I’ve written a lot on this blog (and, really, I mean, a LOT — see the “Related Posts” below) about classroom birthday treats, soccer snacks and the many other ways in which kids are offered junk food by people other than their parents on a regular basis. Each individual episode would be no big deal for most of us, but over time we parents start to see how all of that junk food adds up and the deluge can feel overwhelming.
Bucking this trend can sometimes be hard, though, and many parents have reported getting a surprising amount of push-back from fellow parents, or recalcitrant principals, teachers or soccer coaches, when they’ve asked to improve the snacks and treats offered to their kids. (Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition coined the excellent term “Snactivists” for parents who try to take this issue on, especially in the context of kids’ sports leagues.)
So I was interested in this recent post from Alli Howe, blogger at Don’t Panic Mom, who suggests that instead of trying to change the status quo through overt activism, parents should just quietly set a good example for others to follow. She writes:
You can help change the health culture of your child’s school without drama or flashing lights. . . .
The ninja approach is very effective when it comes to school wellness.
Don’t talk about your fruit tray. Just bring it in. When other parents and teachers see fruit coming in – they will take notice.
Don’t trash talk birthday cupcakes. Just bring in dancing music and glowsticks. (I want to go to that party.)
Don’t talk about carrot sticks as a healthy snacking option. Just send those crunchy beauties to the classroom.
I agree with Alli completely, and also note that she doesn’t advocate using the ninja approach to the exclusion of more active agitating by advocates like herself. But I do have to point out that the ninja approach doesn’t address one problem, which is the expectations of our own children.
In my experience, when a classroom or school or sports team has a longstanding tradition of serving junk food snacks or birthday treats, it can be very hard to convince one’s own children to go along with bucking this trend. Particularly as kids get older, peer pressure can be intense and being the one kid who’s celebrating his birthday with a fruit tray when every other kid brings in neon-frosted cupcakes can be very difficult indeed.
Who can forget the angst in my own house when my son asked (OK, begged) me to bring in donuts for his 11th birthday last year (see “Food Free Birthdays Can Be Hard — Even for the Manifesto Lady“)? He and I stressed and tussled over that issue for days, and while we came to a mutually agreeable solution (thank you, Marvel Avengers!), that solution cost more money than sugary treats would have, and raised the various other concerns discussed in that post and its comment section.
So I applaud Alli’s stealth approach and hope that all of you will join her ninja squad. (Clan? Gang? What do you call a passel of ninjas, anyway?) But I also feel (and, again, Alli makes this point, too), that we still need parent “activists” who are willing to get a little noisy with decision makers, as well as the sneaky ninjas. In other words, we need to change the food culture from the top down, as well as from the bottom up.
What do you think, TLTers? Let me know in a comment below.
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