Taking a Stand Against Junk Food in School: Why It’s Hard–But We Need to Anyway!
|February 28, 2013||Posted by Stacy under 100th Day of School, Classroom treats, Cupcakes, Food Nazis, Improving school food, Junk food in school, School parties, School policy, Sugar|
It’s February 28, and barring any unforeseen treats at school today, here’s a final tally of my first grader’s classroom junk food scores for the month: two frosted cupcakes; chocolate fudge; salt-water taffy; a bag of 100 Days of School trail mix consisting of candy corn, marshmallows, Cheez-Its, and yogurt-covered pretzels; and a big box filled with Valentine’s candy (mini candy bars, lollipops, Ring Pops, Starburst and more).* Needless to say, I am not happy.
I got up the nerve to email my son’s teacher about it yesterday (but to be clear, I do NOT feel like it is her fault; she has made an effort to limit junk food in the classroom). And I have had a letter 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 speaking up stuff is hard for me. I hate being a squeaky wheel. I don’t like the thought of ruining anyone’s day. And I certainly don’t want to be branded a psycho food mom. But I believe that the issue is really important. I just can’t continue to look the other way.
Taking a stand against junk food in school can be a daunting proposition. No one wants to be that mom (or dad) who can’t go with the flow and let their kids have a treat once in a while (as naysayers like to say). But as we all know, crappy processed food doesn’t happen just once in awhile. It has become an everyday fixture in most kids’ diets—including my own, now that they’re in school. And parents who are willing to stand up and do something can be instrumental to creating a healthier school food culture.
I wish I had a dollar for every parent who wished for less junk food at school. If all of us spoke up, we would be a powerful force. Unfortunately, most will never say a word. Some may feel that they don’t have the time to get involved. Others don’t want to rock the boat or fear being viewed as the food police. And those who do speak up are sometimes scared off by the lackluster response that they get from school officials, teachers and other parents: Let’s just say not everyone gets excited about the notion of cutting back on cupcakes.
Fighting for healthier school food can feel like swimming upstream. And when others resist, it’s really easy to start doubting yourself. “Change scares the heck out of people and people are very emotional about food,” wrote long-time school food reformist Nancy Huehnergarth to me in a recent email. “I’ve been called radical, Food Nazi, macrobiotic wacko and other choice things. Since I know what I’m doing is right and the people who say such things are ignorant of the facts, I just ignore the insults.” If you do experience any push back, it’s important to remind yourself that the scientific evidence on YOUR side.
“We are moving in the right direction,” adds Heuhnergarth, co-founder of the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance. “Change is slow but without people like you, there would never be any. Without people fighting at the local level, we are doomed. So keep up the good fight!”
Yesterday, in a U.S. News & World Report story titled “Shutting Down Your Children’s Sugar Pushers,” the venerable Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., of Weighty Matters, offered a similar rallying cry:
“As parents, this is our fight, and it’s not going to happen all by itself. While you’re unlikely to win every battle, there’s no doubt, you’ll never win any if you just sit idly by hoping for someone else to do what you already know to be right. Our kids deserve better than to be taught that sugar cures, fixes, and commemorates the smallest of events and affairs, and it’s our job to help empower those around us to find the time, energy, and creativity required to take the less easy, but far more rewarding, healthful road.”
I know what he says is true. It’s hard to speak up. But if I don’t, nothing may ever change. As much as I think that all state government and local school districts should have policies regulating junk food in the classroom, many (including mine) don’t. So at this point, our only hope is to fight back ourselves.
So I guess it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. On your mark, get set…it’s time for me to press “Send.” Bye-bye, email to the principal. Off you go! Even if it doesn’t result in immediate changes at my son’s school (and I really don’t expect that it will), at least I will have brought awareness to the situation and spoken my peace.
*The above photo is a representation of my first grader’s school junk food consumption during February (minus the candy corn, Cheez-Its and taffy). It doesn’t take into account the many additional treats (including at least three more cupcakes, Oreos, Rice Krispie treats, Doritos, and I’m not sure what else) obtained at after-hours school events, birthday and hockey parties, and from well-meaning people in his life.
P.S. In case you’re still debating whether to speak up for healthier school food, check out this email exchange between a concerned mother and a teacher at her first grader’s school. Mom was unhappy about M&Ms being used to motivate students. After asking the teacher to switch to non-food rewards, she was met with resistance and advised to talk to her child about refusing the treat instead. Instead of backing down, Mom fought back—and won! This is a true story sent to me by a School Bites reader:
Dear Concerned Mom,
I totally understand your concern about treats and junk food, and I agree that it is a problem. I have been offering the children the choice of a sticker or an M&M and Emily continues to opt for the M&M. But starting next week, I will no longer offer M&Ms. The children can work for non-edible rewards. I appreciate your input.
Have a great week,
Dear Amazing Teacher,
I have to tell you that I cried when I read your email. Every teacher or principal who makes the decision that you just did will make a difference. It’s really hard to be the one to speak out. I am not one to stir the pot and have for a good part of my life not spoken out about a lot of things. But I feel so passionate about this and feel that I have to do it for our children. I appreciate you willing to make a change and I hope that you feel good about it and not “bullied” into it.
You have a great week.
Q. Have you tried speaking up about the junk food in your child’s school? If so, how did it go for you? Please share your story with other readers by leaving a comment down below.
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