Why Candy Valentines Don’t Belong in School (and What You Can Do About Them)
|February 21, 2013||Posted by Stacy under Healthy treats, Junk food in school, School parties, School policy|
It’s been a week since Valentine’s Day, and the blogosphere is 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 party for her third grader’s class was undermined by unexpected heaps of Valentine’s candy. Amy at Junk Food Journal featured a photo of her daughter’s loot. And Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy (a food blog, silly—get your mind out of the gutter!) took it one step further:
“The garbage my son came home with in his backpack today has me bouncing off the bloody walls in a sugar rush of the enraged kind. Are you kidding me!?! There is easily a pound of lollipops, M&Ms, chocolate, KitKats—crap. I mean, at least if it were good chocolate…Who in their right mind thinks that is okay? And who are these people who are violating my right to feed my FIVE-YEAR-OLD the way I see fit? I don’t get in their face with my sliced apples; why are they allowed to get in mine with dextrose, maltodextrose, yellow #6 lake, etc.?”
On Valentine’s Day, my 4-year-old daughter Reese and I spent most of our day en route to New Jersey to visit my parents. At the time, I was glad that I wouldn’t have to witness the candy explosion that would be coming home with my sons (ages 4 and 7). But as it turns out, there was plenty left over when we arrived home yesterday (the above photo shows what still remains in my first grader’s stash a full week later). And my husband had saved Reese’s haul for her anyway (yes, even preschoolers are included in the gross over-consumption of sugar these days!).
Of course, I could have taken it away when I got back to Idaho. But technically, it is their candy, and I fear that being too controlling would ultimately backfire. So we let them ration it out—two pieces a night. Unfortunately, though, it still leads to problems. They rush through dinner in anticipation of candy. After two pieces, they want more. When I say “No” and remind them why, I’m told that I’m mean. Then there’s all the arguing and complaining—“No fair, I didn’t get a KitKat!” or “That’s MY lollipop! You stole it!” It literally makes my head hurt.
Guess what? Feeding a family is hard. Teaching kids to enjoy veggies and other healthy foods can be really hard. And I feel like schools should recognize this and work to create an environment that will help parents be successful. I often hear the argument that serving healthy food at school is pointless if kids refuse to eat it, and that healthy eating has to start at home. But what about the kids who are actually picking up their poor eating habits at school? What about the kids who are sent to school with healthy food and are actually loaded up with junk?
I know some parents just don’t care about the sugar and junk food. They think it is part of childhood and kids will feel deprived without it. That’s fine, but I still don’t see why they can’t have the candy fest after school.
More schools are opting to eliminate food from celebrations altogether, which is certainly one solution. There are plenty of other ways to observe holidays or make kids feel special on their birthdays (SEE The Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Healthy School Celebrations handout). And I definitely see the value in taking the emphasis away from food. But the class party also can be as an opportunity to expose kids to wholesome foods like fresh fruits and veggies. The key is presenting them in a fun and appealing way (SEE Healthy School Parties: 18 Fun Cupcake Alternatives). Basically, you just need to re-define “party food”!
Ok, I know what some of you are thinking: Is it really possible for kids to have fun at a party without junk food? The answer is yes, yes, yes. I tested it out this past fall on my son’s 7th birthday. We had his party at a bowling alley with 14 kids (ages 4 to 11) in attendance. For food, I served popcorn drizzled with olive oil, organic grapes and strawberries, pretzel rods, and small water bottles adorned with Lego Ninjago stickers. The kids munched happily but were more focused on bowling and playing arcade games than eating anyway. And when the very rich homemade chocolate cake with buttercream frosting was served, they seemed perfectly content with small slices. They didn’t seem to even notice the absence of juice boxes, chips and candy.
So the big question now is: What, if anything, can you do about the junk food and candy situation at your child’s school? I’m all about solutions, so here are a few ideas to get you started:
Ask about a no-candy policy While your child’s school may be reluctant to axe classroom cupcakes and other baked goods, it just might consider putting the kibosh on candy. You can bring it up with your school principal in a letter or email like this. I just love how Red, Round and Green’s sample letter starts with a compliment and remains positive and professional throughout. The tone is perfect!
Create a real-food snack list Let’s face it: Not all parents have the same definition of healthy. To some, Pirate’s Booty and Fruit Roll-ups represent healthy snacks, while others consider those foods processed junk. So talk to your school principal or your child’s teacher about creating a list of wholesome snack and treat ideas for class parties. Ask that it be communicated to parents (via a handout, email or the school newsletter) at the beginning of the school year and prior to special holidays like Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
Suggest fun activities instead I know there are parents who worry that school is one big bore and see sugary treats as a way to get kids excited. But plying them with sweets isn’t the answer. All it does is condition them to associate junk food with happiness. The bottom line is, kids don’t need unhealthy food to have fun. In fact, many may actually prefer a special activity (like a field trip, dance party or extended recess). Coming up with alternative ideas may require some creativity and a leap of faith on the part of parents and teachers. You can help by coming up with some fun ones yourself and sharing them with the school.
Request advance notice If kids are going to get treats in the classroom, ask that parents be notified in advance. In a perfect world, this would help prevent any surprise last-minute treats and allow you to balance your child’s food intake throughout the day. For example, if you know that the class will be having cupcakes at 10 a.m., you could opt not to serve pancakes with syrup for breakfast or omit the special sweet from your child’s lunchbox.
How do you feel about Valentine’s Day candy being distributed at school? All opinions are welcome–so feel free to speak your mind! To comment, scroll down and leave a reply in the box below.