A Passionate Dad Defends In-Class Birthday Treats, And I Respond

by Bettina Elias Siegel on February 22, 2012

New readers find The Lunch Tray almost every single day with a Google search for healthful and/or non-food alternatives to sugary classroom birthday treats.  The search takes them to “A Happy Ending to the Classroom Birthday Treat Dilemma,” in which I describe how my daughter (then in 5th grade) deliberated over many reader suggestions for alternative class treats, ultimately choosing to make a class donation to charity and bringing a white T-shirt to school for her classmates to sign with colored pens.  (The entire list of creative reader suggestions can be found in the comments section of the preceding post, “Don’t Make Me Eat My Words:  A Plea For Help From TLT Readers.”)

But a few weeks ago, as reader named Concerned Dad left this comment on another birthday cupcake-related post:

Well, my child’s school is the latest to fall in the crusade of the sugar/fun police. We recently received a letter home outlining the new guidelines and apparently banning a cupcake will solve our nations obese child problem.

Let me start by saying the concern for food allergies is real, but I believe proper precautions can and are being taken currently by the school to prevent any harm to the students with those allergies. I have yet to hear of a child going into anaphylaxis shock due to a nut filled treat. Parents are responsible and very cognizant of these rules.

Alas, I can’t help but be amazed by the ongoing restrictions on fun and cherished activities in our school district, and yes, a lot of this fun includes food as part of the tradition. This latest “revelation” borders on ludicrous. “If I ban cupcakes and treats, kids will no longer be obese.”

First off, today, it almost seems as if administrators never spent time in elementary school and looked forward to sharing a cupcake with their friends on their birthday or giving a lollipop to their teachers and classmates on Valentine’s day. To this day I still fondly remember looking forward to bringing treats to my class on my birthday (yes, we all celebrated birthdays). I can still remember getting a valentines day card with a piece of candy attached and looking forward to eating it at home. Destroying traditions aside, I can say with 100% certainty that a birthday cookie or Halloween treat is not the reason for childhood obesity in our country. It is actually foolish to think that banning a fruit roll up or twizzler at a school event that happens a few times a year will have any impact on obesity rates.

Non-food activities are fine, but food is a part of our traditions. Candy and cake are a large part of why we have such found memories of our birthdays and holidays. Food, sugar in particular, is not some evil thing that tiptoed into our society and made kids fat. Lack of activity, poor parenting, computer games, etc. all carry some of the blame. Destroying tradition by banning food activities will not be the solution. I can’t say I have the answer, but I do know this is not it. Nor, can I say this is a “step in the right direction”.

I won’t say it is not the job of our school’s to teach proper eating habits, but I will say, like most things in life, moderation and responsibility needs to be taught. Banning a food will not teach kids not to eat it. These regulations will not be the landmark event that we will look back on in 20 years as the miraculous solution to curb unsatisfactory eating habits.

I have to convey one father’s disappointment to whatever board or persons (apparently many moms on this site that have nothing better to do) sit around and come up with these brilliant changes. Changes I see sacrificing great life memories, traditions and events for a perceived, but highly unlikely effect on a problem that runs much deeper than a shared Hershey Kiss. It is a shame when a silly notion is actually carried out due to lack of opposition.

If some overly protective moms feel they need to ban their kids from partaking in certain activities, they should provide a note to the teachers. There is NO reason a majority should be punished for the desires of a few.

I’ve addressed all of these arguments before in multiple contexts on this blog, so I won’t belabor them here.  (If you’re new to TLT, the most comprehensive rebuttals are found in “Sarah Palin and Birthday Sweets Redux” and “The Birthday Cupcake Debate Heats Up.”)

But I did want to add a few thoughts to respond specifically to Concerned Dad.

First, I was struck by Concerned Dad’s confidence that severe allergic reactions to classroom treats are not a big issue.  Because my kids are blessedly free of food allergies, I turned to a mother of a nut-allergic child who has fought hard for appropriate precautions at her daughter’s school.  Here’s what she had to say:

As the mom of a peanut-allergic child who has witnessed first-hand the horror of an anaphylactic reaction, I can assure this parent that the threat in the school environment is constant and overwhelming.  Regardless of the care and concern from most school communities, random checks by school nurses reveal that parents sending snacks to school fail miserably at following allergen-free guidelines.  Some parents don’t know how to accurately read a label for food allergens or cross-contamination and others, from my experience, simply don’t care. Factor in the risks of uninformed substitute teachers, birthday treats, and daily emails listing recalls from mislabeled foods and the school setting can be a scary place.

And given that I once reported on a child’s tragic death from a food allergic reaction at a class party, I don’t think anyone can seriously doubt the degree to which classroom treats pose a real danger to many students.

But mostly I wanted to address here the palpable thread of nostalgia running through Concerned Dad’s entire comment, his belief that “food is a part of our traditions,” that “[c]andy and cake are a large part of why we have such found memories of our birthdays and holidays,” and his recollection that  “[t]o this day I still fondly remember looking forward to bringing treats to my class on my birthday (yes, we all celebrated birthdays). I can still remember getting a valentines day card with a piece of candy attached and looking forward to eating it at home.”

I absolutely agree with Concerned Dad’s feelings about the centrality of food in our celebrations and culture. But my question to him is, is there a legitimate reason why some parents no longer want their kids eating a cupcake at school every time a classmate has a birthday (which I once calculated as 1/6th of my daughter’s school year), even if the birthday cupcake was a cherished tradition in the past?  Is there a reason why we might want to change course?

And I think the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

In a rueful post I wrote a few weeks ago, I told you about an all-day school event my daughter attended at which she bought the following food to eat, food sold by the school itself to raise funds:  a bag of cookies, a bag of Funions, a bag of Chex Mix, two slices of Papa John’s pizza, a donut and a Coke.   When my daughter’s school reading team won a competition, they used to celebrate with a “Junk Food Party,” where kids were supposed to bring the most outrageous junk food they could find to share with each other.  Someone finally put a stop to that, so now they go out for burgers, fries and shakes.  In second grade, when my son got a math problem right, he was given M&Ms.  For every single correct answer.  Rewards for good behavior at school have at times included jumbo chocolate bars, the size you find in a movie theater.  The teacher of one of the school’s extracurricular clubs hands out candy to every child as he or she leaves for the day.  The nutrition-promoting signs in our local elementary school cafeterias are dwarfed by larger signs advertising the ice cream sold by our Food Services department to help drive profits.  And our Food Services’ idea of “healthy” a la carte food includes Baked Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.  

The situation is no better outside of school.  We walk into the bank, the kids get candy.  We go to the postal services store, they get candy.  When a “snack” is offered at any religious school class, day camp, team sport event, extracurricular activity, or any other place where two or more kids gather, it is almost invariably the type of cheap  prepackaged junk foods shown here.  Meanwhile, the food industry is spending almost $2 billion each year to directly market junk food to my children.  Two. Billion.  Dollars.

In today’s world, unlike my own childhood, junk food is made available– and aggressively marketed — to our kids all the time.

Perhaps the best description of the problem came from an early commenter on The Lunch Tray:

The problem is so ubiquitous… I find myself pausing before taking my kids to the carwash, for example (of all places), as they inevitably clamor for doritos; gatorade; sprite, etc., prominently displayed as soon as you enter the waiting area! Even as I walk my son from the parking lot to the baseball field for a Tuesday night practice, we have to pass a temporary stand set up to “fuel” the players with cookies, M&M’s, and James Coney Island hot-dogs. Sometimes I just want to scream with frustration.

So that’s what’s going on out there, Concerned Dad.  For those of us who care about our children’s health, we are (sometimes literally) screaming with frustration.

But are we being alarmist?  Are we silly mother hens?  Well, let’s consider the facts underlying our concerns.

One third of kids are already overweight or obese, such that school desks actually need to be made larger to accommodate today’s students.  Of course, obesity is only one marker of poor eating habits; there are also plenty of skinny kids who eat too much junk food and fast food, a problem not perceptible to the naked eye but no less significant in terms of their long-term health.  Meanwhile, obesity-related health care costs are headed toward $66 billion a year, causing a terrible drain on our already-weakened economy.   And the military is actually having trouble finding suitable young recruits, posing a real threat to our national security.

Of course we can’t peg all of these problems on one little birthday cupcake.  Nor can we peg them on eating habits alone.  Just as you say, Concerned Dad, “[l]ack of activity, poor parenting, computer games, etc. all carry some of the blame,” and I’d add to your list the loss of cooking skills, the demise of the family dinner, the wrongheaded allocation of farm subsidies and a host of other ills.  But the eight hours in which our kids are captive to the school environment do not have to be part of the problem, either.

The way I see it is this:  looking back to our own childhoods, it might have been perfectly reasonable to force the one outlier parent to send a note exempting his or her child from the birthday cupcakes.  But now, when we’re in the midst of a documented public health crisis, it seems much more reasonable to turn that model upside down.

If you want your kid to have a celebratory cupcake, I hope he or she enjoys it with gusto at your private birthday party.  But can you also respect the rights of those of us who are fighting – hard – to keep our children healthy in a society that seems to be thwarting us at every conceivable turn?

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{ 125 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris February 22, 2012 at 1:17 pm

How about those of us trying to keep our kids from ingesting (artificial) food colorings?? At our last school no homemade treats were allowed either- only store bought crap. Trying to keep dyes out of their reach is hard enough at home- but at school? They are not completely reliable on policing themselves- and sometimes make honest mistakes as well. (who would’ve thought most pickles have colorings added??- I didn’t until last year)

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Chris – your comment points up another issue I’ve made in the past about birthday treats. For you it’s food dyes, for another parent it might a religious restriction on certain foods, for another it’s allergies, for another it’s fat, for another it’s sugar. There are so many legitimate concerns out there, so why does the very particular desire to celebrate AT SCHOOL with FOOD trump all the rest? Thanks for commenting here.

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Susan T. February 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm

Yes. Yes! You nailed it with every word.

Concerned Dad should have his cake /cupcakes / ice cream / candy / soda at a private celebration. School should be a neutral zone.

I could share e-mails with you from another “concerned father” at our school (name withheld, of course) just for your viewing pleasure. They’re shocking in nature. I’ll put that on my to-do list.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Yes, yes – share away! :-)

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Nicole Caulfield February 22, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Oh boy.

My daughter was sent home on Halloween with peanut candy when she first started school. Her teacher was absent on Halloween and no one thought or knew to check her candy. THANK GOODNESS she did not eat any on the bus on the way home. She trusted the teachers and if they gave it to her she felt it safe to eat it. Now she is 13 and can read her own labels… but still mistakenly ate a peanut cookie in a place we call a safe zone because the person in charge knew of her allergy. Let me tell you – it is not fun listening to your child’s breathing for an hour to make sure she can breathe, stuffing her with Benadryl and standing by with an epipen. No fun at all.

Anyway what concerned Dad has probably never seen is how often there are birthdays and treats in school. It is sometimes several times a week. I have been to parties at school with so many treats it is ridiculous and most kids are eating a normal amount, but a few kids keep getting up for more and more with no one watching to see how much they ate. Parents send their kids to school with a healthy lunch, and have no idea about how many other things they are eating in the day.

I am so happy my kids’ school has a strict policy now of no birthday treats, and limited amounts of treats for special parties. Only one per child and then healthy food to go with it. At first it was sad because I enjoyed sending my daughter to school with cute cupcakes and the like, but now I really am happy about it.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Nicole – I wonder what you think about Justin’s comment above (or maybe below – I can never tell when I reply!) that argues schools basically should not accommodate food allergies? (Only if you feel like commenting – not trying to stir up trouble). But I think this part of your comment would be true for a lot of people — “At first it was sad because I enjoyed sending my daughter to school with cute cupcakes and the like, but now I really am happy about it.” Yes, there’s the loss of a cherished tradition, but it’s also freeing in so many ways when food (at least junk food) is taken out of the school equation.

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Justin February 23, 2012 at 9:07 am

I clarified this above (or below?) but it’s probably more relevant here…

I’m not against schools accommodating special needs/diets. Making sure a treat to be shared with the class is safe for everyone is fine in my book. It’s the schools that dictate what goes into your kid’s individual lunchbox that I take issue with.

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KL February 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm

It may be meant as an insult that we have “nothing better to do” than fight for our children’s health…but I have to read it otherwise. There really is not much better we could be doing. And concerned dads would be welcome to join in the good fight.

Thanks for this, Bettina.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:27 pm

“There really is not much better we could be doing.” Exactly – what could be more important than the health of the next generation? So many important issues flow from it — economic, social, national security, etc.

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Chris February 23, 2012 at 8:36 am

yes, the most important job I have is health keeper for my household (even the family pets come to me when something is wrong!!). I have fixed my own health because it was interfering with my ability to help them- and you know what was wrong with my health?? (Not that I learned this from a doctor mind you- as the western medicine field has almost zero knowledge available to the average patient)- FOOD. Too much yes, but the wrong type mainly. I was a college athlete in the 90s when all we were told was to carbo load.. plus I was a struggling college student (only got a half ride scholarship) and so cheap carbs were what I ate a lot of anyways (the gov’t told me too!! 10 servings a day!!)
Now I have an extremely limited diet (no gluten/corn/soy/dairy) and if I don’t eat organic-especially for my proteins(meat) I feel sick as well. What I REALLY do not want for my grrls is for them to have to eat in this restricted way later on in life- I feel I basically abused my system and am now paying for it.. So- if I am seem overly concerned about what they eat- it is for good reason!! Plus- you should see them- they are gorgeous- shiny hair, clear skin,thin and muscular with definition- my 10 yo grrl has a 6 pack!! =) and they regularly outshine the boys (all older than them!!) at their weekly parkour class!! So full of energy- you can see where the ADHD comes in!! ;P which is one of the reasons for avoiding HFCS and artificial dyes!! And the regulating behind the dyes is outrageous as well.. I’m just not willing to let my family be lab rats..
.. end rant… sorry… thanks I feel a bit better now (I’m hungry- we ran out of food for me a couple of days ago and I’m just getting back on track- I’d rather go hungry than eat something that will make me sick and miserable for MONTHS;)

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Dana Woldow February 22, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Thanks for this, Bettina. I have to say, the “making this one change will not solve child obesity” argument, trotted out to oppose everything from limits on sweets served in classrooms to soda taxes to menu board labeling, is getting old.

Listen up, people – the obesity crisis has many causes (including too many unhealthy food environments, loss of cooking skills, loss of safe places to play and exercise outside, a built environment that encourages car travel instead of walking/public transit, too little oversight of advertising to children, and so many more) and the battle to turn it around must be fought on many fronts. THERE IS NO ONE SILVER BULLET TO SOLVE OBESITY! There is no “this one thing, alone” will solve the problem! It has to be everything – less bad food, more exercise, better healthcare, less pressure to buy and serve crappy food, easier availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, more knowledge of what is and isn’t a “healthy choice”…and on and on.

Solving obesity will require many, many changes, but the fact that “this one change alone will not solve obesity” is NOT an excuse to not make each one of those changes.

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Christina @ Spoonfed February 22, 2012 at 8:25 pm

“Solving obesity will require many, many changes, but the fact that ‘this one change alone will not solve obesity’ is NOT an excuse to not make each one of those changes.”

Spot on, Dana. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I hear rationalizations like it all the time, especially when people start arguing about things like chocolate milk in schools. But change happens one step at a time. And, frankly, I think these people know that. (They must, right? I mean, it’s not a difficult concept.) But unfortunately common sense always loses when there’s a chance to make a food-police-nanny-state argument.

Sigh.

Anyway, one other thing: The nostalgia argument always kills me. It’s not only that junk food is more prevalent. It’s not only that a treat is no longer a treat. It’s that the food itself has changed. Sure we had junk when we were kids. But not the chemical-saturated, GMO-filled junk we have now. Forget the calories in this stuff. Look at the ingredients. That’s what’s really scary.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Christina – that’s a point I didn’t mention in the post and appreciate your making it here – that the junk itself may be even “junkier” than ever!

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Exactly. We each have to pick our battles, attacking all fronts of the problem. And I clearly have staked out the birthday front for myself, haven’t I? :-)

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Alissa February 22, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Thank you so much for this post, this whole series has really helped me articulate to others why I find so many food issues objectionable! I wanted to add to concerned dad that while we might all have happy food related memories growing up, so much has changed! Beyond the important health crisis and allergy issues you described, plain and simple we KNOW BETTER now! My mom tried to feed us a healthy diet based on the trends of the time, which included tons of plain white pasta with sauce (low fat!), margarine (better than butter!), etc…and I had digestive issues and stomach aches through most of my childhood which have been completely resolved by switching to whole grains and increasing fruit/veggie consumption. So just because I have fond memories of those huge bowls of pasta, does that mean I should feed my kids the same way? And just because margarine spreads easily, does that mean we should ignore the studies that show trans-fats are terrible for our bodies? And while we’re at it, should we also forgo seatbelts because it was so much fun to ride in the back of a pick-up truck like my husband did? These are just a few examples to make the point that nostalgia should not dictate how we raise our kids. The “we grew up that way and we turned out fine” argument is so frustrating when in so many ways we live in a different world, with different information and different issues. It is our obligation as parents to do the best we can for our kids with the best current information available.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:25 pm

First, so glad these posts have been useful to you (and not just crazed blogger rants!) Second: “nostalgia should not dictate how we raise our kids” — totally agree!

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Chris February 23, 2012 at 8:41 am

yes!! My daughter’s bf is in foster care with her grandparents and they let her ride up their dirt road- steep and bumpy!!) with her sitting on the tailgate!!! It made me cringe!! I was so glad when they got an older SUV…

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Robyn February 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm

At my daughter’s Christmas party last year one little girl ate so much junk she threw up right in the middle of the classroom. There were about 6 kids who felt extremely sick afterwards and it was because there was an adundance of sweets that it was just too much. Yes it seems like there is a birthday every day in a classroom full of 20+ kids.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:24 pm

We’ve definitely had class parties like that, where it was basically a crazy sugar orgy! ButI’m glad to report that lately they seem a bit more restrained with some parents contributing healthier fare like fruit. Could the tide be turning?

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Casey February 22, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Wonderful post and reading the comments is the icing on the cake (bad pun intended). The only thing I would add is that the $2billion in marketing is increasingly making it’s way into schools to reach a captive audience of kids. Can’t think of a better way to spend my time than fighting this battle even if it’s David vs. Goliath.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Thank you!

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Alicia February 22, 2012 at 3:15 pm

I don’t remember having birthday treats at school, or Halloween and Valentine treats. I remember Valentine cards, and dressing up for Halloween, but not treats. We trick-or-treated after school. Any treats we did have were smaller in size. Why can’t the holiday or birthday be about having fun? Now I love to bake, and yes, we have birthday cake, but at home where it should be.

I do think about not taking my kids on errands – seems like every place wants to give kids something. It doesn’t even have to be a food item – I don’t think kids need so many stickers, pencils, and balloons too. What are we teaching kids – that they get rewarded just for showing up. NO – run the errand without rewards and go home and have fun there. I also don’t like restaurants that have TV’s everywhere, or dentist offices with game consoles and tv’s. And there’s no way I’d let my kids watch non-stop video in the car – though we do bring along something to watch for day-long drives to break it up. Kids need to learn to entertain themselves. There’s great value in looking out the car window and noticing the world around you. Add to that list- furniture stores with kids furniture – first you have a nursery, then toddler bed, then regular bed, then get all new furniture when they are teens, then I guess convert it back to regular furniture when they finish college? No thank you! What a waste of resources. Our society has become so indulgent.

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Alicia February 22, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Also, on the allergy note – I can agree – schools are a scary place for kids with allergies. We’ve had a number of reactions at school and my son is pretty good at checking things, but he’s a kid and makes mistakes. I’ve learned that no matter how much another parent wants to try and bring something safe for my son, it’s not worth the risk. The last reaction was to what my son thought were Oreos, except that it was the store brand and they contain milk. I don’t expect any other adults to know what is or is not safe – it’s a lot to keep up with.

Also, consider how often allergic kids are just left out completely from getting treats. I can probably think of maybe 4 times in 6 years that a parent has remembered to bring something safe. Again, I don’t expect other parents to remember my son’s allergy, but still, it leaves him there with nothing, which can’t feel good. At least with school parties, I know they are coming and I send something safe to school to share. As he’s gotten older, birthdays at school have gotten a little easier. He often asks for something once he gets home, and honestly, it’s usually a little healthier. But to a little kid to have to watch everyone else eating cupcakes – that can be hard.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Alicia – it’s parents like you who have made me much more in favor of food-free birthday treats, versus just healthier treats. Because, as you say, ANY food could put your son at risk and/or make him feel left out. Why not just go for dollar store toys, Play Doh, etc. if a treat must be brought? Thanks for sharing here.

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Jenna Z February 22, 2012 at 5:33 pm

The letter from this father sounds SO MUCH like the sentiments of the community members in our town as they reminisce, defend and still clamor to re-instate the racist mascot we did away with a couple of years ago. “Tradition! Memories! A part of our community, how DARE you change that which we hold so dear!”

I remember treats nearly every day in school, cake and chips and candy and trips to the soda machine for good behavior. Every outing was a chance to junk food and fast food, every school event or classroom special day came with food and more FOOD. And I became obese. No, I’m not blaming school, or parents who brought in treats. But the constant opportunities for treats taught me habits that I am still fighting to un-learn, like rewarding myself with food, stopping for treats or fast food on every car trip and associating EVERY SINGLE social event with the chance to eat treats. Can’t social events and holidays just be that? Social events? Do they HAVE to come with sugar and fat? If every single kid brings treats for their birthday, plus holidays, plus all the school events and rewards and such that you mentioned, it isn’t just a celebratory treat anymore, it’s an everyday habit. It’s not longer IN MODERATION! Can you tell it gets me steamed up?

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Jenna Z: Since I did not grow up in an era where food was so prevalent in school, it’s very useful to hear from an adult who did and who validates my position that a cupcake here, a chocolate reward there DOES have real consequences, at least for some kids. Thank you for candidly sharing your story here.

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brista January 10, 2013 at 8:26 am

“But the constant opportunities for treats taught me habits that I am still fighting to un-learn, like rewarding myself with food, stopping for treats or fast food on every car trip and associating EVERY SINGLE social event with the chance to eat treats.”

ME TOO! Especially the “fast food on every car trip”! That one has been very hard because growing up, any car trip (INCLUDING school trips) meant stopping for fast food. So as an adult, it’s been hard for me to stop associating “long drive” with “McDonalds!”

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Justin February 22, 2012 at 7:48 pm

I dunno… I think that Dad’s response is well thought-out, well-written, and I think he has a few really great points. Namely, I think he’s saying that a) We’ve really taken moderation as a society and tossed it out the window; and b) Many of the people trying to fix the problem (including many who frequent this site) think the solution needs to be all or nothing. It’s either cupcakes or kale, all the time, every time. If we take that approach, he’s right. We’ll never raise responsible eaters, which is what got us into this problem in the first place. And it starts with the parents, who weren’t taught responsible eating (or even how to cook, in many cases) for themselves. This is a problem at least two generations in the making.

I’ll choose the birthday cupcake as an example. My company celebrates birthdays with cake (yes, even we adults are entitled to birthday parties with the people we spend our days with). However, we recognize, as sensible folks, that 50+ birthdays a year would be excess. So instead, we have a monthly “Cake Day” where we recognize all the birthdays for the month with one or two cakes. Why isn’t this type of moderation acceptable in schools? Why do we have to ditch the cupcake altogether for the complaints of a few?

And I’m sorry, but as much as I totally respect and appreciate you and your blog, I take issue with your “Peanut Mom’s” appraisal of the allergy situation. I read somewhere that according to the CDC, less than 4% of infants (and by inference, 4% of any age) have severe allergies. As a new parent, I do NOT agree that it should be the responsibility of the other 96% of us to worry about what goes into OUR child’s personal lunch box because your kid might grab his or her food and eat it. It’s not up to us to learn to read labels for hidden allergens and learn about cross-contamination. It’s up to YOU to educate your kid and the staff at your school about his or her special needs. It’s up to YOU to pack your kid’s lunch allergen-free and teach him that it’s unsafe to share with friends because of this need. If you don’t, all you’re teaching your kid is that it’s everyone else’s responsibility to watch out for him. And lady, that’s not how the real world works.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for safety and I’d possibly even be okay with a nut ban for younger classrooms where the kids aren’t old enough to understand “sharing” properly yet. I’m all for banning excess caloric items (soda, junk food, etc.) from school-provided meal, vending, and al-a-carte programs. I’m all for making education about nutrition part of the curriculum. I even think we should start by making Home Ec or cooking class mandatory in High School so everyone knows how to cook before they become an adult. What I can’t get on-board with is broad-based bans and elimination as the right approach to a solution.

Just look around at other examples and you’ll find that telling a child or a teen (or an adult, for that matter), “You can’t have that. That’s bad,” is probably the least effective solution. If that worked, we wouldn’t have so many people smoking, drinking, and doing drugs at such young ages.

What we need is common sense approaches and education. And the solutions needs to be broad-based. You’re not going to solve childhood obesity by eliminating all junk food from schools alone if the parents don’t know any better and are serving-up chicken nuggets and fish sticks 5 nights a week at home. The solution needs to be in the home, in the classroom, in the cafeteria, and any other place that makes sense. And the solution needs to be based on common sense rather than sweeping rules, regulations, and outright bans.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Justin: I appreciate your taking up Concerned Dad’s view point in a forum where you’re clearly outnumbered. I have a few things to say in response.

With respect to the needs of food allergic kids, I understand the importance of teaching children responsibility, and while I don’t have an allergic child myself, I feel pretty certain that parents of allergic kids work extremely hard to inculcate them with that sense of responsibility because, after all, the child’s very life may depend on it. But why is it OK in the school setting to ask allergic kids to fend for themselves when we make all necessary accommodations for other sorts of disabilities? I won’t say more on this point as I’m sure parents of food allergic kids can do a much better job than I of responding to your position.

Second, celebrating all of one month’s birthdays on a single day would indeed a big improvement over the status quo, though it doesn’t address the concerns of food allergic kids. And on a practical level, who exactly is providing treats for the multiple birthday honorees? Because it seems to me that one reason the custom continues is the pleasure it gives the parent to bring the cupcakes, which may actually exceed the pleasure the kids take in eating them, yet not every parent can bring in the treats without defeating the purpose of a single monthly celebration.

Third, when you say “We’ve really taken moderation as a society and tossed it out the window,” I heartily agree, but from an opposing view point. I absolutely support the idea of enjoying sweets in moderation (no junk food is totally taboo in my home) but it’s the larger society which is now anything BUT moderate. I think my examples in the post demonstrate clearly how much junk food now infiltrates our children’s days.

Finally, when you say, “It’s either cupcakes or kale, all the time, every time,” you greatly misunderstand me. As I’ve said in many times, one reason why we parents hate the birthday cupcake in school is because it deprives US of the fun of sharing sugary treats with our kids. In a related post where I discuss my own desire to bring in a sweet classroom treat in for Hannukah, I wrote:

. . . each parent (rightly) feels that their one little, innocuous treat can’t do any harm, but no one is looking at the big picture.

Even as I fall into that same pattern of faulty thinking, I remind myself of just last week, when my son came home stuffed with sugary treats from not one, but two, birthdays in his class (cookies for one child, then cupcakes for another). Worse, these birthdays happened to fall on Friday, which is when our family celebrates Shabbat with, among other things, a nice dessert after dinner. And lately, my kids and I also have a semi-regular tradition of getting a fruit smoothie on Fridays after school. But cookies plus cupcakes plus smoothies plus Shabbat dessert = way too much sugar for one kid in one day, and I was, frankly, resentful of those two well-meaning parents who had brought food to school.

Even though we disagree, I appreciate your commenting here and look forward to what other readers have to say as well.

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Justin February 22, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Thanks! I also look forward to seeing how much my viewpoint changes after my daughter starts daycare next week and eventually proceeds into the solid eating phase where these issues come up more readily. ;-)

Truth is, we don’t disagree quite as much as my earlier post may have come across, and for that, I apologize. I think I got a little too frustrated with a some minor points that I disagree with and I came across as someone who doesn’t support any of what this blog has to offer. That’s not true. I’ve been following you for several months because I’m genuinely interested in the discussions you promote and the fairness and journalistic integrity with which you do so. In fact, I mentioned on my blog just last week that you were the only respectable coverage of the “chicken nugget vs. turkey sandwich” fiasco (because you actually did your homework) and that the so-called professional journalists should be ashamed of themselves for the crap they continued pass along without digging deeper.

One point of interest… I toyed with the idea of using the “other disabilities” argument as you did but in the opposition. My thought was (in contrast), we don’t force everyone to use a wheel chair because one student has to. Why is that any different than forcing a special diet on everyone because of one student? It’s still an adaptive measure, one way or the other. Perhaps a closer example would be enforcing a gluten free classroom because one student has Celiac disease. I agree, it’s not quite as deadly as anaphylaxis, but it’s still not to be taken lightly. An oops for a Celiac sufferer often means a week of diarrhea, bed rest, and malnutrition. Where do you draw the line? Just food for thought…

What I was really trying to get at is that many people (not necessarily you, specifically) tend to react to a problem by immediately jumping to the opposing end of the spectrum–sometimes without checking it against common sense. I think that realistically, that’s rarely a great approach to solve most problems because it still promotes a “one way is inherently better than the other” attitude. A compromise is usually the more *effective* solution.

In the cupcake scenario, the once-a-month idea may have its problems from both sides of the argument and there are certainly logistics to work-out (maybe all parents of kids for that month bring something in and the kids choose one treat from the buffet), but both sides probably agree it’s better than the alternative of a party nearly every week. And I’d argue that “cupcakes are a special treat food” teaches better choice habits for the kids in the long-run. But that’s just me and my parenting style. :-)

Great discussion going on!

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 23, 2012 at 6:55 am

This comment came into me (Bettina) via email from the mother of the peanut-allergic child quoted in the post. It addresses Justin’s comments about peanut allergic kids:

If you met my daughter, you would see an empowered child who has learned how to take care of herself, with no expectation that the world should revolve around her or her allergy. After reading your response, I can only hope that you never find yourself in my shoes, often dependent on the care and concern of others. You have made me exceptionally grateful for my school community that models lessons of tolerance and kindness each and every day. I have no doubt that your child will learn these values too — just not from you.

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Justin February 23, 2012 at 8:54 am

As I mentioned above, I *do* find myself in your shoes, though not on the eating/allergy front…yet. My infant daughter is starting daycare next week and we’re just as concerned as any other parents about entrusting her care to other people–more or less strangers, in this case.

My argument was not intended as a show of intolerance or that I think kids with special needs should not get the special care, assistance, and respect they need and deserve. That IS the job of the school and I’m thankful schools are there to do it. My argument was that it isn’t the responsibility of all of their peers and the parents of their peers to have to make the same adjustments that the kid with special needs has to make. You wouldn’t ask my child to sit in a wheelchair if your child had one just to make your child feel better about herself . Would you?

Asking that food sent in for the whole class be nut-free is one thing, and I can get on-board with that. I apologize if my earlier comments sounded like I wouldn’t. Asking that everyone else’s lunch brought in from home be nut-free is something entirely different.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 23, 2012 at 8:59 am

Justin:

First, thanks for the kind words about this blog and the chicken nugget post in particular (but there I was really just relaying the hard work of another blogger, Mark Thompson over at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen — I can’t take credit!) And I know from your comment here and prior contributions on TLT that you and are not usually very far apart, and I really appreciate the respectful tone with which you share your views when they do clash with mine.

Not to sound like the know-it-all parent of older kids, but it’s interesting to me that your child is not yet of school age. Hopefully things will be different by the time she gets there but if the status quo holds, you might well change your views about that innocent little cupcake. Just today on TLT’s Facebook page, a parent shared her list of all the opportunities in her school for kids to eat junk. I’m sharing it here:

• Daily ice cream sold @ snack time
• Candy used for learning tool (sorting, etc.)
• Candy used for good behavior/prizes in class
• Burger King night w/ milkshake reward
• Birthday parties (in class)
• Fundraisers (cookie dough, etc.)
• Holiday parties
• Holiday goody bags
• School sponsored activities – field day, fall festival, donuts with mom/dad/grandparents, etc.
• Book It – pizza as a reward for reading
• Student of the Month – ice cream reward
• Honor Roll – ice cream reward

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Justin February 23, 2012 at 9:28 am

When you start listing it as part of a greater picture, then I certainly do understand and agree and I’ll probably have the same battle when the time comes. However, this post started off just talking about Cupcakes and Birthday parties. :-)

The idea of an influx of food from different sources and how you (or anyone) as a parent can have some say in what and when your kid can participate is a tough nut to crack. I may place a higher priority on the birthday party but want him or her to pass on the Burger King night (for whatever my reasons are). You might feel the opposite. The point is, I think a parent wants to have a say…because you’re the parent and it’s your job and your right. And here you are feeling like you’re in a position with no say.

Probably the first and best defense is to teach your kid well and hope that he or she will make good decisions. But it takes awhile to get there and we all (kids or adults) sometimes just do something because we want to even if we know we shouldn’t.

I dunno…I’m not arguing here. Just sort of talking it out. It’s an interesting problem without a hard solution… :-)

An interesting and somewhat related story, we’ve been having a problem with posting of our daughter’s photos to Facebook. We learned immediately after her birth that we live in a world of smart phones and everyone would show-up to visit her, snap a photo and zoom! Off to that person’s FB page where I had no control over who saw it or where it went. We’ve been asking our friends and family politely to let us do the posting of her photos online and it’s been a tough battle with some hard feelings. “Everyone else is doing it,” and I have to be the one to explain why I’m being a pain-in-the-butt paranoid parent. It sucks…

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Jennifer September 15, 2012 at 2:21 am

I have to agree that the percentage of deathly allergic children are far less and that parents & children who are not allergic should not pay the price. I can say this and feel strongly about it as I am the mother of a child who is allergic to “Earth” practically! Also, I say this because there are many, many parents out there who take their children to be allergy tested and either a) overreact that on the nuts test their child had a reactionor b) the physician is over treating a child. My child was in the hospital the first 3 yrs of her life until we finally found out about her allergies. Her first allergist banned all nuts. I thought this was extreme since the but test barely showed a reaction; however I stuck to it for 3 yrs until I realized the poor advice I was getting. After taking her to a GOOD allergist I was able to get my childs allergies under control and she left the first visit and we went to Safeway and bought peanut butter…..nothing happened either!! My point is I KNOW for a fact there are dar too many parents blowing their children’s allergies out of proportion. If a school is going to go completely nut free then I hope they are asking for some medical proof or documentation, which unfortunately many schools take the overreacting parents nut banning desires at face value. Please do not think I am saying to ignore nut allergies because if in fact there is a deathly allergic child there should be the appropriate steps taken to make that child safe! We must ask ourselves to validate these allergies because we sure didn’t see all of these deathly peanut allergies even a few years ago!

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Bettina Elias Siegel September 15, 2012 at 9:48 am

Jennifer: I appreciate your perspective as someone with a food allergic child, which is not something I’ve experienced. It may be that some cases are overblown but, as you say, many cases are truly serious. (In my own extended family I have a relative who was severely threatened by contact with various nuts and seeds.) To me, as indicated by my “Food in the Classroom Manifesto,” food allergies are just one factor that among many that support keeping classrooms food free. Even if we disagree on this one, I do thank you for coming by and sharing your views.

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Jennifer September 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Agree to disagree is what keeps the world working! However, as a whole I do have to agree food free classrooms would be much better. Better yet, I would be even happier if there were fruit & veggie snacks only classrooms! I can make some mean fruit and veggie trays :)

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Dana Woldow February 23, 2012 at 9:11 am

In my school district, while there is no formal policy on what classrooms must and must not do re parties, there are “guidelines” that suggest this once a month celebration, and many classrooms do use that model. It works great – parents can still send cupcakes for their child’s birthday month party, but they are no longer burdened with having to provide 2 dozen; maybe there are 4 kids with a March birthday, so each parent send just 6 cupcakes. They also send fruit, raw veggies, and non food treats. Sometimes a parent will come to class and lead a fun activity or read the class a story. I have never yet heard a parent complain because they were deprived of the right to provide 24 cupcakes instead of 6.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 25, 2012 at 11:14 am

Justin –

In my own experience, there were some occasions for treats in preschool but the treat/junk deluge really ramped up in elementary. That’s all I meant there – I certainly wasn’t undermining the significance of turning your daughter over to the care and feeding of others, which is of course a big deal! :-)

And as for the allergy thing, let’s put aside the bigger question of a peanut-free school (where everyone’s lunch is affected) since that’s pretty far afield from my original post. But just focusing on treats, I think what many parents of food allergic kids are saying is that a lot of education goes into figuring out which food are safe. Like, maybe no peanuts are listed on a packaged good, but a parent with no allergic kids might not think to also read the “made in a facility which uses nuts” disclosure. Or there can be unintentional cross-contamination in the kitchen of the home cook. That sort of thing.

BTW, longtime readers of TLT already know this, but I want to make clear to everyone reading this thread that right up until LAST YEAR, I, too, was toting in the box of cupcakes on birthdays! So just know that all these cupcake posts represent a real consciousness-raising on my own part, one that my kids no doubt wish had never occurred! (You can read my own “outing” of myself here.

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Amy February 28, 2012 at 9:17 am

Justin,
If your daughter is just starting preschool, you’ll soon learn that your idea of a healthy snack may differ significantly from other parents’ (or even the school’s).

One of the reasons I dislike institutional snacking is that many places ban homemade treats (for understandable reasons, I suppose). That means that your preschool daughter may end up with a birthday cupcake roughly the size of her head from a big-box discount club, with frosting made from shortening and sugar (how else can it sit unrefrigerated for so long?). Even a muffin from one of those places is just cake in disguise, made with the cheapest and lowest-quality ingredients. When you figure in your daughter’s diminutive weight and the fact that she will be eating an adult-sized cupcake and getting a adult-sized portions of sugar, fat, and artificial whatever, don’t be surprised when your delightful daughter becomes surly and out of sorts after school. I could always tell when my kids had less-than-desirable “treats” in preschool. (And, for the record, my kids attended a progressive preschool with super highly educated parents.)

My kids are older now, but the focus on “treats” at school/sports/any reason when they were younger was crazy, and yes, I do believe that focus contributes to the obesity problem. After all, we, as a society, are conditioning our kids to recieve an unhealthy “treat” for playing soccer, doing good deeds through scouts, or whatever activity they are pursuing. So keeping them out of the classroom is one step toward minimizing the effect that the whole crazy snack food industry has successfully unleashed on us.

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Kate February 23, 2012 at 1:56 am

I posted on one of your cupcake threads. It really isn’t an issue I have a huge vested interest in at this time, but I can see why some people like to have the opportunity. For some families we know bringing the cupcakes may be the only way the child can have the birthday recognized by his peers…as opposed to having a birthday party.

I’d have to say I lean more towards Justin’s views on the issue. I do strongly object to linking cupcake bans to the allergy issue. I don’t think any schools should be making knee jerk policy decisions on allergies without careful research. My own guess, partly based on work experiences(asking adults about allergies to foods and drugs as part of a health history) is that the actual amount of documented anaphylactic reactions is probably much lower than what we might imagine.

As far as banning cupcakes as a way to deal with food allergies, that still doesn’t address issues in the lunchroom with kids trading food, or the kids that sneaks a Reese’s peanut butter cup in his pocket before going to school.

I’d also suggest that part of educating any child with a special dietary need(allergy or otherwise) is how to self manage. The child still has to manage when he goes to a friend’s house, or when he is at the mall. He’ll still have times when he may not be able to share in the same food others have.

I’d also disagree that the issue should be linked to what we may or may not do for children with other disabilities. Even so, we don’t stop other kids from doing things(playground activities, sports) just because other children might not be able to do these things.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 23, 2012 at 6:58 am

Kate: This is a really good point you made — “I can see why some people like to have the opportunity. For some families we know bringing the cupcakes may be the only way the child can have the birthday recognized by his peers…as opposed to having a birthday party.” I hadn’t quite thought of that, but my answer would be, why not celebrate with nonfood treats like (depending on the age group) a craft, games, trinkets, Play Doh, etc.? What I often hear from parents is that the KIDS could care less how their birthday is recognized, they just want to feel special on the big day. It tends to be the parents who feel that food must be part of the equation.

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Julie February 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Three years ago my son started school and I felt much the same as you have expressed, “Why do I have to send lunches that are safe for other children in the school?” I thought it was ridiculous to ask me to change my behaviours when I had strictly taught my son to not share his food with another, to clean his hands after eating and to never trade.

Two years ago, my attitude changed drastically. We were blessed with another child. At 3 weeks of age we had him admitted to the hospital because I had eaten peanut butter and breastfed this newborn. He was in severe distress. Now at nearly 2 yrs of age we have to have a completely peanut free home because his allergy is so severe that any trace of peanuts could kill him. He’s too young to tell us there is something wrong, and everything goes into his mouth!

When he goes to school, and another child has had peanut butter for breakfast and not properly washed his hands, it could put him in jeopardy. To hear another parent say the same things I’ve said breaks my heart. Makes me realize how callous I was with another child’s life. Is it really that hard to prepare a meal for your child that is safe for those around?

It was mentioned that we don’t make our children sit in a wheel chair because another student is physically disabled, but perhaps we should. We should teach our children empathy, tolerance, respect, and understanding. It would go a long way. I feel like those were missing from me when I disregarded the rules of the school and the needs of others for my own convenience. I learned my lesson well, it was a frightening experience and wish beyond all wishes you could imagine that I had of been able to learn it in another way. My 2 yo’s food restrictions are severe, frustrating, and not without constant vigilance at home and in the community.

Think about it, just for a moment, if this was your child whose life could be threatened by a mere crumb of a classmates meal.

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Traceh February 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm

I actually got into a little argument with a woman who’s attitude was that of why should I change my kids food to accommodate other kids allergies. I was appalled at her callousness. I’m so lucky that I don’t have to deal with these issues but never send peanut butter to school. I said to her “you would have a completely different attitude if YOUR kid was the allergic one and be offended that no one else cared.” She hasn’t talked to me since.

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Amy February 28, 2012 at 8:58 am

Julie,
Your post is an excellent example of the value of compassion. At some point in our lives, and in our children’s lives, we will all require the assistance of our communities. Whether we are recovering from surgery, raising a child with a life-threatening allergy, or trying to cope with a large family and limited income, no one gets through life without now and then relying on others. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can be totally self-sufficient all the time.

And that is where I see a very troubling aspect to these posts. For parents who think their child should not be inconvienced by having to bring, say, almond butter sandwiches rather than peanut butter sandwiches, what would happen if their child was in a car accident and suddenly required a wheelchair? Should our taxes go toward building a ramp in the public school and making the bathrooms wheelchair accessible? Following the “it’s not my child” line of reasoning, that child would need to learn how to fend for him/herself.

I am saddened by the lack of community, of the “we’re all in this together” aspect of some of these posts. What happened to being our brothers’ keepers?

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Lenee February 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Julie, I found it interesting the mention of having a child sit in a wheelchair to make a disable child “feel better about themselves” and agree more with your insight on the issue that it could actually be used as a tool to teach empathy, tolerance, respect and understanding. This is a bit off subject from the thread, but I had to mention to you that, as a child, I experienced this very lesson!

My sister has Spinal Muscular Atrophy and has been using a wheelchair all of her life. She’s 17 months older than me. When I was about three I was complaining to my mom and acting bratty because my sister required so much more attention than my brother and I. My mom decided to teach me a lesson and required me to spend a whole day in a wheelchair so I could get a taste of just WHY my sister required so much more attention.

Well, it worked and it was a lesson well learned. I don’t have any memory beyond that day of ever being jealous or envious of her ever again. Not that I had any pity or anything, because that is the last thing people in chairs want, and I was taught that as well. It was more that I had a much better understanding of “that’s just the way things are.” I thought you might find this amusing…..your statement put into action with a positive outcome! :)

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Justin February 29, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Lenee:
I was the original person who brought-up the wheel chair scenario as an illustration. While I agree with you that time spent in in a wheel chair (or eating a special diet, or generally learning about different abilities) might teach empathy and lots of other good things, it is indeed a bit off-topic and not exactly why I brought it up in the first place.

My original reason for the illustration was that I don’t think it’s fair to force everyone in a group to conform to one person’s physical inabilities *every day*. That’s not tolerance or empathy. That’s, “If I can’t have it, then you can’t have it either.” And a lot of people who have commented here (specifically those with kids with nut allergies) feel that’s a perfectly valid approach. I disagree.

If one kid in the class has diabetes, should the whole class have to eat dietetic food–including the food you bring for yourself in your own lunchbox? If one kid is deathly allergic to bees, should we cancel recess for everyone? If one kid in the class has severe Celiac disease, should the entire class have to bring their sandwiches on rice bread in case a crumb falls his way?

Maybe it makes sense to have a policy that food brought in specifically to share should be nut-free or store-bought (so someone ‘in the know’ can inspect the ingredients label). But when the policy extends into what goes into my kid’s lunchbox, I kind of have a problem with that.

I also believe that exceptions to the rule can be handled on a case-by-case basis rather than with sweeping rules that affect even those who aren’t even near the issue. For example, if one kid has a nut allergy so severe that being near a PBJ makes him break-out in a rash, then maybe you *ask* that kids who have PBJ for lunch sit further from him or *ask* that parents be conscious of the other student and not send PBJ’s to school if your kid is in the same class with that kid or eats with that kid. The point being, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing edict. Common sense, education for everyone, and even some good old fashioned empathy should apply and be more than sufficient.

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Lenee February 29, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I understand your statements. The only reason I brought it up was to share with Julie that what she mentioned was exactly what happened to me. It was just amusing to me and it had very little to do with the topic, hence my mention of it being off topic. I was not opposing your arguments, nor was I expressing an opinion about them. In fact, I agree with much of what you said. Her statement just completely matched my experience and I thought she would also find it amusing. Nothing more, nothing less. :)

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Scatteredmom February 22, 2012 at 9:06 pm

I have worked in schools for 20 years, and I must say-if we are going to get rid of the birthday cupcake, then food should not be given as rewards, class parties should be mostly healthy food with one small treat per child, and… (this is going to make some people wonder)…

Staff should set the example. Treat days that includes donuts, cookies, and copious amounts of junk in the staffroom? Gone.

It’s hard to tell little Sally she can’t bring cupcakes when the teachers are eating them.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 22, 2012 at 9:16 pm

That’s so true – if the teacher has a can of Coke open on the desk while teaching the nutrition unit (or any time, really) what is that saying to the kids? But I’ll start with birthday cupcakes – one step at a time, right? :-)

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Chris February 23, 2012 at 8:55 am

My daughter’s 4 TH grade teacher drinks cans of Mountain Dew all day long… and she is SDA and supposedly has a healthy diet… 0.o/

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 23, 2012 at 9:39 am

Chris – just for my own edification, what is SDA?

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Ron Miller February 26, 2012 at 12:49 pm

I agree. The example is probably more important than what any teacher says about diet.

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Tari February 22, 2012 at 10:25 pm

I think another point that’s worth making is that a lot of us are “fighting this battle” on more than just the school front, and that makes it even harder for us to contenance the ” it’s just a cupcake for birthdays” argument that this dad makes. Over on my kitchen counter right now are 2 large boxes of chocolates – my mother in law brought each of the boys their own box for Valentine’s Day and we still have candy left. I’ve tried and tried to stop this “tradition” of hers – which apparently includes candy for every holiday except Flag Day – and after 12 years I have to say it’s not working. So I’m a little too busy fighting the bad food habits of this 70-something year old woman (and to some extent the lovely son she raised – ahem) to also want to fight the almost-strangers who want to feed my child donuts once a week at school.

If that sounds crabby I don’t mean it to be. Allow me to blame my head-cold: not for my ideas but for my poor way of expressing them. :)

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 23, 2012 at 7:00 am

Tari: RIGHT! It’s the Big Picture problem. No one treat is harmful, each treat is shared with love, everyone wants to have that special moment with a kid. But when you add it all up, it can get out of hand. (And well expressed, even with a head cold!)

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Jessica February 23, 2012 at 3:40 am

SERIOUSLY?!! A birthday cupcake is being banned – wow! What will the world come to next?! Wish all these mum’s would stop trying to be so “perfect” and doing the “right thing” .. Stop depriving children of childhood memories we grew up with.. How many of your actually go outside & play with your children instead of staying inside? Maybe exercise is the problem here not so much a birthday cupcake! Let’s start something that would be helpful & ban lollies only to the lolly isle so parents can avoid it through a shopping trip – maybe this would be a better start than a celebrataroy cupcake!

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 23, 2012 at 7:06 am

Jessica – Just speaking for myself here, food –and the enjoyment of it — is of central importance in my own family. (I don’t know if you’re new here or not, but the TLT family is VERY into eating.) So I can guarantee you that my kids will have very rich memories of delicious meals shared together, including all sorts of sugary fun.

But when MY child comes home full of YOUR cupcake, now you’ve removed from me any parental choice in the matter. Maybe I don’t like food dyes — a real concern for some parents who believe it affects behavior — or maybe I had a special treat planned that day, but now we’re moving in to sugar overload (this has happened to me countless times!). Or maybe it’s the allergy issue, or maybe my child is overweight and we’re trying hard to scale back. Whatever.

I think those of us who favor a food ban are just asking: can’t you leave the question of how we feed our kids up to each individual parent? Then we can agree to disagree, but my choices won’t affect your child, and vice versa.

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Karen February 23, 2012 at 4:33 am

Hahahaha you people honestly make me laugh.. Fast forward 20 years and I dare say you will have obese adults on your hands.. Seriously you are the fun police… If you take these things away from your children now, what do you think they are going to do when they have access to them, themselves? Gorge I believe.. And yes, I’m a teacher & yes, I’m a parent.. I feed my kids healthy options, but also aren’t afraid to let them be kids & eat the odd treat from time to time.. How boring to not encourage a cupcake at a bday, I made 25 bright rainbow cupcakes, with rainbow icing last week for my sons birthday & sent them to school & it’s all the kids spoke about for a week! I chanced upon this boring ho-hum blog from another try hard ho-hum boring mums blog (who probably alike the majority of you guys eat Macca’s and KFC whilst you write this hypocritical nonsense) and all I can do is pity your children.. It’s a sad sad world we live in, let your kids go for a run, play with them in the park but don’t turn them into the next race of fat adults or anorexic little girls cause mummy said sugar is bad for me.. I’ll be looking forward to reading your blog 20 years from now to poke fun at your parenting & check out piccies of your obese grand kids :-)

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 23, 2012 at 7:09 am

Hey Karen:

I get that you and I passionately disagree, and that’s all fine. But as you can see if you read this comment thread, even the most fervent opponents of my post have managed to hold it together and remain polite and civil. If you can’t do the same, please don’t come around again.

For almost two years, The Lunch Tray has been a friendly, safe forum for sharing all viewpoints and I intend to keep it that way.

Cheers.

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Nicole Caulfield February 23, 2012 at 5:55 am

Banning peanuts in a classroom for all students lunches is not what we were talking about, we were talking about bringing treats in for classmates.

Every year a letter gets sent home to parents of children in my daughter’s class saying that there is someone in the class that has a peanut allergy so if you send in things for the whole class to send in peanut free food and the labels from the food items. I don’t think that is too much – the kids can still bring their peanut butter things for themselves.

What happens however is parents forget and send in things for the whole class with peanuts. Since there is a rule they can’t the teacher doesn’t check to see if there are any because they shouldn’t be bringing any peanut things for the whole class. In the case I mentioned earlier – my 5 year old kindergartner was given peanut candy and COULD NOT READ YET. Do you know how long it takes to read through some food labels? Even if a 5 year old can sight read a word like peanut, they may miss it on a package. If a teacher gives them the candy – they trust the candy.

Plus like someone else mentioned many many adults can not decipher allergen food labels, so another thing that happens is that they send in home baked goods with no labels. Then the child with the peanut allergy can not have it even though the parent may SAY it has no peanuts in it. If there are no labels they are not supposed to have it. Which is good – that is how it is supposed to be. But then the well intentioned cupcake bringer has not brought treats for the whole class anymore because my daughter can’t have one.

Does the school have to treat it like a disability? Sure, they have to be accommodated. The little 5 year olds who can not read have to have a responsible adult say if they can or can not have a food. They have to have a healthy environment. If someones food allergy is so severe that they can not sit next to someone with a peanut – then they should not sit next to someone with a peanut (my daughter is not that bad). They could DIE.

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Nicole Caulfield February 23, 2012 at 6:23 am

Kate –

Yes there are many times when my daughter can not share with her friends, but it is so easy to send in peanut free foods with labels for classroom treats. Why would I want to send one in with peanuts when I know someone will be left out? The less treats that get sent in – the easier it is to manage.

My daughter has had two anaphylactic reactions in her life. I don’t think either are documented. That does not mean there is not a possibility for more.

Arguing about teaching my child responsibility is moot when she can not read yet and can not do it properly yet.

Arguing about kids having the right to bring in peanut food is also moot when kids tease her with peanut butter sandwiches at her table or chase her with them saying “there’s a peanut Katie – are you going to die?”

I’m sorry I get upset when people are as ignorant as kids are on how dangerous a peanut allergy can be.

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Kate February 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Nicole….for the record my comments weren’t aimed at you. I think I have made similar comments about not pairing the cupcake and the allergy issue together.

I read your earlier posts where you stated your child has an epi-pen. So you’ve had some sort of contact with the medical community, so your child’s allergy does have some documentation. Not every parent that is wanting a school to make special accommodations has that sort of documentation, or had a child that has allergies that are life threatening in the way your child’s might be.

I’d agree that there are different developmental expectations in how we expect kids to deal with dietary restrictions. Even so, children that have certain dietary restricitions (like a child with type 1 diabetes) do best when they are actively involved in self management.

I’m also not saying that schools shouldn’t change policies on a case by case basis. I’m just saying that we should have information and look at research before making these policies.

As far as your comments about the possibility of dying from a peanut allergy…I appreciate that concern. Still I think the school environment is filled with opportunities where one can face risk. Even the best run PE class or recess period brings it with the chance of some sort of injury.

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Casey February 23, 2012 at 6:50 am

Chris mentioned artificial colorings but I didn’t see anyone mention artificial sweeteners. I just read an article that said sugarless gum is the only growth area in the gum industry. Should parents who don’t want their kids eating fake sugar be undermined by another parent who substitutes Splenda for sugar in the classroom cupcakes?
Personally, like Jenna Z, my biggest concern is the use of food as a reward because it teaches emotional eating and the major medical organizations recommend avoiding this practice. Unfortunately, it’s still very prevalent in schools and adults are undermining children developing a healthy relationship with food. Nostalgia shouldn’t trump parent’s authority to follow medical recommendations in the best interest of children.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 23, 2012 at 7:14 am

Casey: This is so illustrative of what I’m talking about. Your particular concern is artificial sweeteners (I’m opposed to feeding them to kids, too, btw), yet some other mom thinks she’s doing you a big favor by feeding your kid Splenda cupcakes.

While I’m labeled a Food Cop for wanting to get treats out of class, you have to ask: between me and the Splenda mom, who is really interfering with your rights as a parent? She can have her cupcakes anywhere else, but you can’t control the foisting of her treats on your child.

Thanks for commenting here.

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Casey February 23, 2012 at 7:30 am

I’m concerned about my kids having too much sugar because of the addictive properties so the Splenda marketing plays into that “have your cake and eat it too” mindset (yes, more bad puns). I respect the choice of parents who choose not to feed their kids artificial sweeteners so I wouldn’t push for subbing Splenda for sugar on their kids at school, just as I hope other parents wouldn’t push the sugar on my kids at school.

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Susan T. February 23, 2012 at 7:30 am

Jessica: Did you even bother to read the article or any of the links? And it’s not “a” birthday cupcake (as in singular). Lets stop fooling ourselves with that already.

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Trina February 23, 2012 at 9:07 am

Sorry but this all screams of helicopter parenting! Why do you think kids gorge themselves of junk food? Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol. Allergies are real and most teachers are as diligent as they can reasonably be. I suppose birthdays will go the way of Easter and Christmas where we become too scared to celebrate them for fear of offending others hmm. I chose to send my child to school with healthy food but I won’t begrudge him a cupcake to celebrate a friends birthday.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 23, 2012 at 9:38 am

Trina: I can’t speak for everyone here but my kids most definitely do enjoy treats quite regularly (more often than I’d like, actually!). My argument is not “take away all treats,” which I know some subscribe to but which I agree could easily backfire and cause all kinds of undesirable effects like binging and hoarding. My position has always been: “let each parent decide for him/herself when, where and what treats are offered.” But when you open up the classroom and people can bring in whatever they like, you interfere with each parent’s choice in the matter.

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Bri February 27, 2012 at 8:54 am

Well, me either — I won’t begrudge my child a cupcake to celebrate a friend’s birthday. What I want to know is, why does he have to have TWO cupcakes to celebrate a friend’s birthday — one at the school celebration, one at the actual birthday party? Because that’s what’s happening, at least in our town and at our school. And why does he have to have a cupcake to celebrate the birthday of a kid who’s not even much of a friend to him? Because there’s no way every single one of the 23 kids in his class is as close a buddy as the five or six kids he playdates with regularly. And why does he have to have a cupcake to celebrate each of those 23 birthdays, plus an extra cupcake for each of the 10-12 kids whose parties he’ll go to, plus a cupcake or a dish of ice cream or a piece of candy just about weekly for the “special day” at school — be it Valentine’s Day, “Pinkalicious” Day (celebrated with pink cupcakes and strawberry milk), “Rainbow counting day” (celebrated with M and Ms used as a math objective)…
Have the cupcake to celebrate the friend’s birthday when you go to the friend’s party. Simple enough. And that way, when my son wants a chocolate-chip cookie after dinner, I don’t have to try to exhaust myself with a mental tally to figure out what ELSE he had that day. Because I’m pretty sure that if I just kept letting him have the chocolate chip cookie so as not to be “uptight” and the “fun police” in your eyes, he’d end up obese as a result of all the excess. And then there’d be a whole chorus of people pointing fingers at me and saying “There’s another lazy parent who let her kid get obese.” So in other words, I can’t win. Right?

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Amy February 23, 2012 at 9:29 am

Thank you for this article and for including this father’s letter but what I specifically found striking was this statement, “Food, sugar in particular, is not some evil thing that tiptoed into our society and made kids fat.” This statement shows how uneducated he is about what he is feeding his own children. What he thinks is “sugar” is actually “corn” and the worst kind of corn! His sugar is most likely genetically engineered High Fructose Corn Syrup, not “sugar” at all. And, it did “tiptoe” into our food supply without many people being aware of it! How many Americans knew that in the 1980’s sugar in soft drinks, candies, cookies, snacks, and everything else was being replaced with High Fructose Corn Syrup? I was a child at the time but my parents didn’t know. Packing wasn’t changed. How many people were aware that genetically engineered High Fructose Corn Syrup entered our food supply? Was an announcement made that Halloween and Valentines candy, cupcake mix, breakfast cereal, basically everything we eat contains genetically engineered High Fructose Corn Syrup? No. I don’t think so. Sounds more like “tiptoing” to me. And, interestingly, obesity and type 2 diabetes rates went up about this same time I’ve read. Now, I know I have nothing better to do than sit around and come to conclusions about things I read on the Internet, but I do remember a few things from being the statistics t.a. back in grad school… correlation does not mean causation. So basically just because genetically engineered high fructose corn syrup “tiptoed” it’s way into our food supply back in the 80’s doesn’t mean that’s why about that same time doctors and researchers saw an increase in obesity and type 2 diabetes. But, makes you wonder if there would be a relationship…

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Lenee February 29, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Bravo, Amy!

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Concerned Mom February 23, 2012 at 10:53 am

I certainly appreciate and relate to this post. I debated about commenting publicly here but finally decided to leave off my name…TLT knows who I am and we’ll leave it at that. When I spoke up at my childrens’ school a couple years ago I received a lot of negative feedback in the form of nasty verbal and written comments. So much that it actually scarred me. My husband has begged me not to ever do that again. I was shocked that there was opposition. Who would be against keeping kids healthy?

Here’s what I know:
1) Kids are offered ‘foods’ that aren’t anything like what we had as children. They aren’t getting grandma’s apple pie or mom’s chocolate chip cookies. The food industry has made these foods sickly sweet, high in salt and very high in fat. In addition, postion sizes aren’t the same. at all.
2) These foods are easily accessible to kids (outside the home). As BES and Dana Waldow said–it’s coming at them from everywhere…sports activities, classrooms and the freakin lunch room (I witnessed kids choose/eat ice cream, frito pie, a popsicle and chocolate milk yesterday for lunch).
3) Parents who are opposed to removing unhealthy foods from schools seem to feel threatened they are being judged on whether they are good parents or not. Is it really about the food or the fact that other parents are fighting this battle for keeping your kids healthy and it makes you feel like a ‘bad’ parent? I’m not saying you ARE one or that anyone TRULY thinks that–but is that how it makes you feel?

My children are well trained in healthy eating and balancing the occasional treat. However they are completely human too. I wouldn’t hand over a bottle of medicine to a young kid and say “I trust you to just take what is good for you.” In that same sense, I wouldn’t hand off the responsibility of making healthy food choices to a young child and say “resist the giant cupcake” or ‘just eat a small amount’. I would never expect my kids to be faced with these tempations at this young age (<10) AND choose the higher path.

I have so many things to say in response to Justin's naive comments about food allergy but I have to get to work! Good post Bettina, you are very brave. I admire your courage to speak up.

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Alissa February 23, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I’d like to jump in on the allergy conversation. There is so much talk about whether treats being brought in should or should not be NUT free, but one of the points Bettina has made which I feel is getting lost is that kids have life threatening allergies to so many other foods! So even if we only bring packaged, labeled, peanut-free foods into school, and even if all parents were experts at reading the labels, we are still not protecting all kids. Which is why a policy of NO food brought in to the classroom makes the most sense. As Susan said above, “School should be a neutral zone.” This way we are not only protecting the kids with allergies and other health conditions (like diabetes), but we are respecting EVERY parent’s right to decide how to feed our own kids. The parents who think sugary foods are a critical part of every celebration are welcome to provide those treats at home. The parents who take a more conservative approach or like to avoid specific other ingredients (dyes, HFCS, etc) are also able to do so. We all win.

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Kate February 23, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I had one more comment about linking the cupcake issue with food allergies.

It seems to me that if we want to link the cupcake issue with food allergies, then really we would need to remove any possible food related activity from the classroom. While I can’t remember very many times in my own education where we ate outside of our normal lunch time…I do remember a few.

Eating a cracker to demonstrate the properties of salivary amylase(a digestive enzyme). Doing the classic experiments where you eat a food blindfolded or with your nose plugged to determine the influence of your other senses on taste. Exploring other cultures by making and/or trying new foods. And the most controversial one, I’m sure…making peanut brittle in chemistry class. I’m sure there are dozens of other food related experiments.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 25, 2012 at 10:22 am

Kate – this may shock you but I’m at the point now where I’m wondering why we EVER need food to make a pedagogical point in the classroom.

My kids used to learn about the blood system in science class by — I kid you not – filling pan with corn syrup for plasma, red hot candies for red blood cells, white Tic-Tacs for the white blood cells, and one more candy (that my son and I can’t presently recall.) And then the class ATE THIS MIXTURE!

What relevance could the *consumption* of that concoction have to teaching about the blood system? Couldn’t we have used water and colored marbles and made the same point?

I realize that maybe kids won’t get to see the amazing peanut brittle experiment anymore but is that really such a loss when food in the classroom (highly allergenic peanuts no less) is objectionable to so many for so many different reasons?

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Kate February 27, 2012 at 1:19 am

I’ve seen the blood experiment before…my thought was that it wasn’t meant to be for consumption, but the internet has proven me wrong here. The corn syrup is used because it has a similar viscosity to blood. I recall marshmallows in the version I saw.

On the subject of things being inedible yet food based…there are also dozens of science and art projects that might use food as a starting point…vegetable dyes, homemade play doh, experiments involving crystallization, potato batteries, dried bean mosaics, etc. Should we ban all of these as well because of allergy fears?

As far as the “amazing” peanut brittle experiment. I never used the word “amazing”. It was simply one small attempt for us to put what we’d been learning into a more real life application. As far as the highly allergenic material…I can’t recall one student ever having a reaction. There was probably much more risk involved in using an open gas flame, or working with boiling sugar. But looking back on my own experiences and comparing them to now, I guess the guiding principles is that we shouldn’t expose our kids to any sort of risk.

But my point is here, which I’ve probably said before, if we are going to ban cupcakes for fear of allergies…then wouldn’t it stand we’d have to eliminate every sort of classroom interaction with food, whether the kids are consuming it or not?

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jodi February 24, 2012 at 6:01 am

Bettina, I agree with everything you said. I find it so frustrating that my child is slammed with so many sweets in her life. This was last week:
Monday: Teacher gave out Hershey’s kisses for being “good”
Tuesday: At a friend’s house, the mom supplied leftover SweatHearts from V-day for a snack.
Wednesday: Snack at school was Oreos and sugary drink
Thursday: Pick up dry-cleaning, where a bowl of DumDum lollipops awaits.
Friday: Birthday party at school
Saturday: Birthday party at the kid’s house.

My kid just turned 4 — she hasn’t even entered the public school system yet and she’s already being conditioned to eat all this junk. It’s so frustrating. Thanks for a great article, so glad I found TLT!

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Traceh February 24, 2012 at 11:49 am

I have to add one thing to this… Having cupcakes in class for birthdays or candy for Valentines day and Halloween, and cookies for Christmas just keeps reinforcing the food/event tie. People use holidays, birthdays, special occasions as excuses to gorge on unhealthy food, and with 27 kids in my kids classrooms that would be 27 days out of 180 that are filled with sugary treats (and they DO celebrate summer kids birthdays so you can’t count them out) plus the 4-5 holidays so 1/6 of the school year the kids are gorging of high fat high sugar junk out of the parents control. Then some kids, knowing a huge sugary snack is coming, forgo eating their lunch (such as my daughter who wants to save room). Then add in the inevitable fights at home over when candy can be consumed which is a huge irritant. They want to sit and eat it all RIGHT NOW! I personally HATE parties at school because of the treats. Younger kids have yet to learn what moderation means. I’m working on teaching my kids about everyday foods, and occasional foods. But as kids, they want all junk, all the time. Reinforcing this food/event connection will drive them down a very unhealthy path because NOW, junk food is linked to happy times. So in the future, when they are sad, they’ll eat candy. If it’s a holiday? eat candy, cakes, cookies. Birthday? eat more junk. Rewards?mmm candy again. Then like one poster mentioned, on top of that, most of the school lunches are LOADED with fat and sugar. Each week, my school has maple burst pancakes for lunch. Or a Dannon crush cup, nutrigrain bar and chocolate milk. Really? My school does have a fresh fruit bar, but seriously with what’s available is a kid really going to choose fresh fruit over a crush cup? I digress… I would LOVE to see the food/event tie broken and instead of cupcakes, cookies, and candy, do crafts or donate or do something else positive. Or doll up fruits and veggies to make them cute and let the kids eat real whole food and make THAT a food/event connection to encourage proper use of moderation. What we have now is NOT moderation. No, one cupcake will not make a child fat, but the link to events and emotional connections to it can. And it’s NEVER just one cupcake.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Traceh: I really appreciate the perspective of an educator, so thanks for commenting here. And I’m kicking myself for not titling the post, “It’s NEVER just one cupcake!” :-)

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Jenna Z February 24, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Absolutely! Like I said in my comment, I am an adult trying to break that event/food tie and relearn to enjoy NON-FOOD celebration. And it’s almost impossible, people feel the need to bring food to every single occasion, to celebrate every single milestone and tiny life moment (TGIF, church coffee hour, snacks at meetings, snacks and coffee at the oil change place, candy at the bank, etc.) with food and more food. And I’m trying to break the cycle of rewarding myself with food, which was something that was done both at school and at home when I was young and is a terrible habit.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 27, 2012 at 9:09 am
Traceh February 27, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Wonderful! Those were the 2 specific comments I really wanted to reply to but ran out of time! I read your other blog and have some other points to make. I’m trying to figure out if I should make them here or on your new blog.

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Sara February 24, 2012 at 11:57 am

I used to think it was no big deal to celebrate with an occasional treat, then realized that it really is not just occasional – it is all the time. And as a Nutritionist that works with parents that are trying so hard to get their kids healthy, and get the junk food out of their lives – only to have it derailed at school, after soccer games, and just about everywhere. I think it comes down to this – 1/3 of all kids predicted to develop diabetes in their lifetime, obesity at an all time high, evidence of heart disease is found in kids, food sensitivities rising, ADD and Autism rising. Most parents who know what this junk does to their kids’ health do not feed it to them regularly, and do not want it handed out in school where they can not refuse it. Even if a parent brings it in, and the school allows it – by default they are technically endorsing it and could be liable. This is a big issue right now for our school, and surprisingly very dividing – with very strong opinions on both sides. On one side of the issue – are the parents that think they should have the right to bring in treats to celebrate their kids birthdays. On the other side are the parents that do not want other people to feed their kid foods with artificial colors, preservatives, high fructose corn syrup. To me, it is clear whose side should win.

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RedinNC February 24, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I could not possibly agree with you more about hating the junk food deluge. What bothers me the most is the use of junk food as a reward in schools. My son read 50 books, and he got… a pizza coupon. WTF? He gets an answer right in class, and it’s a sweettart or M&M. If he’s good all week he gets to pick from the goody bag. And what do the parents provide for the goody bag? Mostly candy. It makes me absolutely furious. Talk about a counterproductive message for the schools to be sending. And we wring our hands about why there’s an obesity crisis. It’s absolutely sick.

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frugalmom February 24, 2012 at 4:28 pm

our school district has tried to implement a wellness policy (SW Idaho) and it seemed to have momentum at first but I feel like it’s losing ground. They were encouraging healthy snacks for birthdays (once a month) and only one sweet treat at holiday parties. This year I volunteered to be the “room mom” for one of my children’s classes so I could help control the intake of junk. I’m pleased that for the most part, the parents complied with my food requests. Our three holiday parties so far this year had mostly fruit and veggies, with one (or two) sweets. For another one of my children’s birthdays we brought fruit skewers and they were a big hit, with most kids. You hate to judge a book by its cover, but I can tell how a child is fed at home by how s/he eats in the classroom. When sweets aren’t a choice, they do choose fruit and veggies.. I grew up in Texas in the 80s and don’t remember ever having birthday treats so times have changed.

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bw1 February 24, 2012 at 11:30 pm

“But my question to him is, is there a legitimate reason why some parents no longer want their kids eating a cupcake at school every time a classmate has a birthday…. ?”

Interesting question, but completely irrelevant. If you don’t want your kid eating those cupcakes, then it’s YOUR JOB as a parent to instill that in your kid. It’s not the rest of the world’s job to eliminate opportunities for your kid to sin against your wishes.

Let’s look at the “no longer” part, as if the concerns of some new-age anti-sugar parents represent some new an novel issue never see before, which can’t possibly be addressed within the context of liberty known in past generations. I have news for you, it’s nothing new. I spent my entire K-12 career knowing that, during Lent, I was not to eat meat on Fridays, and although numerous opportunities presented themselves at school, from lunch trading to cafeteria offerings, etc. my parents managed to somehow teach me priorities such that I abstained. Similarly, my Jewish classmates never availed themselves of all the traife that was available.

What astounds me is the conceit with which you assume the rest of society must be constrained to protect your children from any temptation to deviate from your dietary beliefs. What makes you think the public schools should serve as your personal food inquisition?

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Traceh February 25, 2012 at 2:07 pm

While I do respect all people’s opinions, an elementary aged kid abstaining from meat is quite different from a kid abstaining from cookies, cupcakes and candy. Heck my kids “abstain” from meat 3-4 times a week already. It’s not a challenge at all. Also, it’s different to abstain for a religious pursuit as opposed to a health pursuit. Those values are quite differently enforced and believed in. Meat may be a sin to you, but in my world cupcakes are not, actually nothing edible is a sin, per se.

Elementary aged kids don’t “get” moderation. While they are learning (hopefully) about the food-body-mental condition, they don’t fully understand it yet. Expecting them to say no to to a cupcake when 26 other kids are scarfing one down is completely unrealistic expectations. Candy is a bit different as you take it home and the household rules apply. Personally my kids do wait to ask until candy comes home, but they can’t take a cupcake home from school unless it’s packaged for travel, which it’s not.

Your comment about the conceit that the rest of society must … change (paraphrasing here) , um have you not heard of the obesity epidemic? Have you not heard of the health crisis facing our country today? Yes, in fact society MUST change to ensure the health of our children and ourselves.

Open your eyes and check out the local parks and playgrounds. Check out your school. When I went to school there were maybe 2-3 “fat” kids in the whole school. Now it’s 2-3 out of 10. Literally. Look at the parents. Does everyone need to be a fitness model or Arnold Schwarzenegger? No, but everyone doesn’t need a belly blocking the view of their toes either. It’s sad when a kid has to contort to tie their shoes, as opposed to just bend down.

As to your comment about personal food inquisition, you make it sound like the public has more rights to make food choices for kids. Nope, I’m sorry. I make the decisions, not Johnny’s mom, or Jenny’s dad. I think it’s better for Johnny and Jenny to give up their 27 cupcakes a year than to impose 27 cupcakes a year on my kid. You’re argument states that I have no rights to complain about what my kids eat in school. I say, bah that is completely ridiculous. I have every right. As a parent you should worry about it too.

And I also challenge YOU to think creatively. WHY do you HAVE to have cupcakes? Why can’ t you have something else? Why can’t you have fruit and yogurt dip? Why not games? Why not donate a book and come in and read it to the class? Why not volunteer in your kids classroom on their birthday? Why does it have to involve food? It’s kind of conceited to insist on imposing cupcakes and junk, from my perspective, to celebrate your kids birthday. I don’t know your kid. Why do I have to fight with my kids to make your kid feel like a princess for the day?

With all due respect, I think your argument is selfish. I think your statements are as selfish as you think mine are. So where does that leave us?

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bw1 February 24, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Just took a look at one of the other posts that you said addressed these concerns, and your logic there wasn’t any more impressive:

“To me, cupcakes in school are a lot like second-hand smoke.”

Because abstaining from an available cupcake is as deadly as not breathing, right?

“But why should I be put in the position of asking that of a seven year old, glassy-eyed with envy as 24 of his peers sit around him, licking cupcake frosting off their fingers?”

BECAUSE:

1.- as you approvingly quoted, “. . . if you go with the flow in America today, you will end up overweight or obese.” Thus, the ONLY HOPE your child has for a non-obese life is learning to resist peer pressure and that it is possible to survive being the odd man out.
2.- Just saying no to the cupcake lays the groundwork for just saying no to the cigarette, and later the joint, that your child WILL be offered at some point in his school career.
3.- maybe you might want your kid to develop some character and backbone to do what’s right.
4.-in 8 years or so, you’re going to want your kid to be able to resist something FAR more tempting than a cupcake, which many of his peers are enjoying, so that you don’t end up a premature grandmother.

Newsflash – a sizable number of the world’s religions involve dietary restrictions that fall outside the secular American mainstream. MILLIONS of parents whose faith placed them in the position of not just asking, but demanding under pain of grounding or even corporal punishment, that their grade school children abstain from what others are enjoying, have still raised well adjusted kids who’ve gone on to be productive, contributing members of society.

Similarly, this is nothing more than you wanting your kid to conform to your beliefs. Sorry, but that’s no more society’s job than teaching them to say a rosary.

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Casey February 25, 2012 at 8:05 am

This is not about religion but medicine. The major medical organizations recommend avoiding the use of food as a reward. Parents who want to follow that advice should not be undermined at their childrens’ schools.

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Kate February 25, 2012 at 9:12 am

Actually this debate goes far beyond whatever medical organizations might recommend. We aren’t just talking about using food as a reward here.

To the extent that this debate is being linked to food allergies, it isn’t recommended that the outside world entirely modifies itself to the person with food allergies, rather that the person with food allergies gradually learns strategies to self manage a condition. I’m not against some modifications, on a case by case basis to deal with food allergies. But if you follow the logic here, and ban cupcakes because of food allergies, then you ban every single sort of food related activity in the classroom. Even so, banning certain foods in classroom still doesn’t address whatever potential risk might be in the lunch room.

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Ron Miller February 26, 2012 at 12:55 pm

There is a difference between food as a reward and food on special occasions. I agree that you should not use food as a reward. I hate to admit it but I give one of my kids candy every night as a reward for the good things he did. Dumb tradition hat is hard to break. But, the funny thing is he really does not like candy that much, he just likes the score keeping of how many he gets. I throw in vitamins as a part of the rewards and he likes those nearly as much.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 26, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Here’s a funny (not) story: when my son was very tiny he absolutely refused to let me cut his fingernails. I mean, he’d fight to the death rather than submit. One day my daughter, not much older than he (maybe 4-5 at the time), said, “Mommy, just give him a piece of candy!” Which, in a mood of complete desperation, I did. And of course it WORKED! He was happy and passive sucking on his candy. But from that day on, in his little mind the cutting of nails meant the absolute right to a piece of candy, and it took years before I was able to break that link. Moral of the story: Think twice, then three times, before using candy (or any food for that matter) as a reward for anything! :-)

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bw1 February 26, 2012 at 11:07 am

The pronouncements of the major medical organizations are just as much about politics, philosophy and worldview as they are about science. In the case of the APA, the only one under whose mission an edict about appropriate rewards would fall, they are even more so. Positions on discipline and reward strategies vary widely among reasonable people. That places the issue, in the ontological and public policy sense, squarely in the same corner as religious beliefs. The same goes for most of the new-age dietary shibboleths at the root of cupcake opposition.

There’s no difference, and your motivations really don’t matter. You want your child not to eat cupcakes, the Muslim parent wants their child not to eat pork. Both kids, if they attend public school, are likely to be surrounded by kids who eat, and offer to share, the forbidden fruit. Frankly, bacon is a lot more tempting than cupcakes, if only because of its stronger olfactory attraction. Both parents have a responsibility to either instill the willpower in their kids to resist temptation and peer pressure, or make arrangements for a privately funded environment devoid of temptation. Is is your intent to ask the nearest state college to enact a dry campus when your little dear matriculates, in order to protect him from alcoholism?

It doesn’t matter how absolutely certain you are that your dietary preferences are the one pure truth, others believe just as strongly in theirs, and in a free society, other kids are free to OFFER something of which you disapprove, but which their parents approve, to your kid. You are similarly free to instill in your child the will to decline these offers and thus conform to your preferences. Those who lack the confidence that their child cannot resist peer pressure and temptation, or who lack the emotional backbone to instruct their child to say no to the world’s temptations, should cloister their child in a private school that conforms to their particular beliefs/preferences, or home school. There is nothing libertarian about cupcake bans that require others to alter their customs in order to “lead your child not into temptation.”

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Casey February 27, 2012 at 4:32 am

Did you mean the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)? If so, please share what other AAP recommendations you think should be ignored and undermined by schools. The reason they make recommendations is because there are differing opinions. You are welcome to disregard them in your home, but you should not force other parents to have those messages undermined at school if they want their children to follow the AAP’s recommendation not to use food as a reward. As to developing will power to resist peer pressure, there are plenty of opportunities for this outside of school. Children see school as an authority figure so messages from teachers and administrators about health should be consistent with AAP recommendations.

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bw1 March 3, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Casey : “If so, please share what other AAP recommendations you think should be ignored and undermined by schools.”

Undermined, as in actively opposed and contradicted? None. However, the same goes for how many should be indoctrinated or enforced with regard to horizontal interaction between students

“The reason they make recommendations is because there are differing opinions. ”

BINGO!!!!!!! And the public schools, as an agent of the government, have no place choosing to endorse one of those opinions as an orthodoxy to enforce.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 27, 2012 at 8:19 am
Casey March 5, 2012 at 11:09 am

“And the public schools, as an agent of the government, have no place choosing to endorse one of those opinions as an orthodoxy to enforce.” My point is that they are choosing to endorse the use of food as reward. Consider another AAP recommendation, wearing bike helmets. There are differing opinions and some families choose to ignore this recommendation by justifying the nostalgia of having kids ride with the wind in their hair. When a school has a lesson about bicycling, it is appropriate to endorse the AAP recommendation to wear a helmet. For similar reasons, they should also be endorsing the AAP recommendation not to use food as a reward.

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Bettina Elias Siegel February 25, 2012 at 11:13 am

bw1: I appreciate both your comments here and feel they express a viewpoint that deserves to be addressed in a standalone post. That post will appear this coming week, most likely on Monday 2/27, and I’ll share the link in this thread as well. Thanks for commenting.

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Christina T February 27, 2012 at 12:58 pm

My oldest is now in public school. And I wish they would use the 3 parties that are allowed as teaching moments for healthy vs. unhealthy foods. They 1 cupcake during these parties and little else. Why can’t they have the cupcake and fruit/veggies and chips? And a discussion around treat food or moderation too.

I am happy they don’t do cupcakes for every birthday. but wish I could do something other than a fruit platter to celebrate. We are not allowed to send treat bags (with no candy), or anything else really. I would love to take some treat bags and fruit to school as away to celebrate.

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jennyjens February 27, 2012 at 2:16 pm

While I was raising my older children, I never allowed them to have junk food, I was like many of you on this thread. While my kids were young this was great. Then when they became school age with treats and what not, I realized that I hadn’t nearly prepared them for what would happen and choices that they would have to make.

I will never forget picking my son up after his Kclass party at Halloween. He was sick and throwing up, he had eaten too much candy that I had forbidden in our home, that he had never had, ect..
It was awful. I never taught him the tools, or let him expreience making his own food choices.

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Bri February 28, 2012 at 8:34 am

I think you are missing something VERY important here.
“Most of us” are not people who don’t allow junk food. Far from it. “Most of us” — and I say this knowing this blog community very well — are people who DO allow junk food. We believe our kids should enjoy a cookie. A cupcake. A dessert after dinner. Whatever. My kids have a small sweet almost every single day, and it ain’t all organic fluffiness either. I don’t even throw away their Halloween candy or do a “switch” witch or anything like that.
This is not about me, or I think many of the parents on this thread, not allowing junk food, and I think MOST of us are actually very aware of teaching our kids balance and moderation so they DON’T enter into these situations not knowing what to do. This is about the fact that you cannot teach appropriate balance and moderation if your kids’ school environment is shoving a cupcake in front of them 1/6th of the school year in addition to using food-based rewards and having a junk-laden cafeteria. Eating the cupcake, in that case, is NOT moderation. And it takes away my ability, as a parent, to offer my kids the treats I want them to have, because there is no way we’re going out for the family outing to the ice cream parlor that we were all looking forward to after they’ve had an in-class sugarfest that day.

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dcc February 27, 2012 at 2:22 pm

While I am not a father and I can’t pretend to understand where the parents are coming from here, I believe this issue shouldn’t be on the schools. There is a lot to be said about traditions based around food but there also must be respect for the needs and desires of the community. The childhood obesity epidemic in the country is caused primarily by three factors and none of them are cupcakes at school: 1. Lack of physical activity; 2. Salt and Sugar overload (in all forms) and 3. Unbalanced parenting.

The first two are simple. The second one falls on over programming French and Piano for your 2 year-old or hiring the Sony babysitter. Obesity, in many cases, is a societal question and like most societal questions, it comes down to values. It matters what you think is more important. Personal responsibility must start somewhere…where better to learn it than at school? Then again, why not make it easy for our kids to do the right thing?

A very smart man once told me that there is no black, there is no white; there is only gray.

I full expect to be condemned by the masses for my non-experiential based opinion. Enjoy the online flogging.

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Traceh February 27, 2012 at 4:57 pm

The issue lies in more than just the 3 things you pointed out. But your #2 actually makes the case AGAINST having treats. That is exactly what us parents who dislike the school treats are saying. This IS a salt and sugar overload. One of the many places of salt, sugar (and I’ll add fat in here too for the perfect trifecta) is the schools, and not just the parties, either. Lunches, vending machines, parties, holidays, all contribute to the problem in the schools.

Yes, personal responsibility has to come into play. But again, I’ll belabor the point of the expectations of children (and I’m coming from the mindset of young elementary aged children here). Learning is a journey. You can’t sit your kid down and say, “cupcakes are bad. Never eat them again.” and expect them to never eat them again. Learning a concept such as moderation, is a very advanced concept for someone with a black and white mindset to understand. To kids, there is no grey. They don’t learn grey until their late teens. It would be extremely confusing for them to reason out “ok I can have a cupcake at so and so’s birthday party, but not in the school classroom.” Either you can have them or you can’t to their mindset. They don’t understand the issues surrounding the over consumption of too much fat, sugar, sodium. All they know is that it tastes great. I talk to my kids, I’m teaching them, but it’s a journey not an endpoint. To expect them to sit idly by while their classroom enjoys cupcake is extremely cruel and unusual punishment. What about the kid who has diabetes and is on insulin and eating that cupcake IS dangerous. How freaking cruel is that?

Your point about #1 is also true, lack of physical activity. Did you know many many schools are cutting out recess? I’m not making that point to pick on schools, but it’s merely a fact. I’ll let you reason that one out.

As to point #3, unbalanced parenting, well that could be construed a million different ways. I can’t even begin to guess what you mean by that. It’s easy to judge others. I’m not even going to delve into this one.

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dcc February 27, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I do know that and it is horrible. PE is important but gets cut all over the place.

As to kids not being able to know about moderation isn’t giving your kids enough credit. I worked at a summer camp for years. Camp is a place of fun. Even there kids are taught about moderation by example. You very much can say you can have a cup cake once in a while but not all the time. And I believe most kids are going to understand that. And if you don’t that is your prerogative.

Again, I am not a parent so clearly that makes me incapable of providing any sort of prospective to this conversation. But balance and moderation is where we all live life. Even Cookie Monster knows it is time to cut back.

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Traceh February 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm

For not being a parent, and a self proclaimed someone who’s incapable of providing any sort of perspective to this conversation, nice job throwing down the gauntlet on my prerogative to underestimate my children’s capability of understanding moderation based on your play experiences with children.

Summer camp counselors, while a job I could never do because the kids would drive me crazy so kudos to you, do not have nearly the responsibility in educating children on necessary life skills that teachers and parents do. I’m not sure if you’re a day camp or resident camp, short term or long term counselor, or what age you lead, but it’s a completely different environment that you can’t compare to that of school. I’m sure you don’t deal with parents bringing in cupcakes on a weekly basis for birthdays then the variety of holidays you deal with during the year. You get Memorial day and 4th of July. Those don’t encompass eating pounds of sugar to celebrate. So while I respect you adding your 2 cents, you need to respect my experience with my own children (and those other parents who are debating this) and the huge classrooms they are in which means more junk and the additional sugars from crappy school lunches, vending machines pushing soda and candy bars, and the lack of guidance in helping kids navigate the barrage of junk in everyday life.

Kids are guided by media, peers, parents and other authority figures, not necessarily in that order, but all have an influence. Parents fighting the healthy-eating battle are struggling, seeking help from other authority institutions, and fighting what I feel is a losing battle. We’re going to end up like people on Wall-E if our society doesn’t change. Leaving it up to just the parents to teach the kids to say no is completely narrow minded, and cruel if you ask me.

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Kate February 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I’d like to take on the comment about the kid who has Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is actually the classic example which children are encouraged to be heavily involved in self management from an early age. Part of that means navigating difficult situations. Kids with type 1 diabetes have been managing situations like this long before cupcakes were ever being debated.

As far as your point about cruelty…that same kid still has to manage similar situations in the lunch room, in his own home, or at a birthday party out of school. While his classmate might be able to afford the extra carbs in a glass of chocolate milk vs regular milk, a kid who had diabetes might have to be a little more choosy about how he allocates his carbs on a day to day basis.

That being said, that doesn’t mean a kid with diabetes can’t have a cupcake…or that the carbs in the cupcake are substantially more “dangerous” than carbs eaten elsewhere. Such a child(and family) might navigate the situation in a variety of ways like 1)an extra click on the insulin pump to cover the cupcake 2)eating half a cupcake 3)skipping the cupcake completely.

On the flip side of that the kid with diabetes might have medically necessary reasons to eat outside of the normal lunch time….is that cruel to the other kids?

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Nicole Caulfield February 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm

As I am reading more and more of this (since all the comments are in my mailbox, lol) I am realizing something…

Not only am I a mom of a peanut allergy kid, I am also an art teacher. I do this little competition with my classes where if the kids get enough good behavior stars they win something. Since they only get it twice a year, I did small treats. Now I am thinking I am just adding to the pile of treats they are getting. I’ve noticed I am not the only teacher doing these kinds of things and with holidays etc they get rewards very often.

So now I am trying to think of a CHEAP alternative. OY! I’ll have to come up with something art related instead! Its just tough because I have the whole school (preschool – 8th grade) and the money can add up. I love doing the competition because I don’t have the ability to take away minutes of recess etc. like their regular teachers do for bad behavior, so I reward good behavior instead.

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jennyjens March 5, 2012 at 11:26 am

Wow, you guys surely are a tough group if someone doesn’t believe in EXACTLY what you do.
I see no harm in my child having a cupcake at school. I am the parent and we eat healthy at HOME. I have no reason to bribe my kid with a cupcake at home. They don’t ask me for treats at home(as they are far and few between). I don’t get all the parents that want to be the one to offer their kids the treat. My kids like me whether we have dessert or not.

like I said earlier I raised my 2 older children way different then I am raising my youngest. I too wonder if 5 years from now you will think differently.

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bw1 March 8, 2012 at 10:42 pm

“My point is that they are choosing to endorse the use of food as reward. ”

No, they are not. First, what is the behavior being rewarded when a classmate offers them a cupcake to commemorate the classmate’s birthday? Is he rewarding them for not murdering him so he could live another year? Second, it’s not a vertical school/student interaction, it’s a horizontal, student/student interaction, so the SCHOOL as an agent of government is not doing anything except respecting the students’ rights to freedom of association.

“When a school has a lesson about bicycling, it is appropriate to endorse the AAP recommendation to wear a helmet”.

No, it’s NOT. Let’s recall your OWN statement: “The reason they make RECOMMENDATIONS is because there are DIFFERING OPINIONS.” The school may cite the FACT that organization X recommends Y, but to endorse it is to institute government-established orthodoxy.

“For similar reasons, they should also be endorsing the AAP recommendation not to use food as a reward.”

Again, for similar reasons, no they shouldn’t. Until such point as the AAP comes riding a chariot in the clouds and throwing lightning, it is just another group of fallible fellow citizens flogging the personal beliefs of some committee it formed, which may or may not be shared by the majority of its members. The government has no more place endorsing their views than those of Scientologists.

If you want indoctrination, send your kid to a private school that shares your ideology.

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Brandy April 25, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Oh, where to start? Forgive the lack of order, please :)

1. Children are in school because they are almost in every circumstance required to be there. Yes, there’s homeschooling. Yes, there’s private schooling. But not everyone has access to either of those. Should my kids be given sugar (by that I mean treats devoid of nutritional value) five times a day? Should they only be offered veggies? No. And no. If my kid is required to be there, am I supposed to just blindly give up my right to feed my child as I see fit? There is entirely too much going in at school, academically, socially, physically, and emotionally to also force them to control their own desires for (and peer pressure towards) LOTS of different life decisions.
2. If we’re “celebrating” every week, it’s not really much of a celebration, since we just did it seven days ago.
3. Food is not necessary as an instructional tool unless you are teaching the culinary arts.
4. Since my child is legally REQUIRED to be there, I feel it should be legally required that he not be forced to endure being constantly objected to possible allergic reactions-whether from cupcakes at birthdays or m&ms as math manipulatives.
5. On the subject of food allergies, if you are willing to risk a reaction from my child for your food item, are you willing to pay his medical bills from a reaction to that beloved food of yours? Are you willing to pay his funeral bills?
6. Neither kids nor adults need to eat sporadically throughout the day, every day.

Can we please just leave food in the lunchroom? And give our kids a fighting chance to grow old (and healthy?)!

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Mom of four May 5, 2012 at 9:46 pm

As a mother of four children without food allergies I have to say I am growing more and more upset about the rules other people’s parents are putting on MY children.

My children are on the underweight side of things, but they DO NOT have the right to have whole milk because of other children’s obesity problem despite the fact that our doctor told us that is what our children should be having. Our children DO NOT have the right to have their favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwich because another child has an allergy, even though this is the only food that some of them will eat. I am all for a peanut free table, but the whole school?????

Why can my child only bring ONLY five things on her of approved snacks in kindergarten? No corn ,wheat, dairy, peanut, food coloring, soy,lettuce, citrus, and so on and so forth. I kid you not. FIVE THINGS! Two of which my daughter won’t eat. So now I am down to three things. Then I watch the same 5 year old child who is the reason for this restriction get dropped of at my child’s birthday party where I told this parent every allergen was present, with the parent leaving telling me not to worry about his allergy because he knows better?

I see these children who force my children on a severely restricted diet in school due to their allergies show up at every allergy full place without the parent worrying. My children are required to be in school as well and should be able to eat well while there. If you want to force my children to suffer and lose out for your child’s allergy, then you had better restrict your child in EVERY environment that they are in and monitor them as closely as you expect the rest of the world to.

We had children with life threatening food allergies growing up but they learned what they could and could not eat. NO ONE had to change their diet for the sake of another. What happened to the days where parents sent in a container weekly so if a snack came in to share with the whole class, the allergy child could choose something from his/her container so EVERYONE else didn’t have to suffer and lose out for the sake of one child?

You are infringing on my children’s freedoms and heath and that IS NOT fair to my children. Are you willing to pay for the extra cost of the three things my child can take? Are you willing to go to the market twice as often to keep those three things in stock? Are you willing to pay for the medical bills for my child who is dropping weight? Are you willing to pay for the medical bills for their resulting susceptibility to illnesses?

I have no issue with taking food out for rewards, but you have no right to infringe upon the well being of my children, and what I want to feed my children, for the sake of yours, and what you want to feed yours. Your child’s life is not more valuable than my child’s. Can you please just leave me the right to meet my children’s nutritional needs and give them a fighting chance to grow healthy and old?

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Amy May 6, 2012 at 11:07 am

Dear Mom of Four: I hope you read Julie’s post on February 24th waay above here in the comments. Julie felt a lot like you, until she had a child with severe allergies. Now she understands the difference between an inconvenience (as in children not being able to eat exactly what they want during the time they are at school) and a life-and-death issue (as in children with severe allergies being exposed to allergens that could kill them). I hear your frustration, believe me, I do. It can be difficult to find foods children will eat within the increasingly narrower confines of what is acceptable in school. But your children are fortunate enough to be able to enjoy a full range of foods before and after school, during the summer, on the weekends and during holidays, etc.

I wish this situation did not always turn into an “us against them” argument, and instead we could all work together to find ways that can ensure that all of our children grow up healthy.

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Mom of four May 6, 2012 at 7:44 pm

I have no issue with peanut free tables and even no issue with not allowing universal snacks being sent in, including cupcakes, despite the fact that my youngest will never have the joy and pleasure my older ones had designing and bringing in their birthday cupcakes.

I have one of my children who is severely intolerant of all dairy. Having a little will cause massive cramping and vomiting and intolerance of most other foods for days to come. Even so, when people have parties, I NEVER expect them to adapt their menu to accommodate my child’s needs. She learned what she could and could not have before starting school. She is now only ten and deals with this issue constantly.

My issue is with parents who make a huge deal and expect everyone to change their lives to accommodate their child’s needs, but don’t have that same concern in MANY other circumstances where there children are clearly put at risk and they don’t worry at all. Why does my child have only five things to bring because they are worried about “contamination” when the allergy child goes to museums, town wide events, parties, etc. and are openly “contaminated” consistently?

My point is this is out of control. People are taking advantage and enjoying their newly found power. They shouldn’t have this power.

That being said, if your child is severe enough in their allergy, then I find parents who place their child’s life in the hands of five hundred students ages five to ten, and fifty stressed staff members who are doing a million things daily, to be extraordinarily delinquent in their responsibility to their child. Your child should be home schooled if you truly wanted to protect them. It is NOT the responsibility of the five hundred and fifty other people, with super young children in this group, and their families, to look out for the life of your child. It is YOUR responsibility.

I absolutely do resent your putting the life of your child’s hands in my five year old’s. It is definitely NOT her responsibility to keep your child alive. No five year old should be burdened like that. Why should a five year old who forgot to wash her hands and touched a severely allergic child, causing his/her death, have to live with that for the rest of her life? She is FIVE YEARS OLD and ENTITLED to make mistakes.

That is extraordinarily unfair for any parent of a severely allergic child to put on ANY child! I am sure if you were a parent of a non-allergy child, you would understand that.

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Gommy May 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I have been tempted to start a crusade to end sugary birthday treats at my own elementary school. About 15% of the school days, they are handed a birthday treat on their way to the lunchroom. How many of the kids do you think actually save it for after they eat lunch, when they only have 20 min to eat, maximum?

I’m surprised no one has mentioned dental issues, which are my primary concern. I’ve got a cavity prone child and am not thrilled about sugary treats at school mainly for that reason. But there is also the pressure that busy parents feel to buy/make and drop off at school a birthday treat (because every kid knows who that one kid at school whose parents NEVER provide the treat.)

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Bettina Elias Siegel May 9, 2012 at 7:59 am

Gommy: A few other readers also wondered why I never mention dental concerns and it’s a real oversight on my part. My kids are not that prone to cavities – just good genes, I think (I have no cavities, either) — so sometimes I forget that entire aspect of the sugar-in-schools problem. I need to update my “manifesto!

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bw1 May 8, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Mom of four. I was onboard with you until I read this line:

“Our children DO NOT have the right to have their favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwich because another child has an allergy, even though this is the only food that some of them will eat.”

Why is your failure to raise your children not to be so picky grounds for endangering other kids? Your allowing your kids to be picky eaters is more of an imposition on the rest of the world than kids with food allergies because you have a CHOICE in raising your kids to be high-maintenance, picky eaters.

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Bettina Elias Siegel May 9, 2012 at 7:38 am

bw1 – Please watch your tone and keep it polite, please. I don’t think Mom of Four is trying to raise “high-maintenance, picky eaters”

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Mom of Four May 12, 2012 at 7:42 pm

I am not trying to raise “picky eaters”, but there is a limited number of things we can pack in the lunch box in the mornings that will survive until lunch time, without getting soggy, wilted,brown or “gross”. And with barely 15 minutes for lunch, they can’t put things together themselves.

As a parent of four, there just isn’t always time to make a gourmet meal that will survive until lunch in the same way it left the house. My children do not like the highly processed lunch meats and would like to eat their favorite sandwich. I do not consider a child who LOVES peanut butter and jelly and wants it every day to be a picky eater. That is an easy and inexpensive eater!

My point is that other people are dictating what my children can and cannot eat and this puts a lot of stress on us, as parents, to feed our children appropriately while having to work around the confines of every other child’s individual needs. And, frankly, it is not your right to tell me how to feed my children.

This is a free country and it seems like many people are, in many ways, demanding that everyone caters to THEIR individual needs, for whatever reason. That severely restricts everyone else’s freedom, and will only become more and more ridiculous as time goes on unless people start standing up against this.

Why should ANY food be allowed in school because it is impossible to check every single child’s lunchbox, what they had before school, and if they washed their hands correctly. It is unreasonable what these parents of severely allergic children are expecting and feeling entitled to.

Home school your severely allergic child and ensure they stay safe to grow and live a life rather than putting the responsibility on a whole bunch of strangers and young children.

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Amy May 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Dear Mom of Four,
I get what you are saying. And it makes me sad. Our world is full of laws (and these nutritional situations are not laws, by any means) that restrict the “rights” of some in order to protect others. One example is when smoking bans were beginning to be implemented. People were very upset that they could not smoke anywhere they wanted, even though it was proven that their smoke could make others sick. I just feel that we have to work together to raise the next generation, and being polarized about this topic is not respectful to those with allergies (please note: my kids do NOT have allergies). I understand your frustration – I really do. It is time-consuming to pack lunches every day, especially for kids with strong likes and dislikes. But I think in this situation, the inconvenience of having to choose almond butter over peanut butter, or whatever substitution will be eaten, is trumped by the life-and-death situation of severe anaphylaxis.

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Stephenie August 14, 2012 at 7:22 am

I have taught my boys what they are to/not to eat. It is MY responsibility as a parent. We don’t to soda or fruit snacks or artificial sugar. I teach them what to look for because it is their responsibility what they put into their body, no one elses. Yes, even my preschoolers know what they are allowed to have and what they aren’t allowed to have. They ask if something contains sucralose(Splenda) and they know which foods contain it (gum for one) We put too much responsibility upon other people for our children and we(as a society) expect that everyone should “suffer” or adhere to policies because they are deemed good for all…herd mentality. Teach your own children and quite relying on someone else to look out for them in your absence because more than likely…..someone will not always be there to look out for them and they are going to need to know how to do it themselves….isn’t that what we, as parents, are supposed to be doing….teaching them to be INDEPENDENT not DEPENDENT?

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Jennifer June 26, 2013 at 3:44 pm

Bettina,
I’ll try to keep this short. Are you aware of any opposition group to the “Safe Cupcake Amendment” that I can join? I just learned about this Texas law from our principal today, looked it up and stumbled onto your blog.
My child has Celiac Disease and can’t ingest even the smallest amount of gluten and despite all of the school forms I had filled out and conversations I had with the school staff, my child was given a cupcake to eat! I was not informed that any type of food would be handed out during that occasion and only found out because I walked in and saw her holding the empty cupcake wrapper!
I’ve grown weary of the constant worry and scrambling to provide substitutes for every activity involving food (which happens to be every single thing she does from school to soccer games) because I just want to make any place that I can’t be a safe place for her.
If some of your readers who disagree would have even a shred of empathy, they would not oppose our opinion that all party food should be banned from school. They should think for a solid ten quiet minutes and imagine their own child with a life threatening allergy and realize what that would really mean in terms of their daily activities, their concerns and their happiness and know that we will have to deal with those issues for the rest of our lives!!!
And in the end, I think everyone would agree that a few kids could easily sacrifice getting those extra cupcakes to ensure the health of their own classmates and friends.

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Bettina Elias Siegel June 26, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Jennifer: Thanks for sharing your experience here, and I’m so sorry to hear that your child was fed gluten even despite all the precautions you took. Unfortunately, I know of no concerted effort to overturn the “Safe Cupcake” law here in Texas, and it’s hard for me to gauge public support for even trying to do so. But despite this law, I do know anecdotally of some principals and teachers who’ve set their own birthday celebration rules, such as requiring all birthdays to be celebrated on the same day each month (so you’d have advance notice), banning food celebrations entirely, etc. You might want to take the more manageable step of seeing if change can be made at your own school by finding like-minded parents (either out of nutrition or allergy concerns) and then approaching the principal? That said, at my own kids’ elementary school, our principal was willing to cut down on food rewards at my (and perhaps others’) request, but even she was unwilling to shut down the sacred birthday cupcake tradition. :-(

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Ruth January 25, 2014 at 11:05 pm

I can see from both points of view. Every day is a struggle to keep kids healthy. Most of my kids’ friends always have soda and cookies lying around at their house, or bowls of candy. I don’t want them eating that junk every day.
However, I also know that it’s my job to make sure they eat healthy, not the schools. Because of my influence as a mom my kids do eat healthy, and because of that I do not begrudge them the occasional treat or fries at the restaurant. Eating healthy is good, but teaching moderation in important. Speaking from a personal experience my mom went all out and never let us have sugar or anything like that. I didn’t learn moderation. Then one time at a sleep over I discovered my friend could have sugar on her corn flakes. I went all out, putting tons on my cereal. We were the same with TV.
Banning is not the answer, teaching them to eat healthy, the reason behind eating healthy, letting them make their own choices and teaching moderation, those are the answers.

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Carrie Merner August 26, 2014 at 11:15 am

I saw a blog by Gina Clowes titled, “Exclude the Food, Not the Child”. Please do celebrate with food at home, but please refrain in attempting to feed the class as a whole. We simply can’t ignore that we are faced with an epidemic: 1 in 13 children have a serious food allergy. My 5 1/2 year-old son has survived anaphylaxis multiple times and is severely allergic to MILK, Peanuts, Tree Nuts and Egg. I am not asking to police what any parent packs in their own child’s lunch box. I do ask that treats intended to feed the class as a whole stop. The serious, life-threatening, chronic condition called Food Allergies was not the epidemic it is today just 20 years ago. It is our reality NOW. We must become more “food allergy aware”. We must encourage our children to embrace and be respectful of others’ differences, including those medical and life-threatening in nature.

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Bettina Elias Siegel August 26, 2014 at 11:30 am

Very well put, Carrie, and I’ll go check out Gina’s blog post. Thanks for commenting here.

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