A School District Bans In-Class Birthday Treats (And You Know How I Feel About That)

If you’ve been reading TLT for a while, you know there was a time when it seemed like I was talking 24/7 about my opposition to birthday treats in school classrooms.

The ubiquitous in-class birthday cupcake (or cookies or ice cream or candy) was the subject of one of my very first posts on this blog, and then a libertarian mom  took issue with me and the debate heated up.   I wrote about the issue again when Sarah Palin made the treats in classrooms a conservative rallying cry and again when I was flooded with reader comments about that post.  And I didn’t stop there – I wrote about banning birthday treats for my local free newspaper, I guest posted about it on The Wellness Bitch, and I was even quoted on the issue by the Atlantic Monthly‘s Newswire.  (Frankly, by then even I was getting sick of hearing myself expound on the subject.)

So of course it was with great interest that I read last week (via a tip from PEACHSF‘s Facebook page) that a school district in north central Illinois has decided to ban in-class birthday treats in all of its elementary schools.

Interestingly, the reasons cited in favor of the ban were not just rising rates of obesity (although that was clearly a factor in the Mendota school board’s decision) but also an issue much discussed in my posts above, namely, the legitimate safety concerns of the ever-growing number of parents with food allergic children.  According to the news report, the district nurse who briefed the school board on the issue mentioned the specter of “cross-contamination in home kitchens,” as well as the fact that birthday treats mean that “staff members need to learn the many ways food allergies can affect a child and have plans in place for each child with a known allergy.”

Another problem with birthday treats (apart from nutritional concerns) was cited by two Mendota principals in favor of the ban (and also raised by some teachers in response to various Lunch Tray posts about this issue): namely,  the lost instructional time when teachers must dole out treats, wait for them to be eaten, and clean up afterwards.  When treats are brought in several times a month, this is not an insignificant problem.

A few years ago, my adopted state of Texas passed –I kid you not — a “Safe Cupcake Amendment” to make sure nothing infringed on parents’ apparently inalienable right to bring their children a sugary birthday treat at school.  But maybe the Mendota school district is a bellwether.   Rising childhood obesity rates alone might not have been enough, but maybe obesity plus the documented rise in childhood food allergies plus the pressure on teachers created by “No Child Left Behind” could finally kill the birthday cupcake tradition for good.

Or am I dreaming here?


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  1. says

    I think you’re totally right, the allergy thing may be the most significant driver as it could bring liability into play. At our school they let the teachers decide, and last year one of the grade levels made a no food-treat rule. As you may know I am on your side of this issue, big time, so I was by no means disappointed.

  2. says

    We live in a district where there are no birthday treats allowed at all. In the younger grades parents can come in a read a story to the class for their birthday. Frankly, it doesn’t bother me at all.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Shira: Does it bother the kids or are they OK with it? My sense (echoed by Bri and Korey here in the comments) is that kids don’t really care what is done, as long as their birthday is acknowledged.

  3. says

    Besides the obvious reasons of junk food and allergies, I absolutely love our schools’ policies of no bday treats because it completely takes the pressure off me, Mom as well. Now I don’t have to hear how Johnny’s mom brought cupcakes to the class for his birthday and now I must, too. “Because I said so” just doesn’t seem to cut it sometimes so I’m glad I can whip out the school handbook, shrug my shoulders and say in a disappointed voice “Sorry, it’s against the rules.” 😉

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Dalia: I know! It’s so great when you can shrug sadly and say, “Sorry, not my doing!” Would that I could rely on that excuse when I’m making them practice piano, or do their homework, or clean their rooms . . . :-)

  4. says

    You know what’s funny? When I first started reading your blog, I thought, “Oh, man. Am I glad there’s not SO much of this type of thing going on at my kids’ preschool.” Now? I’m ready to tear my hair out.
    1) Not only have parents been sending special treats for birthdays, but now, there’s a rash of special treats for “last days,” too — the kids who are moving up to Kindergarten next year have been bringing ice cream and cupcakes for their classmates before they leave!
    2) This week is the official end of the summer “camp” program at the school. This morning I found out that today is “S’mores” day (made with Hershey’s syrup, apparently, because they can’t melt chocolate?). Thursday will be “Dark Chocolate Explorer” ice cream sundae day. Parents were asked to bring in brownie chunks, hot fudge, chocolate chips, and chocolate sprinkles. I conveniently forgot to sign up.

    Now, the REALLY interesting part: My older one turned five a few weeks ago, and many of his classmates were invited to his birthday party. My husband and I decided not to send treats on Friday, as would have been customary, since we were feeding treats to so many of the kids the next morning. NOBODY SAID ANYTHING. Not even my son. Nobody said a darned word about it. Makes me think that if we all just dismissed the practice, our kids wouldn’t give it a second thought.

  5. Barry says

    Hello, a different approach with the same results is to find out if the school participates in the USDA – School Breakfast and Lunch programs. If the district does, then as of July 1, 2006, all districts were required to have a Local Wellness Policy. In many of the LWP, the issue of classroom parties were addressed. The LWP was implemented and expanded to all foods sold or served on the school campus from bell-to-bell and restricted foods that do not meet the nutritional requirements. Those districts that have a strong LWP can be the “blame” to eliminate cupcakes parties. 15 years ago my daughters 2 grade teacher outlawed in her classroom cupcakes, candy, etc for Bday parties and instead only allowed fruit and vegetables. She was WAY ahead of her time.
    Good Day~

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Barry: Yes, it’s definitely a good idea to find out if your district has a Wellness Policy (which i is supposed to, as you say) and see what it says about treats. However, as of now, such policies are toothless — you can do much if there’s a violation. I also don’t know as a legal matter how the Wellness Policies in TX would fare against the safe cupcake amendment – my sense is that the latter would trump?

  6. Sahnya says

    It is so great to hear some schools are taking strong action …. hoping my district will soon. There are so many reasons to NOT expose kids to extra (junk) food, hopefully momentum builds. In the meantime I consider the allergies my kids have a blessing as it prohibits their indulging in nearly all the processed food brought in as treats. Hoping the the team sports start taking a strong stand on the excessive post game treats that get handed out!

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Sahnya, I can see how an allergy could be a blessing in disguise in that regard, although I’ve heard from parents of food-allergic kids who feel compelled to have their own, safe treats on hand at school at all times so their kid feels he/she can participate when treats are brought in. And I agree – what is with all the processed junk in kids’ sports leagues? Such contradictory messages!

  7. mara says

    Cupcake Amendment isn’t too surprising here given that college students have a right to carry a gun on campus. Oh the price we pay to live here! On the allergy front, a friend recently told me that the food allergy kids have to eat up on the stage segregated from the other kids during lunch. I think my kids would be horrified had that been them. Were there no food allergy issues when we were kids? I’m confused on that one but grateful that my own have been lucky enough not to have these allergies!

  8. says

    Our school district banned school treats for birthdays in February 2010 (we’re in a suburb of Houston). I distinctly remember this b/c it was my son’s kindergarten year and he had not yet celebrated his birthday. I thought to myself how unfair it seemed that he would not get to enjoy this tradition like all the kids before him! (BTW, the principal did make an exception to the rule for the remainder of that school year but said that it had limitations one when to bring, etc.)

    At first I was upset; it was, after all, a fun way for the kids to celebrate their birthdays with classmates. But then I thought about it a little more. And since I, too, was becoming more conscious of the amount of sugar we ate I changed my mind. My disappointment turned to hoorays as I thought, “It’s for the best, kids get enough sugar in their days or kids will allergies will not have to feel leftout” But then my hooray turned to frustration when I realized the motivation behind the change. It was not that the district cared about the health of our children; it was that they said no outside food could be brought in. I’m not sure of the exact wording but it has to do with ‘non-competitive food’ choices served in the cafeteria. Basically, they wanted ONLY the foods that they sell to be the only ones kids can serve to an entire class. It was all about the money and not about the health.

    In the end, the sweet treats are gone from the school. But my point is that we need to all understand where the motivation is coming from and decide for ourselves if it’s something we agree with or not and decide to support. Or ask others to join us in our rally cry!

    P.S. I actually thought this was a Texas state school change but now I’m thinking it was just our school district? Curious b/c we are both in Texas.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Brenda: I do know exactly what you’re talking about. The Texas Department of Agriculture regulates so called “competitive” food, i.e., food sold in competition with the school lunch program. Depending on the school level (elementary, middle or high), such foods are either banned outright during school hours or allowed, but only at certain times and in certain places. And even competitive food that’s authorized must meet certain fat, sugar and calorie requirements.

      It’s true that these regulations do benefit Food Services — if parents can’t sell Chick-fil-A in the hallways to raise money for the spring dance or the sports team’s uniforms, then maybe more kids will buy the school lunch. But while that sounds like a nefarious plot, it does theoretically benefit everyone in that the more money that flows into a district’s federally subsidized food program, the more money there is to spend on the quality of the food. The rules also prevents things like the sale of cookies and chocolate to raise money during the elementary school day, etc.

      But my understanding is that the safe cupcake amendment is an exception to these competitive food rules — parents’ right to bring treats on a birthday trump the competitive food rules. I may have that wrong, so I’ll double check. Also, was your school actually suggesting that treats from home were banned but treats from the cafeteria were OK for in-class birthday celebrations? If so, I’ve never heard of that before and would love to know more.

      • says

        Bettina, thanks for the clarification on which agency is regulating the “competitive” foods. We were new to the school that year of the change (I do have an older daughter so we had come from a different school) and didn’t question it too much. Perhaps the principal/administration/school district took the regulation to keep treats out of the school altogether. You know, kind of a reason to do something they’d been wanting to do for awhile? I may be giving them more credit than what is due there though.

        Your question about purchasing treats from the cafeteria is an interesting one because I asked that same thing! And the answer was yes, if we bought treats from the school it would be ok. I actually only know a couple of people that did that but it’s definitely more expensive to go that route. Last year I do also know that at least one student in my son’s class sent something non-food to school to all the kids…I think it was a pencil or something small.

        At our school, birthday kids get a special ribbon from the front office to wear all day and in kinder and 1st grade my son got a paper crown to wear in class (as do all the birthday kids). He LOVES that crown and still wears it sometimes. Basically they want to recognize the birthday child with simple efforts….much like we as adults like to have someone wish us a happy birthday on our special day too!

  9. Korey says

    I wholeheartedly agree with what Bri said. My son just turned 4, and since our family was celebrating with cake and ice cream that night, I decided to forego the increasingly prevalent cupcakes-at-preschool routine. We’ve never brought treats to school before, but my kids are quickly learning that this is common. My son didn’t say a thing, and no one at school questioned it either. His teacher let him choose a special art project, and the class sang happy birthday to him. That was it, and he was happy. My son also didn’t express much interest in having a birthday party with friends, so we skipped that too. I’ve come to believe that this burning desire to have birthday treats at school and elaborate, junk-filled parties actually stems from parents, at least in the early years.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Korey (and Bri) — I really do think that’s true, at least with the younger set. They’re happy with any acknowledgement of their birthday, whether it’s a sticker or a pencil or wearing a special hat! Unfortunately, when kids get older, often there is an expectation that they will get whatever their peers get, and that’s usually food. That’s why it was so hard for me last year when my daughter (then 5th grade) and son (then 3rd) wanted birthday treats in school and I just couldn’t be a hypocrite and go along with it. Fortunately, TLT readers gave me some great non-food ideas!

  10. says

    Oh groan and goodbye to my gushy childhood memories of sugary diversions during class-time! I, too, had the initial reaction along the lines of “obesity, cavities, and shortened class are MY battle to fight, as a parent!” Soon I realized the short-sightedness of that argument. As parents, it’s our job to hold school systems to a higher standard for our children! Occasionally this means doing away with nostalgic feelings of “it’s always been done that way” and getting to the other side of that comfortable grey area between food being about emotion and food being about fueling our bodies.

    Thank you for your words of articulate common-sense!
    I am a new reader, but I am in it for the long haul!

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      LIbby – I think part of the issue is that when we were kids, treats really were “treats,” whereas now kids are exposed to so much junk food so often that we have to look at these quaint traditions in a new light. At any rate, so glad to have you here and I do hope you stick around for the long haul! :-)

  11. lindtfree says

    I don’t support the practice myself, but how many parents who defend in-school birthday treats do so because it MAY keep their children from asking for a big “activity” or home birthday party? If a child brings cupcakes to school, s/he might not be disappointed if the official birthday party is pizza and cake at home with Mom, Dad, two of the neighbor kids, and three presents (one of them new clothes). That was often enough when we were children. . .forget disco bowling, gymnastics, horseback riding, and swimming parties. In addition to being very expensive, they’re impersonal.

    I don’t remember birthdays being routinely recognized in elementary school, although some teachers did. What I do remember is the year I was in sixth grade. As a birthday treat, my mother let me come home for lunch. When I went back to school after lunch, I learned that my entire class and another class would be punished for “playing rough” at recess: since no one knew exactly who started it and which children were involved, everyone in both classes had to copy dictionary pages for the rest of the afternoon. If I’d been at school during recess it wouldn’t have felt as unfair, but I had an alibi!

  12. says

    I beg you not to even get me started. We don’t have food allergies, but we have other health issues that are diet responsive. Should all the other kids “suffer” as a result? No. But no one would be suffering if we made the classroom a nutritionally neutral zone. I, too, long for a time when treats were treats and not expected diversions. Did you know that we had a full week’s worth of summer birthdays back-to-back crammed into the end of the school year? Yup — one a day for a full week for the kids who would be on summer break for their birthdays. Any proposal to roll them into one was shot down. And then of course we needed an end of the year party to boot. –Susan (aka the resident school kill-joy)

    • says

      Wait, your school had an end-of-year opportunity for summer birthday kids to celebrate? That’s going WAAAY over the line of what’s even reasonable. My older son has an August birthday, and there is NO way I’d even consider it appropriate for him to “celebrate” 2 months early just so he could junk up his classmates. I know, I know — somebody probably objected that the summer-birthday kids were being “left out” — but are we so afraid of teaching our kids about the little inconveniences of life? At my son’s beach birthday party, another parent lamented, “You’re SO lucky to have a summer birthday. My daughter’s birthday is in February. There’s nothing fun like this to do for her parties, and we always get snowed out!” So, the winter birthday kids have fewer party choices, I guess; and the summer birthday kids don’t get to bring cupcakes to school. That’s called life. Everybody’s got their stuff.

      • says

        Before they banned cupcakes in our school, they used to let the summer birthday kids bring their treats in on their half-birthdays. So if you had a birthday on August 5th you got to bring your treat in on February 5th. I thought that was a fair happy-medium. I won’t digress into my opinion about winter vs. summer birthdays but as the parent of someone that has two holiday babies (Christmas and Easter season–literally days before in Dec.), there are challenges with birthday celebrations beyond just the food. :-)

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      We have the exact same system in our school – summer birthdays get celebrated throughout May, and often the parent brings loads of treats on the same day as the sugar-fueled end-of-year party. It’s so out of hand.

      As I’ve said repeatedly, there are so many real health and safety concerns among many kids (allergies, obesity or otherwise) that outweigh the understandable (but not crucial) desire to have birthday sweets at school. Just bring a non-food treat if you must celebrate at school!

      See? I’m a kill-joy, too! Kill-joys unite! :-)

  13. Jinni says

    I grew up in New York City, and Connecticut and attended both parochial and private schools – in the 1970s and 1980s. I had never heard about having treats in school until I moved to Los Angeles about 10 years ago.

    Given the size of some of the public school classrooms, it seems like the kids would be having treats all the time. How did teachers and schools allow this to happen or is it some tradition outside of the northeast? My LO is only 18 months old, so I haven’t even thought about this issue yet, but the whole thing seems crazy. School is for learning. I’d rather they spend the time on music, art, recess, or gym.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Jinni – in my very first post on this subject, I calculated that in a large public school classroom (like my kids’), cupcake day can = 1/7th of the instructional days! But maybe by the time your little one is in grade school, this will again be a thing of the past.

    • Uly says

      I grew up in NYC in the 80s and 90s and we always had birthday parties. If anything, I think my nieces get cheated on parties in their school because they’re limited to 20 minutes – we always had the whole afternoon! (But I’d be just as happy to see them celebrate once a month for all kids born in that month.)

      • Bettina Elias Siegel says

        Wow – a whole afternoon devoted to a party? Unheard of these days, for sure. And yes, I love the once-a-month solution — it seems many schools have adopted this, but not ours, so far.

  14. says

    Good timing on those babies , Brenda. :0) And Bri, the answer to your first question is “yes.” My thinking was that they should have simply combined the summer kids into 1 party. They do that in some of the other grades, but kinder was party central. Pre-k was even worse. I used to send my youngest to school with a water bottle. When she’d go to get it the pre-k teacher would intercept her and ask if she wanted juice or chocolate milk (with high fructose corn syrup and food dyes) instead. I kid you not. I am happy to report that there is no longer any chocolate milk to be had. What makes it even all the more interesting is that our school has made ENORMOUS strides in the cafeteria. Hats off to them there. Think grass-fed beef, whole wheat instead of white flours, a kick-butt salad bar… But the classroom setting itself is a minefield.

  15. Kate says

    I wonder how many allergic reactions have occurred as the result of cross contamination in home kitchens. I’d like to see actual documentation of that.

    Teaching good eating habits means teaching moderation. Will “banning” cupcakes end up having the intended effect we would like?

    I have diabetes. I don’t expect everyone to modify the environment around my needs. Part of that means I need to figure out how to navigate my eating choices in a variety of settings. The same holds true for children who might have allergies to foods. Certainly children can be exposed to any number of allergenic substances when they sit next to kids who bring a lunch from home.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Kate – I don’t feel very well qualified to answer your allergy-related points as my kids have been, fortunately, free of allergies. However, I do know many parents of kids with food allergies, in some cases fatal ones, and I know most of them wouldn’t want to take a chance on cross-contamination from a home kitchen, even if it’s a minimal risk. And while I’m sure that food allergic kids do take responsibility for avoiding allergens, just as you take charge of managing your diabetes, it’s still a hard burden for kids, especially young ones who might slip up, get careless, or just feel frustrated and decide to take a risk. (I reported here a while back about a seventh grader who died after eating Chinese food brought in for a classroom party, for example.) To me, if allergies are on the rise, why not just get food out of the classroom altogether?

      But turning to your point about moderation, as I’ve often said in my writing about this issue, I don’t know if a cupcake is just a cupcake in 2011. What I mean is, kids are now exposed to such a glut of processed and/or sugary food — at every organized activity, multiple times a day, in larger portions and with less exercise in their day — in a way that they just weren’t thirty or forty years ago. So moderation arguments don’t work that well for me in light of today’s food environment. And, btw, it doesn’t feel like “moderation” when my kid comes home having had a huge cupcake AND a donut because two kids had a birthday that day, or when a class goes nuts and basically gorges on candy, donuts, cookies and cake for a “holiday party” (or, when my daughter’s extracurricular club in elementary used to celebrate with, literally, a “junk food party” where kids were encouraged to bring in as much junk as possible.)

      But I understand your point of view – there are many in the pro-cupcake camp! – and I do appreciate your stopping by TLT and leaving a comment.

  16. Kate says

    I don’t think we should tie in issues of allergies, and the obesity debate when thinking about cupcakes.

    If my community would radically change it’s stance on things like bringing cupcakes into the classroom due to allergies, I would hope that would happen only much careful research. I’d hope that we’d distinguish those who have a documented potential for anaphylactic reactions vs. those who have less severe symptoms. I’m not sure that there are as many people as we think out there whose allergies are that severe.

    Tomorrow when of my kids will be doing swim class in PE, and the other is just starting out on an elementary level tackle football team. If you look at statistics for activities like swimming or football, there is risk there. Children drown, kids get head injuries. It seems like one kid or another that we know has broken a bone from falling off a bike, risky playground behavior etc.I’m not sure that we can ever prevent a 100% risk free environment for our children.

    As for the link you provided, that is an unfortunate situation, and there is no one good answer. Certainly I’d consider Asian food something that might be questionable.

    I’m not sure I am hugely in the pro-cupcake camp. My youngest has a couple more birthdays before cupcakes get “babyish” before someone else pointed out. I’m not sure I’d want to see something banned in our community without considerable community input though.

    I live in a liberalish, university town. We like our organic food, but I’m not sure everyone is ready to have a few people dictate choices for everyone else.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Kate – I answered a lot of these points in this post — rather than repeat myself here, I’ll ask you to check it out. And I love the idea, in theory, of a community coming together to reach consensus. If that can happen, great, and in the context of flavored milk (where there are strongly held nutritional arguments made on both sides), I’ve advocated trying to get some consensus before yanking the flavored milk from the cooler. But here, where there is NO nutritional value in these foods, and where there is a real health concern among the allergy folks, I just don’t get why the sentimental desire to celebrate at school with food treats should trump all the other concerns. Especially when you can still celebrate at school with some really great non-food ideas.

  17. Confused mom says

    I guess I can agree with the allergy and obesity. I just think maybe if the teacher could send an email to the parents stating so and so mom wants to bring chocolate cookies let me know if you’re child is prone to eating them than maybe that issue would be resolved. What brings me to this website though is my third graders school not only bans treats, they also ban birthday invitations. Now I’ve been trying to think for the past three hours how and why this is but somehow I can’t think a valid reason. I’m not asking them to go to church and celebrate my daughters birth with a priest and convert to Catholicism but just a piece of paper that says when, where and who’s birthday it is. Does anyone else have this topic or has gone through this that would like to give me their feedback please!

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Confused Mom – this is a little far afield of TLT’s focus on “kids and food” but in our school we can’t give out invitations unless the entire class is invited, presumably out of fear of having kids feel left out. Do you think that might be the motivation in your school as well?

  18. Concerned Dad says

    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.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Concerned Dad: I appreciate the time and thought you put into this comment and want to respond in kind. I may do so in a separate post, in which case I’ll share the link with you, or I’ll come back and leave it here. Thank you for being a Lunch Tray reader and for sharing your views, even if they are not in agreement with my own. – Bettina

      • heartsmart says

        Hi Bettina:

        I read your opinion article/response to concerned Dad, and felt the need to respond. I know how controversial this subject matter is, as many people do not realize how “real” this problem is…so I thought I would share a quote that I read…”the kids of this generation may be the first in centuries to have shorter life spans than their parents”. That is as real as it gets and extremely scary. It is a wake up call to say we are doing something wrong, and we need to fix it…NOW! I do not want to spend the time defending the position on limiting school treats, as I feel I have been doing that for years now and it is getting really tiring…but the fact is that school is the place where kids are supposed to learn the best way to do everything. Which means they should be taught the best way to eat to ensure the best of health. It seems so hypocritycal to be giving all the sugared treats that will only hinder the learning ability and not be beneficial to health…why is this even a debate….nobody is saying a cupcake is bad, it just does not belong in school….birthday parties are a fun part of being a kid, and it should be with friends and family outside of the school day. School is for learning and that learning is not limited to science and math…it is learning life skills that will be necessary to be a successful person when you graduate, and that should include knowing how to keep your body healthy. we have enough problems with all of the outside marketing that goes on to kids throught the media sources, and it is hard enough for parents who try so hard to do the right thing, we need the schools to reinforce that through any foods that are to be offerred during the school day, and yes, that does include the party foods as well. So to concerned Dad, I understand that not all of us feel the same way about the foods that we feed our kids, and that is a personal decision, but I personally do not want my child being offered anything that would be not in the best interest of their health, during the school day, where I am not there to say “no”…it is just not right.

  19. John Tetreault says

    Did it ever occur to you that we may be actually the CAUSE of the “documented increase in food allergies”…. has anybody asked why are food allergies increasing? Think maybe it has something to do with the fact that children are no longer exposed to small amounts of these allergens in early life, and therefore don’t build the proper acclimation to them? The only known “cure” for peanut allergy is exposure to gradually increasing microscopic amounts of the allergen, administered by a physician over time…. children treated by this method are eventually able to eat peanuts with no ill effects. Same with dairy allergy…. you tofu eating fools feeding your child soy milk, the kid is never exposed to dairy, and then develops an allergy the first time they inadvertantly ingest real dairy.

    So, by banning everything that one child out of 1000 might be allergic to, we’re creating a sterile environment where children aren’t exposed to these allergens, thereby exacerbating the very problem you’re trying to solve.

  20. John Tetreault says

    In fact… here’s a REAL shocker for you…. When I was in elementary school…. my school cafeteria actually served…. >GASP< "PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES" for school lunch OH THE HORROR!…. and you know what….. No kid died…. no ambulance had to come…. there were 1 or 2 kids with peanut allergies… and you know what…. they just told the lunch lady "my mom says I can't have peanut butter because I've got an allergy" and they were given something different that day. Imagine a world where common sense and reason are the norm instead of government rules and regulation…. you can't regulate stupidity out of people.

  21. stef says


    While it seems like just a conversation to you, a hypothesis, those of us who are living with our children’s allergies every day struggle daily. Horror, it is funny to you. But children have DIED at school because of allergic reactions. You don’t have all the information, please keep reading and educate yourself. Yes, researchers are looking at many theories about exposure. My child has had violent reactions to early exposure. Our environment is changing. We have to change with it.

  22. says

    I just wanna piggy back on Stef’s post and others who are savvy enough to keep striving to look at the bigger picture. An important point to raise here is that the respect has gone. Our relationship to food is one that needs to deepen and evolve all the time. Our connections to each other so too need to deepen and evolve yes especially in a school community – it goes both ways . To turn a blind eye to food issues that are paramount to many families within a school community with respect to allergies, health related issues, cultural issues is not to be empathic to those families, THAT CHILD .It’s inconsiderate behavior. We all, each and every one of us have different needs and desires when it comes to food. Bio- individuality is the word used to describe our unique make-up and relationships to food. When you put hundreds of children together in a school it is vital to set the right wellness policy that sets the right standards for health and well- being. Children need to eat real food, Real food fuels their brains and bodies. Treats and sweets and fatty salty foods and everything in between need to be questioned before it enters the school, if at all. There are so many school wide celebrations, classroom celebrations, after school celebrations that dole out treats and sweets and foods that don’t agree with most kids, as difficult as that may be to comprehend , that it’s time to get a handle on it as this constant overindulgence of the wrong kinds of foods sets our children up for life habits that can be psychologically and physically damaging to them as they grow older. (Outside of the abundance of celebrations please take into account the schools that have junk food vending machines and despicable school food offerings for lunch). It’s NOT the ONE OFF celebration – it’s ALL of it. It’s imperative that one does the proper research to really understand what your child and your school community consumes in a year and how they do it and why they do it. And to know it’s not a one size fits all diet and that yes there’s a social responsibility to our school communities to raise standards . To provide a safe, healthy , nurturing environment. There are so many incredible, meaningful and fun ways to celebrate a Teacher, a milestone, a holiday and honor a child’s birthday in school, (at home DIFFERENT – do your own thing ) Food is such a gorgeous way to celebrate but with real food and in a respectful way that YES is mindful of how others eat – especially children. INCLUSIVITY. This is after all about our children . When we give them the tools to understand better eating, giving them healthy food choices, teaching them about differences in eating habits and give them an appreciation for culturally diverse foods we teach them respect, we empower them. It becomes about THEM and not about how WE grew up ! I think the important thing here is to keep reading, researching (and be certain to understand where that research comes from and that it’s not skewed in favor of some corporate agenda) educating oneself on how we can better the lives of our children at school – how we can come together to hear each others concerns, LISTEN and do more homework on the subject. Raising the standards for better health for our children in our schools – respect, honor and celebrate real food. There’s nothing stopping any one parent from giving their own child a plethora of junk food and treats and sweets out of school and even in school for that matter BUT what works for one child does not indeed work for all. RESPECT. In school we owe our kids a proper food education and we need proper wellness policies that are INclusive instead of being EXclusive. It’s a human rights issue. Teaching children to respect others eating habits is Power to the child! Remember children live what they learn – Keep the food education and respect for food and each other going!

  23. JOHN says

    Don’t tell me what my kids can eat. Why don’t you just try providing education, put it to the vote by the parents, that would be fine with me.

  24. Susan T. says


    I agree that providing an education is what school is for. Following that train of thought, they should not be providing junk food. If they’re going to provide any food at all, it should be nutritious food, eh? Since they’re, you know, educating and all?

    It is absolutely my business to be concerned about what is served at school. Now what you serve at home? Not my concern.

    Pretty simple concept.

  25. NICK says

    Unfortunately, I must agree with the schools not allowing treats. I know, I know, it doesn’t seem right not to allow cupcakes for birthdays and such. But, I think the school has a right to ban them if they see fit, even if I don’t agree with it. At home, that is OUR business, and no one should have any say so on what we feed our kids at home. But while at school, on their property, we must follow their rules. Now if all parents got together and made a big enough fuss over it, then we could force the school to see it our way. Afterall, our taxes pay for the schools. To me, a treat once in awhile seems like a good thing and a kid’s birthday is important to remember. Cupcakes is a good way for the kiddos to remember!

  26. m.c. says

    Yikes. There is something disturbing about the thought that children need junk food in order to have fond memories of their youth. Or thoughts of unhealthy food would be their fondest memories from childhood. My daughter is joyful in looking back at fun activities like going to the park and presents. She doesn’t need lots of sugar to be a happy kid. I think she is happier being healthy. Too much sugar is addictive. I know that from eating way too many treats as a kid myself. Its time to break this vicious cycle. Infants aren’t born craving all these foods, it happens because we give them all this junk. Sure they may favor sugar but that craving can be satisfied with fruit if that is what they are used to. Parents and teachers are responsible for creating these unhealthy eating habits that children have today. Three year olds aren’t doing the grocery shopping. Its up to us to give children foods that are both good for them and enjoyable. It is frustrating that this isn’t just considered common sense behavior. Corporations advertising these foods as “fun” have to take part of the blame as well.

  27. Wendy says

    Just by the way, the argument that screen time/computer games contribute to childhood obesity is ridiculous. By the same logic, so do math homework, reading, Legos, board games…I mean really, no kid ever burned off a cupcake reading Moby Dick.

  28. says

    I have a huge meeting with my LARGE school district to try to rid schools of all food in the classroom. Do you have a list anywhere of all the schools districts that have done so already? Any advice? Thanks! The meeting is on the 13th!


    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Hi Jennifer: I’m going to email you directly with some guidance, but in case you haven’t already seen this, my free, 40-page ebook on getting junk food out of the classroom is likely to be helpful.

  29. Foodallergymom says

    I have food allergy kids and while we are not part of the school system any longer and do homeschooling we do have groups we are with. My take on it is it is not my job to cater to everyone else’s kid out there on my kids birthday. It’s about the birthday child. Kids with food allergies should be educated about them and how to ask if they can see ingredients in a label or how to politely decline if they aren’t sure.
    That said the schools are given way too much control on families and kids these days. It isn’t their job to be the food wardens either. There is no rule that says they have to remove class time either. Or brief stint in the system the teacher placed the birthday kid at the door with their treat and everyone room one in the way to lunch. Problem solved and no time lost which is irony anyway when the average school loses 50+ days a tee in standard testing that isn’t academic for most of it when they could be learning, however the stupidity of common core is another debate all together.
    If they go to no. Food treats it won’t be long until someone screams that it is racist or financially unfair or a hate crime etc by what kids may bring. The whole thing is so ridiculous in this country trying to please a minority or be politically correct that our kids childhoods are the thing ruined. The solution? Treats stay and send them home at the end of the day with the stipulation they are prepackaged individual items and let the parents decide if it’s ok to consume it or not. It’s ridiculous to even be debating the issue at all. There are way too many important issues in the world right now than a cupcake on a kids birthday.


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