Rant of the Day: Please Stop Feeding My Kids Junk Food at School!
|February 7, 2013||Posted by Stacy under Junk food in school|
Last night at dinner, my first grader described the big cupcake that he ate yesterday at school in honor of a classmate’s birthday. Between bites of pasta mixed with spinach-walnut pesto, he offered a detailed account of chocolate cake, colored sprinkles and a copious pile of frosting. I, of course, couldn’t help but wince. Because, you see, his class had chowed down on cupcakes just last Friday. And over the weekend, he’d attended a birthday party with (you guessed it!) more cupcakes.
Yesterday morning, in another part of the school, the monthly Food & Fun nutrition class for the 5th grade was held. New as of this school year, the lessons are designed to teach kids about healthy eating through interactive lessons and food tastings. Volunteers had cooked up a delicious treat for students made with fresh apples and blueberries. But most of the kids never even sampled it because they’d arrived eating chocolate cupcakes and eclairs from a classroom birthday celebration.
As some of you may know, it was frustration over the constant parade of junk food at my son’s elementary school that inspired me to start this blog in the first place. That was last April. When 2012–2013 school year began, it felt like things were looking up. We’d successfully launched a Wellness Committee that was producing a monthly newsletter and distributing healthy classroom snack ideas. The principal put a statement in the school handbook requesting nutritious nibbles at parties. And my son’s wellness-minded teacher announced that group birthday celebrations (with healthy snacks only, please!) would be held once a month.
The first sign of trouble came at the end of October, when a parent decided that cookie decorating would be a killer idea for the class Halloween party. Before I could say a word, another mom had signed up to bring supplies. What resulted is the neon-colored monstrosity (which I’ve nicknamed the Halloween Cookie Massacre) pictured above. Six weeks later, cookie decorating was again the featured activity at the class Christmas party. But this time, I offered to bring the goods—small whole-wheat gingerbread cookies with a simple white glaze and naturally colored sprinkles.
But anyway…last night’s tale of cupcakes left me scratching my head and pondering: How is this OK?!? Is it really fair to parents who are working hard to get their kids to eat healthy? Is it fair to our kids, who are being handed crappy food right and left, who are counting on us adults to teach them how to feed their bodies and stay healthy? Is it fair to the children with food allergies, who are being excluded from the unannounced sugar orges? Is it fair to me, who woke up at 5 a.m. to pack my child a nutritious lunch only to have it come home uneaten?
Some people will say, “It’s just a cupcake—relax!” But they may not have factored in the M&Ms that my child got from the school bus driver. Or the frosted cookie that Grandma gave him after school. Or the Skittles that he scored at the bank. Or the Oreos that another mom handed him after hockey practice. As parents, we can do everything that we can to teach our children to make good food choices. But mine are at the age that they’re not able to make good choices on their own. Most adults find it difficult, if not impossible, to resist the lure of junk food. How on earth can we expect it from young kids?
As a parent, I have a choice whether or not to let my kids go to birthday parties. Of course, I let them go. And when I do, I realize that they’re probably going to be fed a lot of sugar and junk. I am OK with that (sort of). But I don’t have a choice about whether or not to send my children to school. So when I send them, I expect them to be well cared for–which means being fed good quality food, not highly processed, sugary blech.
I realize that many people don’t like the idea of having rules regulating classroom food. And educators often don’t want to rock the boat. My son’s school has decided to go the way of “positive encouragement.” But I fear that it isn’t enough. At this point, I think the best chance that we have of changing the food environment at our schools is with stronger policies—at the federal, state and local level. Research shows that strong policies specifying the kinds of foods that can be served at school can be very effective. So my next goal is to try to get our school district to strengthen its wellness policy (which is weak and outdated). I will be posting more about it in the coming weeks.
As I’m discovering, it is very hard to make change, even in a relatively healthy community like mine. People are ingrained in their ways. Traditions (like celebrating achievements with an ice-cream party or serving hot dogs, cookies and cocoa at the school Skate Night) are passed along from year to year. Some parents and educators just don’t see a problem with all the junk food; others know it isn’t good but don’t feel strongly enough to do anything about it; still others are wary of speaking their mind.
There have been many ups and downs since I started my crusade. I know that it’s important to take them in stride, keep smiling, and continue moving forward. So that’s what I plan to do. As frustrating as it may be, I’m not ready to give up. I do believe that even small things like dropping off a bag of apples for your child’s class to snack on can make a difference. But for true change to happen, I think government officials and school administrators will need to wake up to the seriousness of the problem and take a firmer stance.
In the meantime, I encourage those of you who care about this issue to speak up! Talk to other parents, try to identify allies and ask for their support. Ask your child’s teacher to encourage healthy snacks or limit classroom parties to once a month. Talk to your school principal and your parent’s association about ways to improve the quality of the food at school events. Find out if your school has a wellness committee and request to be on it. Check your school district wellness policy to see if it meets federal requirements (and if not, ask if you can be involved in updating it). Be polite and professional, but no matter what, don’t back down!
And that’s my rant of the day!
P.S. If you have any thoughts or insights on how to create a healthier school, please leave them in the comments section. I love getting feedback, and it could be helpful to other readers.
“Is it fair to me, who got up at 5am to pack a healthy lunch, only to have it come home uneaten?” (Paraphrasing because of iPhone’s tiny screen). Wow, I never thought of it that way! A little righteous indignation can get you far — so go one with your bad self!
As the mom of a food coloring sensitive kid, I cringe at a lot of the goodies passed out in a typical 3rd grade week. And it’s not lost on me that most of the consumption is either the last 15 minutes or on the way out the door. So gee, thanks teachers for basically poisoning my kid and then sending out to me to deal with the effects. Much obliged.
That’s the end of my rant. Not as good as yours, but it’s what I got. 🙂
PS I love your blog!
Thank you so much, Emily! I think food coloring and other artificial ingredients are a big problem, so I’m glad you mentioned them. I appreciate you stopping by–and I like your rant! 🙂
Teach your kid to eat better -
I honestly don’t remember getting this much junk food when I was in elementary school (junior high and high school were different because we didn’t have parties, but we could buy it from the school). I don’t have kids yet, but when I do I plan on taking your advice and teaching them about eating healthy and getting on the wellness board. Thank you for sharing your story.
I don’t remember getting that much junk food, either, but I asked my old elementary school principal and he said that birthdays were, in fact, celebrated with cupcakes. Thanks for coming by the blog and the words of encouragement!
Frankly, why do you expect schools to feed your kids anyway? When did this all start. And if you can’t get up and prepare a mean for your kids 3 times a day, then don’t have any more kids. Do they have a father? Get real..the government doesn’t owe you anything in way of food daily and then feed your kids during the summer. If you want them to eat on a free dime then take what the tax payers give you and quit having kids you cannot afford.
This is why I give my kids money when they say :no thank you” to the sugary treats they’re offered at school. I have had some success with strengthening school wellness policies for things like not using food as a reward, healthier celebrations and healthier fundraising but it’s taken a lot of time and work. In the meantime, knowing my kids are taking care of themselves helps me stick with it and they’re developing good skills for when they’re older.
Casey, I will stick with it and hope that the “time and work” pay off as it has for you. Thanks for all your support!
Don’t give up, keep smiling and killing them with your kindness and endless energy to make a difference. I am lucky enough to live in area where healthy eating is majority so it’s not as bad in school.
Why not put togather 10 healthy recipes for treats and hand them out to moms in your class. Take recipes and give credit, but from Jessica Sienfield and all the others out there. They may see they are just as easy to make. Part it is lazy and people are scared to make new things. Bring the blueberry bars from Jessica’s book and that will change minds.
Good luck and keep up the fight.
Great idea, Doug. I did provide a list of healthy treat ideas but it’s going out to the teachers, not to parents. I may take your advice and give it directly to our class mom. Thanks for all your support!
We ate all of this stuff as kid and we are all ok! Let our poor kids be kids once in a while and celebrate a birthday at school! I am all for healthy eating but come on enough is enough already!
I’m not sure how you can say that “we are all ok.” According to the CDC, 36 percent of U.S. adults are obese; another 33 percent are overweight. An estimated 11.3 percent of U.S. adults have diabetes and that number is expected to rise in the coming decades. Children are now starting to show signs of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. And the number of kids testing positive for diabetes or pre-diabetes has tripled in the past decade. As for the people who ate all that stuff as a kid and are, in fact, now OK…think of it this way: My parents both smoked for years and never developed lung cancer. Fortunately, they quit 30 years ago. But knowing what we know now, they would never do it again!
The average American eats 3 pounds of sugar a WEEK in processed foods, their sodas, breads, cookies and crackers. Also included is the refined flours that convert to sugar once eaten, pasta, white flours, etc.
It wasn’t so long ago (50’s) that the average American ate 5 pounds of sugar in a YEAR. Something is definitely wrong with how we eat today. Go Stacy!
I agree, there is something very wrong with it. I recently saw a stat that kids eat 35 to 50 percent of their total daily calories at school. That’s why I think it’s the perfect place to try to instill some healthy habits. Thanks for coming by the blog and for offering your take, Jessica!!
Unfortunately, it’s not just once in a while. I would agree with you if that were the case. My daughter’s in Kindergarten and I’m astounded at the amount of food that gets served outside of the breakfast and lunch periods. Her teacher does a good job of including healthy snacks in the party as well, but I just don’t see why there need to be snacks at all. Why can’t we reward them with extra recess time and a fun activity? Once in a while is truly ok, but it’s actually far more often than that and in multiple places, like Stacy noted.
Yes, we survived a weekly celebration involving cupcakes and cookies. We also got outside to play, not parked on the couch with the ipad or video game. Well at least those of us born before 1980. Times have changed, so we do need to change along with it. But really, taking away fun treats from kids is not solving the adult problem of being lazy, choosing convenience foods, or over eating. You said yourself, Stacy, that you feed you child healthy at home. There is the BALANCE.
PJ: You’re right, I do feed my kids healthy at home. Or try to. But why does that make it OK for other people to load them up with unhealthy food? A cupcake or cookie every once in a while would be fine, but it’s happening a couple times a week or more at school. Factor in all the junk food events outside of school (school functions, sports practices, holidays, etc.) and provided by relatives and friends, and it becomes WAY more than the recommendations set forth by nutrition experts. I am not suggesting that we take fun treats away from kids. All I’m asking for is moderation. And I’d prefer to be the one serving the fun treats to my kids. As it is, I’m being denied that right. When treats are served at school without any prior warning, it also becomes impossible for parents to talk to their kids about how to fit them into their day and try to create a healthy BALANCE. I’m working hard to teach my kids how to handle all the junk food that gets thrown at them every day. Our rule is one small treat daily, and when we know that we’re going to go to a party with lots of treats, we plan for it by, say, skipping dessert the night before. So if you take the time to try and understand my viewpoint, perhaps you will see that limiting junk food at school might make sense. School is just one of the many places that they are having junk food thrust on them. And if we know that they are mostly eating well while they are at school, then it would be easier to relax about the countless other scenarios involving junk food that occur during the day.
Well said! As frustrating as it is, please take a little comfort in the fact that some of out here reading this post feel EXACTLY the same way. You are so right, we have to be more active in our communities and vociferous in the schools about this issue. My daughter’s valentine’s day party is coming up next week in nursery school and I am tempted to let her skip school that day. I don’t want to alienate her from activities though, so it is such a dilemma.
Annie, thank you so much! It is VERY comforting to know that other people feel the same way. I sometimes feel like I’m the only one who cares, at least at our school. And I know what you mean about wanting to skip the junk-food events. I think all you can do is to try to teach her, through the foods you provide and the explanations that you give her, about making healthy choices. Nursery school is a little too young for her to fully understand, but you’ll be planting the roots for her later on.
Go, Stacy! My kids aren’t in public school yet (next year), but I’m anticipating similar battles, so I will be checking in with your blog to get ideas. I wholeheartedly agree with what you are saying and doing. P.S. Can you do a post on healthy Valentine’s Day snacks? I need to bring a healthy snack to my boys’ preschool party.
Thanks mucho for your support, Suzanne! I posted ideas for a healthy Valentine’s Day celebration last week. Here’s the link: http://school-bites.com/healthy-valentines-day-treats-school-party/
[…] last week’s rant, I guess it’s no secret that I’m no fan of junk food in school (with the exception of […]
Kudos for your efforts to get healthier foods at your child’s school!
My organization just launched a new website, http://www.BagtheJunk.org, to educate, mobilize, and empower members of the school community to replace junk snack foods and sugary drinks with healthier options. The site provides free advocacy tools such as organizing tips, policy briefs, fact sheets, and sample letters and features current news, trends, and thoughts from experts in the field. I encourage you and your readers to check it out!
Lisa — Thanks so much for stopping by. I recently heard about your organization. I will definitely check it out and may be in touch to find out more!
[…] I ask of any Naysayers. Before calling parents like me Food Nazis or saying things like “We ate all this stuff as kids and are all OK!,” please stop to consider our personal reasons for wanting our kids to eat well. I’m […]
[…] still abuzz with talk about the mountain of candy that was passed out at school. And this time, I’m not the only one ranting. Over at Real Mom Nutrition, Sally Kuzemchak, R.D., lamented about how the natural red foods […]
[…] titled, “Keep Your Crap to Yourself.” Blogger Stacy at School Bites has been bemoaning the junk food onslaught at her child’s school. And Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition […]
[…] to the school principal in my “Waiting to Be Sent” folder. It isn’t exactly one of my “Stop Feeding My Kids Junk Food at School!” rants but more of an impassioned plea. Still, I’m uneasy about sending it. You see, this […]
[…] The single worst thing to happen to my kids’ eating habits was them starting school. A bold statement, I know, but it’s true. It isn’t like they’d never had cheap, neon-colored cupcakes and artificially infused candy before walking through the doors. But with their enrollment (beginning with preschool) came a dramatic boost in their consumption of low-quality sugary treats and other highly processed blech. With all the birthday celebrations, holiday parties, ice cream and candy rewards, bake sales, and sugar-fueled after-school events, school has begun to feel like one big junk food fest (SEE: Rant of the Day: Please Stop Feeding My Kids Junk Food at School!). […]
My son’s school provides breakfast for students…poptarts and a cheese stick! I cringe every day when I walk past the food cart passing out poptarts to kids! I am thankful that my son gets a home made breakfast every day before school and that he gets a home made lunch packed for him too. We started our kids on a good nutrition path while they were young–lots of organic fruits and veggies, home made breads, pastured meats. It has paid off. While my kids occasionally get candy/cupcakes/sugary treats, they are learning that they need to have limits in order to be healthy. They often throw away candy (and they are 2, 5, and 6). I know though, that if we had not reinforced this idea from a young age, my kids would probably glady take a poptart (or 2 or 3) every day–just like their classmates. I don’t think that the school is trying to be bad–but I think that they don’t realize the full effects of what they are doing. So thank you for your rant and your post of how to get junk food out of school. I will be sharing this information with the school.
Agreed, I don’t think the schools are trying to be bad. But they aren’t taking responsibility, either. Feeding a family is hard enough as it is, and I feel like my efforts should be supported by the school, not undermined. You have clearly done a great job of teaching your kids to make healthy choices. I have tried but don’t have consistency at home because my husband doesn’t share my food views. I guess that’s part of why it’s so important to me that they don’t get a lot of junk at school. Thanks for your thoughtful comments–I’m glad you stopped by!
And one more note–even if you can’t get the school to change or other people to agree with your food ideas, it doesn’t mean that you have to follow the current culture. Lead by example. Our family has chosen not to give food treats for Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and most other occasions. Instead, we give pencils, stickers, small notebooks, or other non-food items. For my 6 year old’s birthday at school, we brought in sliced watermelon (actually, cheaper than buying cupcakes). His teachers commented that is was a great idea and his classmates gobbled it up.
[…] the junk food problem at my first grader’s school (SEE: Taking a Stand Against Junk Food and Please Stop Feeding My Kids Junk Food at School!), this school year has brought some very positive changes in terms of food education. […]
Where are the rants concerning GMO’S/pesticides/herbisides/aspartame etc…corn/soy etc.…its not just sugar folks its also sugar beets..I could rant for hours. all these healthy campaigns for school foods wont mention these things nor respond to my inquires about such topics even.
I totally agree with you, especially about the artificial “better for you” sweeteners. There’s also the sodium issue of the “supposedly healthy” snack options…pretzels, etc.
Last year the USDA implemented a regulation that requires districts to follow how well their wellness policies are being implemented and whether they are having a positive effect on their students. Having a policy is great, but there needs to be someone in the district who is monitoring if it is being followed and who has the power to keep everyone in compliance with regulations. We often see healthier snacks whenever there is a special program highlighting fitness or nutrition through programs such as National Nutrition Month, the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program, or whatever. But day to day snacks in the classroom are largely unhealthy and unmonitored. We can’t just tell the kids to eat healthy during a special program — they need to see it modeled day after day and week after week.
Sadly, we also see that both the greatest proponents AND opponents to a reasonable wellness policy are parents. I just recently saw a parent argue with a principal about bringing in a hamburger and fries for her son. Mom wanted it and the principal said no. The district policy didn’t specifically prevent it, so she fought it. Child Nutrition programs are often in a Catch-22 — they offer the healthiest foods they can afford to prepare but are afraid to drop the chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and pizza because they will lose customers. Believe it or not, there are parents out there who will fight for their children to have the less-healthy foods… and not in moderation, either. In our district the healthier versions of these foods are served (whole grain, reduced fat and sodium, etc) but it would be wonderful if the cafeteria couldn’t keep enough of the most nutritious foods in stock due to high demand.
I am a cafeteria cook. At my school we promote healthy eating.We do have desserts for sale if a parent allows their child to buy them. Our cake are low fat and have low fat icing on them. We also have fruit at our checkout to offer the kids who don’t want a dessert. Our problem is that the parents at our school are always bring in big cupcakes and cookies for their childs birthday. We have tried to stop it but our Principal allows them to do it. So our hands are tied when it comes to what parents bring from the outside in. The only way to stop it is to complain to the school administration and maybe they can stop it.
It’s so true! Having policies to limit junk food (and school administrators who will enforce them) in the classroom would go a LONG way to cleaning up the school food environment. The USDA clearly realizes that classroom parties compete with the federal meal program–thus the regulations requiring wellness policies to address all food at school. But if schools don’t have strong policies and/or aren’t implementing and enforcing them, then the junk food will continue to flow freely.
Thank you for this post! I feel the same way and I will be checking to see if my daughter’s school has a wellness committee. I feel alone right now in wanting my daughter and her classmates to eat healthy.
Mary: I am so sorry that you feel alone, but trust me: You are NOT alone! There are lots of people who feel like you do (though they may not be at your school). I have often felt like you, and often still do. Crazy that making healthy changes can be so hard–you’d think everyone would support kids eating better! Good luck looking into the wellness committee–and check your school district’s wellness policy. too.
You are a woman of my own heart. I am been working for over a year to get policies in my public school system changed. Unfortunately, it may take a couple more! I have been working hard to raise awareness and even got an article published where the topic made the FRONT PAGE OF THE SUNDAY PRESS and my contribution was half a page!
My son is not even two but it has already started big time in his daycare. In fact, in the student handbook it even encourages kids to bring in “cupcakes, cookies, donuts and brownies” to celebrate birthdays.
Thank you for the wonderful work you are doing!
Samantha — Thanks so much for your comment! I always love to “meet” another comrade. 🙂 Yes, changing school food (or the school food environment) can be painfully slow. I am in the same boat. Good for you for sticking with it because, really, nothing would change if it weren’t for advocates like you. Good luck and please keep me posted on your progress!
I find the volume of junk food my children receive to be ridiculous. The teacher of the year is well loved and she gives out candy to all the kids and if I complained, I would likely be shunned by all and my kids would likely suffer. Isn’t this just backwards.
Lisa — Believe me, I hear you!! So hard to believe that schools can get away with being purveyors of junk food in this day and age. It’s crazy!! Wish I could offer some advice to help but perhaps an anonymous note to the principal is a place to start? Can you find any like-minded parents to team up with? Definitely power in numbers.
Love your thoughts and information! I am a teacher who is appalled at how many teachers treat their students with candy! The junk that is served to our students is disgraceful! Funnel cakes with powdered sugar as breakfast!! I just treated my students to a new food last week-plums and prunes. They loved them! My next reward will be fruit kabobs! Thank you for the ideas!
Teresa — THANK YOU for teaching your students to love healthy wholesome food! What a wonderful thing you are doing, especially the ones who aren’t getting many fresh fruits and veggies at home. It’s just terrific and we applaud you!!
I have had enough of my kids bringing home a whole bunch of junk that other parents send to school on Halloween, Xmas, valentines, Easter etc. I plan on writing a letter to my kids teacher and principal stating I do not want this garbage given to my kids.
I’m with ‘ya, Cheryl!! Good luck, I really hope your letter helps.
I could not agree more, but I feel like I am in the minority and fighting an uphill battle. My son came home today to tell me that, because of someone’s birthday, he had pizza, doritos, capri sun, 2 pieces of cake for lunch and ate none of his own lunch that I made this morning. I am so freakin’ annoyed. Now it’s not even just cupcakes and juice, which is bad enough. 2 other kids brought in birthday pizza recently too. The parents could at the very least inform the other parents that they are now feeding my child lunch. I know they think they’re being nice, but I feel undermined. I don’t want to be the food police, but it is way out of control with school and sports. Too darn much. Can’t we just sing happy birthday and be done? I gotta talk to the teacher.
I feel your pain!! That’s how I felt two years ago. But I must say, things have gotten better since I started speaking up. I hate being a squeaky wheel and, like you, don’t want to be the food police. But it’s unlikely to change unless you start speaking up about it. You may be in the minority, but you have a mountain of scientific evidence on your side. GOOD LUCK and feel free to contact me if I can be of any help!!!
You can raise a public petition and ask for people to sign your petition online. I think its a really good way to bring about any change and make govt and administrators to listen to you when you have support of so many people
I know there are a lot of parents who would like to see more junk food, but it is hard to get people to speak up. A petition might be the perfect way. Thanks for suggesting it!
but the problem is that the processed food they give at school parties and other parties costs less so they have no choice unless they get some funding for the parties.
Yes, or they could have more non-food parties. It would eliminate the problem of different budgets and definitions of “healthy.”
Some of us in the food allergy community have been really fired up about this issue … for many years. You might appreciate this discussion:
That’s what I did for the Chess Club…volunteered to be snack lady and doled out ONLY fresh fruit, carrots, and 2 of those cigar-size pretzel rods each (processed, I know, but the salt made them “thirsty” for all the fruit/carrots.
Hungry Kids WILL eat what is served, but you can’t give them a choice of sugar or that’s what they pick and the fruits/vegs go uneaten. Yes, watermelon and grapes were very popular. But they all ate the carrots too, and asked for more. It was right after school and they were starving. “Be the change you want to see.” It’s really no more trouble to slice up fruit for bdays/holidays than make cupcakes.
Hi Susan — I’ve had the same experience offering sugary treats next to fruits and vegetables–the healthy stuff mostly goes uneaten. Some parents seem stuck on the idea that kids need sugary junk to be happy. At our class Halloween parties a couple weeks ago, we only served healthy snacks (veggies with dip, clementine pumpkins, fruit, popcorn, etc.) and the children didn’t bat an eye. Thanks for offering your two cents–always great to hear from someone who has served healthy food at school parties with success!
You’ve read my mind in this rant. I am the minority parent at school. Last month (just before Christmas) I took a stand and talked with and emailed the teachers, principal and the trustee and told them “Don’t give my kids junk food. Period.” I asked the principal to communicate to the rotary teachers and supply teachers (often the worst offenders). The result? Now the truth has comes out! I did not know that my daughter’s 1st grade teacher brings the kids doughnuts in the morning! I have NEVER bought my kids a doughnut, EVER.
The overall attitude I received was basically a polite smile and nod. However, I am sticking to my guns. My kids are not allowed candy or junk food. And my kids know that we all say “No thank-you” to the bus driver, hockey parent, soccer parents, church leaders, scout leaders, neighbours etc etc when they offer candy. No thank-you! (and yes, we get the “look” that tells me I am too cranky, too strict — but if they want to engage in a discussion then boy, I will make opinion loud and clear (politely, of course)).
I am considering the “candy-free” pledge idea at school.…it’s a tough road, though.
Tanya — GOOD FOR YOU!!! I absolutely love your conviction. You’re right, it’s a tough road, but one well worth taking, if you ask me. Now that my kids aren’t getting junk food at school, they are eating so much better at home. And they have stopped asking me for Oreos and Froot Loops! (Getting it at school seemed to just feed their desire for the stuff that I won’t buy.). Keep up the good work and GOOD LUCK!!!!