of our children’s library. All this talk has. in fact, helped curb the junk a bit (hard to believe, but I have seen some improvement!). As evidenced by my 7-year-old’s week of junk food, however, there’s a lot more work to do.
So after much thought, I am left wondering: What exactly are we to do about the PROBLEM of shared food? Because it is a problem. It is a problem for kids with food allergies and sensitivities. It’s a problem for kids who are consuming way too much sugar, sodium, saturated and trans fats, artificial colors and preservatives. And it’s a problem for parents who are trying to teach their children good eating habits and losing the battle.
I know parents who have taught their kids to refuse junk food. I love the concept, but so far, it hasn’t worked in my house. I talk to my kids about what’s in their food and why we want to eat sweets in moderation. But when they are handed hyper-sweetened, neon-colored, factory-perfected junk, they want it. My kids are 5 and 7. They are young and hedonistic. Inevitably, their desire to consume unhealthy processed food scientifically formulated to appeal to them–and that they see their peers downing–outweighs any rational thought.
When it comes to kids and food, I do realize that I’m an outlier. Many parents don’t bat an eye at their kids’ consumption of chips, cookies, soda and other crap. Are they choosing to ignore the health warnings or do they not know better? It’s hard to say. Then there are the those who actually WANT their children to have all the junk, as one School Bites friend recently lamented on Facebook. “They remember summer being full of ice pops and candy and fun,” she wrote. “Except back then, ice pops were made at home in ice trays using orange juice and toothpicks and candy wasn’t filled with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors.”
So I’m throwing it out to the universe: What is the solution?!? As much as I wish that we could all just agree to feed each other’s kids healthy food, I realize that it will never happen. Individual views on food are just too different; not everyone has the same education, values or definition of “healthy.” I’ve long thought that schools and organizations dealing with children (including summer camps, sports leagues, after-school programs and church schools) should be required to have policies with regards to shared food. But would it solve the problem? How would it be determined what foods are OK to share? And how would the policies be communicated, monitored and enforced?
In most schools, students aren’t allowed to share food with one another for safety reasons but also to prevent the frenzy that can result from kids bartering and trading. At least one Virginia elementary school has adopted a “No Food Sharing” rule that has put an end to food swapping in the cafeteria as well as classroom birthday celebrations. The goal, according to the school, is to reduce the amount of unhealthy foods being consumed by students and the danger of life-threatening food allergies. Right now, I’m liking the sound of it.
No doubt, some people will read this post and think that I should just focus on what I’m feeding my kids at home. Some will say, “It’s just a little sugar—what’s the big deal?” Others might think, “Stop ruining everyone else’s fun.” My response to them: I disagree completely. This is not MY problem. It is a community problem. Every single one of us, from parents to baseball coaches to school principals, share the responsibility of making sure that ALL KIDS are well fed.
That much I am sure of. How we get there is the question.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic of shared food, so please scroll down and leave a comment. All viewpoints are welcome!