Thank you!

As I close out the first week in my new digs here on The Lunch Tray, I just wanted to send out a thank you to all of you….

One big piece of my blog redesign was creating my new classroom junk food guide, and I wrote most of it over winter break,  passing up quite a few sunny Houston days to hole up in a library to get it all done.  I wasn’t sure how the book would be received, but the feedback has been really positive!  Here are a few reader responses:

Hi! Just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your work to bring healthy eating into the classroom. I love the new Guide and will use it to continue to work with my son’s Kindergarten teacher who doesn’t seem to get it. (Nor does the school wellness committee – which doesn’t have a nutrition component).

Can’t wait to read this. I’m the only teacher on campus with a no junk food policy. Hoping for change.

Thanks so much, this is excellent! I’m the pta health & wellness chair at 2 schools & I am trying to bring nutrition education into the schools & create a healthier classroom environment with school parties and such. I started a committee & this is going to help!

Thank You Sooooo much! Just felt defeated as my heart healthy menu that was originally approved got shot down by parents in favor of pizza and junk. I feel like my prayer just got answered-and to not give up!

I’m under no illusions that junk food will disappear from classrooms overnight.  In fact, next week I’m going to share here the story of the mom mentioned in passing in the ebook who lives in a rural area that’s almost comically resistant to promoting healthier food at school. (I’m hoping you’ll be able to give her some advice–  or at least some empathy!)

But when I see responses like the ones above, I do feel hopeful that if we all keep plugging away at this problem, the situation is bound to approve.  And if my guide in any way can help those efforts, it was totally worth the time it took to put it together.  :-)

(Also, many thanks to the Fooducate blog for writing about the ebook in a post today!)

Have a great weekend, everyone!  More TLT next week….

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,500 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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My New 40-Page eBook on Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom

Kids Classroom Guide FinalAs I mentioned in yesterday’s post, in conjunction with The Lunch Tray’s relaunch I’ve also created what I hope will be a really useful resource for Lunch Tray readers.  It’s a 40-page (!) ebook devoted to the number one complaint I hear from you most often: the unwelcome influx of junk food into your child’s classroom.

In The Lunch Tray’s Guide to Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom, I address a wide variety of topics including: how wellness policies and the new federal “Smart Snacks” rules relate to classroom junk food; the tricky problem of birthday treats and how to respond to your opponents on that issue; the use of junk food as a classroom reward; the use of candy as a teaching “manipulative;” kids and sugar consumption; and much more.  Here’s a sneak peek slide show of a few of the book’s pages, including the table of contents:

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The book includes tips and materials from some of my favorite fellow bloggers, including Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition, Casey Hinds of U.S. Healthy Kids and Stacy Whitman of School Bites, as well as a Resources section with links to helpful websites and organizations.  It also links to my new and improved Pinterest boards, which now have separate collections devoted to healthy classroom celebrations, grouped by holiday or occasion.

To receive your totally free copy of the ebook, just enter your email address here.  You’ll also be signed up to receive The Lunch Tray’s new newsletter, which will share prior Lunch Tray posts as well as features like kid-approved recipes, cooking tips and tricks, kid-food news items and more.  (Rest assured: I’ll never, ever share your email with any third party and you can unsubscribe at any time.)

In this ebook I’ve drawn on my own real-life lessons in advocacy to offer my best advice, and I welcome your feedback and suggestions for future editions.  I really hope you like it!  :-)

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,500 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Texas Ag Commissioner: Bring Back Sodas and Deep Fat Fryers to School

Yesterday I told you that Texas’s newly elected Agriculture Commissioner chose, as his first act in office, to grant “amnesty” to classroom birthday cupcakes in our state.

As I explained in yesterday’s post, not only was this a head-scratcher given the many more pressing problems facing Texas’s farmers (starting with a serious water shortage and including a rampant feral hog population that’s destroying our ecosystems and crops), Commissioner Sid Miller’s publicity stunt didn’t even make sense legally: since 2005, the right of a parent or grandparent to bring any type of food, including cupcakes, to classroom parties and celebrations has actually been guaranteed by law under the so-called “Safe Cupcake Amendment.”

Photo credit:  Texas Tribune, by Marjorie Kamys Cotera
Photo credit: Texas Tribune, by Marjorie Kamys Cotera

Nonetheless, Mr. Miller did everything he could at yesterday’s press conference to convey the impression that there had been some “repeal” of restrictive regulations barring such treats, again making the world safe for cupcakes.

But the “repeal” of which Mr. Miller speaks had nothing to do with birthday cupcakes.  Rather, in response to the new federal Smart Snacks rules governing competitive foods and beverages (the snacks and drinks sold to kids during the school day, not the treats given to them in classrooms), our state repealed its own (and far less nutritionally stringent) rules which had been in place since 2004.

In other words, the “repeal” characterized by Mr. Miller as somehow courageously bucking restrictive regulations was actually a show of appropriate deference by our state to the federal government.  In this regard, I can’t tell whether Mr. Miller and his advisors are being intentionally deceptive or are just plain ignorant.  Either proposition ought to seriously trouble the citizens of Texas.

One aspect of our old nutrition policy which was not repealed was the prohibition on using deep fat fryers in our school cafeterias for preparing foods served in the reimbursable school breakfast or lunch, or sold in cafeteria snack bars.  But at yesterdays’ press conference, Mr. Miller reportedly told those in attendance that he also plans to reinstate the use of deep fat fryers in Texas schools, as well as allowing schools to once again sell soda to students.  Both of those practices have been banned in Texas since 2004, and the sale of deep fried food or soda to kids would directly run afoul of the federal regulations for school meals and competitive foods and beverages.  But, of course, those federal rules are administered and enforced here in Texas by, yes, our Department of Agriculture.

Put simply, the state agency which, according to its own website, “striv[es] to put Texans on the path to wellness” is now being led by an individual who seems bizarrely determined to fatten up Texan children as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Or, to use Mr. Miller’s own words from yesterday’s press conference: “ “We’ve been raising big, strapping, healthy young kids here in Texas for nearly 200 years. We don’t need Washington, D.C., telling us how to do it.”

People, it’s going to be a very long four years. . . .

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“Cupcake Amnesty:” Childhood Obesity and the Political Divide

american cupcakeThis morning in Austin, our state’s newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller is holding a press conference to announce his first official act in office.  But Miller won’t use the occasion to address Texas’s troubling water shortage, which he had promised to make his “top priority” if elected, nor will he discuss any other issue of pressing concern to the state’s farmers or economy.

Rather, Miller will kick off his four-year term as Agriculture Commissioner by “declaring amnesty for cupcakes across the state of Texas.”  According to Miller’s press release, “We want families, teachers and school districts in Texas to know the Texas Department of Agriculture has abolished all rules and guidelines that would stop a parent from bringing cupcakes to school.  This act is about providing local control to our communities.”

Whatever you think of Miller’s administrative priorities, there’s actually no legal need to “declare amnesty” for school cupcakes here in Texas.  A parent or grandparent already has the right to bring cupcakes (or any other food) to a school birthday party or classroom celebration, a right guaranteed by our state legislature with the 2005 passage of “Lauren’s Law,” better known as the “Safe Cupcake Amendment.”

So no cupcake-related “rules or guidelines” were in fact “abolished” by the Texas Department of Agriculture, which oversees our state’s child nutrition programs, but Miller likely cares little about the specifics.  His cupcake stunt is more likely a response to the new federal Smart Snacks rules, which set forth stringent nutritional standards for foods and beverages sold to children during the school day, apart from the school meal. Nothing in the Smart Snacks rules affects classroom or birthday treats (since they’re not offered for sale) but the rules did effectively put an end to junk food fundraising during school hours, a development which hasn’t been popular with some Texans.

Given that Miller was once named the “second most conservative” member of the Texas legislature – not an easy status to achieve in these parts — it’s not surprising that he wants to be the standard-bearer for local control against a meddling federal government’s anti-childhood obesity measures.  And Miller isn’t even the first conservative to raise aloft a classroom birthday treat to rail against governmental interference.  Sarah Palin made headlines back in 2010 when she brought 200 sugar cookies to a Pennsylvania fundraiser to protest that state’s proposed guidelines for classroom parties, which would encourage parents to send in healthy snacks like fruits or vegetables.  Palin tweeted that day: “2 PA school speech; I’ll intro kids 2 beauty of laissez-faire via serving them cookies amidst school cookie ban debate;Nanny state run amok!”

The irony, of course, is that the states most adversely affected by the obesity crisis (i.e., conservative Southern states) are often the least amenable to policies which might ameliorate that crisis.  This phenomenon is consistent with a 2011 Pew Research Center poll which found that 80% of liberal Democrats felt the government should play a “significant role” in fighting childhood obesity while only 37% of conservative Republicans and 33% of those aligned with the Tea Party agreed with that statement.  (Interestingly, the ethnic groups most affected by obesity – Hispanics and African Americans  – were far more likely than whites (89% and 74% versus 49%, respectively) to support governmental intervention.)

These differing political philosophies will matter greatly in the year ahead, when the Republican-controlled Congress will square off against the Obama White House over a likely effort to permanently weaken school food nutritional standards.  In leading a similar campaign during the 2015 appropriations process last year, Rep. Robert Adherholt (R-AL) predictably couched the rolling back of the standards as a matter of creating “flexibility” in onerous federal regulations and returning local control to school districts.  But let’s be blunt: many of the states most ardently in support of “local control” seem to be doing the least effective job in combatting childhood obesity, if statistics are any guide.

For example, the conservative National Review gleefully declared Miller’s cupcake amnesty announcement to be “further proof that Texas is the greatest state in the union.”  No good Texan would never argue with his or her state’s greatness, but we do also hold the distinction of ranking fifth in the union for obesity among high school students, and thirteenth in the union for our climbing diabetes rate, which is predicted to reach almost three million cases by 2030.  Over 36% of our kids aged 10-17 are overweight or obese, and that number is likely to grow as they age:  in 2009, almost 67% of Texas adults were either overweight or obese, a figure which could reach an astonishing 75% by the year 2040, if present rates persist.

Against that backdrop, let’s examine those unnecessarily “pardoned” birthday cupcakes a little more closely.  In my children’s crowded Texas public elementary school classrooms (some of which had up to 27 kids), students’ birthdays could be celebrated well over 20 times a year.  Putting aside all the other sugary treats kids receive at school from teacher rewards or classroom parties, not to mention illegal junk food fundraising, that’s 6,000 extra calories per child per year (20 x 300 calories). Multiply that figure by six years of elementary school and, assuming a pound of fat equals 3,500 calories, a child in Texas public school could gain over 10 extra pounds from birthday cupcakes alone.

The debate over the proper role of government will rage eternally, of course.  But when it relates to child nutrition, the argument is not just theoretical.  Sid Miller can polish his conservative bona fides by granting “amnesty” to cupcakes, but wrongheaded policies relating to school meal standards and classroom junk food adversely affect the health of real children every day.  When, down the road, those policies manifest themselves in the form of obesity-related diseases and shorter lifespans for those children, I won’t be as generous as Mr. Miller in handing out pardons.

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A New Initiative to Get Junk Food Out of Classrooms

Credit:  School Bites
Credit: School Bites

I’ve written a lot over the years (really, A LOT – see the Related Links below) about junk food in school classrooms, whether distributed by teachers as rewards for good behavior and academic performance or served as part of birthday or classroom celebrations.

It’s important to note that these practices are not addressed by the new federal Smart Snacks in School rules because the sort of junk food we’re talking about here is merely offered to kids, not sold, and therefore it isn’t considered “competitive food” under these new rules.

To help improve the classroom food environment, I’ve shared my own TLT Food in the Classroom Manifesto, which lists ten reasons why I think classrooms should be junk-food-free (and, ideally, food-free), I’ve solicited a huge number of reader ideas for food-free birthday celebrations (Real Mom Nutrition has a good list here, too), and I’ve also referred you to a useful handout for teachers created by Spoonfed.

To that growing list of resources I’m glad to add an exciting new Healthy Classrooms Initiative created by School Bites blogger Stacy Whitman, along with a registered dietitian.  What’s great about Stacy’s effort is that it’s a complete program, providing teachers with educational presentations by clinical dietitians, Healthy Classrooms signage, a pledge to sign, information for parents and more.  You can read all the details and access the program’s materials for possible use in your own school here. Bravo, Stacy!

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Are Even College Kids “Over-Snacked?”

Potato chipsWe talk a lot on The Lunch Tray about the ubiquity of (generally unhealthy) snacks served at any event at which two or more children gather, regardless of the time of day.

So I was interested to read this opinion piece, written by my niece Rachel Siegel for her college newspaper, which indicates that the snack deluge doesn’t stop after high school graduation.  In it, she describes how every event she’s attended at college so far has involved food, and one was even advertised with the e-mail subject line “Do you love free food?”

Of course, college kids are adults and have to be able to navigate life’s endless treat buffet on their own; offering 18-year olds some cookies to induce them to attend a lecture isn’t the same as plying toddlers with Oreos and Capri Sun juice pouches at a 10am soccer practice.  And it’s true that offering food and drink has always been the essence of hospitality.

But somehow it feels like we might have crossed a critical line somewhere, so that it’s now unthinkable to organize an event without providing food, and the food often becomes a key focus of the event when it used to be only in the background.

Take a minute to read Rachel’s piece and let me know what you think.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 7,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 4,000 TLT followers on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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School District Bans Food Treats from Classroom Celebrations

artificialcolorcupcakesI read this morning that the Evesham (New Jersey) school district decided over the summer to ban all food — and non-food — treats from classroom birthday celebrations.  According to South Jersey Local News, the change in policy was motivated by various past incidents involving food-allergic children.  Non-food treats were included in the ban to relieve teachers of the burden of checking “goody bags” for banned food or small toys that could pose a choking hazard.

A child with celiac disease spoke at the school board meeting in support of the ban and this statement, in particular, stood out for me:

. . . we could have parties without any food. A party is fun when everyone can enjoy it equally. We can just play games and have fun without food at all.


Out of the mouths of babes, people.

For my list of 10 reasons why classrooms should be food-free, check out my Food-in-the-Classroom Manifesto, and feel free to download and share the Word version with your own school or school district.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 6,400 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

 

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Does Childhood Hunger Justify Food in the Classroom?

A reader named Sheri left a thought-provoking comment on yesterday’s post in which I asked TLT’ers to chime in on a parent’s question about eliminating food in the classroom.  Sheri pointed out that many kids come from food insecure households and therefore my desire to eliminate all food from the classroom (articulated most succinctly in my “Food in the Classroom Manifesto“) might be misguided.

Here’s what Sheri wrote:

I understand that some may be frustrated with food in the classroom, however we need to consider that for many, that food may be the only food they receive in a day. I am a mom and don’t agree with the junk food in the classroom either – my child has multiple food allergies, so I have spoken with our teachers about making the party sign-up sheets start off with a list of healthy options. I also educate about label reading and the dangers of processed ingredients.

But there is often other things to consider before you begin a campaign to stop ALL food in the classroom.

Before you begin a crowdsourcing campaign, I would dig deeper in your communities and find some answers (this may be difficult, but worth the trouble).

Did you know?:
Food Insecurity Facts (http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts/child-hunger-facts.aspx)

– 16.7 million children lived in food insecure households in 2011.[i]
– 20% or more of the child population in 36 states and D.C. lived in food insecure households in 2010. The District of Columbia (30.7%) and Oregon (29.0%) had the highest rates of children in households without consistent access to food.[ii]
– In 2010, the top five states with the highest rate of food insecure children under 18 are the District of Columbia, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, & Florida.[iii]
– In 2010, the top five states with the lowest rate of food insecure children under 18 are North Dakota, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota, & Massachusetts. [iv]

There was a recent article that addresses the frustrations and push back that breakfast in the classroom is receiving (http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/05/06/teachers-battle-against-kids-free-breakfast-classroom?cmpid=apatt-fb).

If you would like to better understand the full scope of the issue, perhaps a family movie (https://www.facebook.com/aPlaceAtTheTableMovie/app_190322544333196)

And here is my reply to Sheri.  After you read it, please feel free to jump in with a comment of your own on this important question.

Sheri:

Thanks for all of this valuable information

You may be a new Lunch Tray reader, but childhood hunger is a cause close to my heart, and one about which I write often here on TLT (see the many links below). Indeed, just recently I was a “Food Blogger for Hunger” in association with A Place at the Table, the excellent documentary film you cite above.

Here in Houston, over 80% of our students rely on free or reduced price federal school meals and it was precisely that issue of economic dependency which led to my interest in school food reform in the first place — and to the inception of this blog back in 2010.  It was also the issue that motivated my successful campaign against “pink slime” in school food ground beef last year.  And childhood hunger is the reason why I’ve always been a supporter of breakfast-in-the-classroom programs even though they can be, as you note, quite controversial — as such a program was here in Houston ISD when it was first instituted.

But I think it’s very important to make a distinction between “food in the cafeteria” and “food in the classroom.” The former is federally regulated and, thanks to the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in late 2010, great strides have been made in the nutritional profile of school meals. While we still have a lot of work to do in terms of reducing schools’ reliance on highly processed foods, children dependent on the federal lunch and breakfast programs (as well as after-school snack and even school supper programs) can and do have access to nutritionally balanced meals each and every school day (and throughout the summer where summer meals are offered.) That access is critical in an age in which so many kids, as you note, live in food-insecure households.

Food in the classroom, however, is another story.  This food tends to fall into three categories: food brought in for classroom celebrations; the use of food by teachers as a teaching tool or manipulative; and food handed out by teachers or principals as a reward for good behavior or academic performance.

In the case of classroom parties, an excellent 2012 study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, co-authored by Marion Nestle, found that the majority of items offered for class celebrations were “low-nutrient, energy-dense foods” such as cake, fruit punch, ice cream, Doritos, cheese puffs, and potato chips.  And while I know of no academic studies looking at the latter two categories of classroom food, in my experience (and in the reported experience of my readers), food used as a teaching tool and as a reward also almost always falls into the “junk food” category.

For example, I’ll never forget the day my daughter told me about an elementary school science lesson which replicated the circulatory system by using corn syrup for plasma, red hots for platelets and another candy — I think white Tic Tacs — for white blood cells. After mixing up this concoction for demonstration purposes, all the children were given a cup of it to eat.  Lovely.

Similarly, in prior TLT posts you can read all about how my daughter, now in middle school, was last year regularly handed 12 oz cans of Coke and full-sized packages of gummi bears for good performance in a language class, and how my son was given a jumbo sized Hershey bar for winning a school lottery. Those are just two instances of the many, many times in which my kids have been handed out junk food by a teacher as a reward.

Here’s my point:  I think we can all agree that even children beset by childhood hunger should not be consuming empty calories.  In fact, to the extent children are being fed junk food in the classroom, it’s likely they will then consume less of the nutritionally balanced, taxpayer-subsidized meal offered in the lunch room.  That’s not so critical for kids like mine, who can make up any nutritional gaps at home, but it’s quite detrimental for kids who don’t come from homes well-stocked with healthful food.

So given the almost uniformly poor nutritional quality of food in the classroom, I reject the notion that childhood hunger justifies its use.

That said, there certainly are instances of teachers in impoverished areas bringing nutritious food into their classrooms to feed hungry students, often paying for this food out of their own pocket. That’s entirely different, of course, though it still raises other concerns about classroom food, such as allergy issues.  Similarly, those offerings aren’t subject to any kind of oversight, so we’re relying on a particular teacher’s definition of “healthful food” – one with which we might not all agree.  I also believe that if hungry children have access to school breakfast, school lunch, and after-school snack (if not also supper, as we have here in Houston at some particularly impoverished schools), then even that sort of food in the classroom might not be necessary.

Let me know what you think about all this, and I hope other TLT readers will chime in as well on this important question.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 6,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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The Junk Food Deluge: Is It As Simple As “Just Say No?”

Here on TLT I’ve written often – some would say ad nauseum! — on the topic of kids being offered junk food by people other than their parents and what, if anything, we should do about it.   But today I want to ask TLT’ers a question:  How do you personally handle this issue?  Do you focus exclusively on your kids (i.e., telling them to “just say no”) or  are you out there trying to change the junk food food environment, an environment which other parents actively, and sometimes angrily, defend?

artificialcolorcupcakesMost of us would agree, I think, that there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of times a week kids are offered junk food as compared to our own childhoods. In a recent US News & World Report piece entitled “Why Is Everyone Always Giving My Kids Junk Food?” Dr. Yoni Freedhoff wrote:

. . .  it never seems to end. Saturday skating lessons often include lollipops, kids’ grab bags from community races regularly contain chocolates, loot bags from friends parties might as well be renamed candy bags, libraries host events with names like “Donuts and Dads,” bending a blade of grass with soccer shoes leads to sugar-sweetened sport drinks on the field and often ice cream or popsicles when the final whistle blows, and so on and so forth. And don’t even get me started on juice. No doubt too, each and every time I speak up, there’s someone out there telling me I shouldn’t be so frustrated, as it’s just “one” lollipop, it’s just “one” ice cream sandwich, it’s just “one” chocolate bar. If only it were just “one.”

Here on TLT, I’ve documented numerous intrusions of junk food in the classroom, many of which never existed when I was a kid: parents sending in sweets for classroom birthday celebrations; the use of candy (and even soda) as classroom rewards; junk food offerings at schools’ weekend clinics and competitions; classroom parties that become sugar-fests; the use of junk food for pedagogical purposes (remember the marshmallow Torahs?); and the practice of schools giving students juice pouches and peppermints to keep them alert on standardized testing days.  (All of those things irked me enough to write my “Food in the Classroom Manifesto,” a document many TLT’ers have since downloaded and shared.)

soccer snacksI’ve also written about junk food outside of school, such as the sugary beverages and chips or cookies parents often bring for “soccer snack;” the day camp that asked parents to bring four liters of soda and two dozen cookies each week; the tennis coach who endeared himself to his players by offering ice cream sundaes after a lesson; the youth bowling league that set out a table of candy and soda each week, urging the kids to go to town; and many more such instances of junk food in previously unexpected contexts.

And I’m getting the feeling lately that a lot of parents out there are becoming very frustrated.

In addition to the Freedhoff piece, there’s been a spate of posts in the blogosphere on this topic.  Food activist Casey Hinds recently shared with me a post by a blogger named Blaze, succinctly titled, “Keep Your Crap to Yourself.”  Blogger Stacy at School Bites has been bemoaning the junk food onslaught at her child’s school.  And Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition and Dana Woldow of PEACHSF both recently objected to the fact that Valentine’s Day has become an excuse for school sugar-fests.

But whenever a parent complains, there’s always someone else out there telling us that, as one of my readers put it, we just need to “instill backbone” in our kids to resist whatever junk food they’re offered.   And this is true not only of those who don’t have a problem with junk food per se.  Last week some of us debated this issue over on the Facebook page of the non-profit Keep Food Legal and a seemingly health conscious mom supported the “just say no” approach.  She wrote:

 I wholeheartedly disagree with the sentiment that you can’t ask your kids to avoid candy and junk. I do it all the time. They simply say “no, thank you.” I’m not going to let the possibility that they might be outside the social norm be the deciding factor for my decisions. I hope I’m raising them with enough strength to not care what other people think of them.  Then again, they’re more likely to go on a diatribe about sugar than they are to let someone steamroll them for not having a cupcake!

So, I’m curious to know what you think, Lunch Tray readers.

For those of you who focus less on your kids and more on changing the food environment, have you ever encountered resistance or even overt hostility from other parents?  In the piece mentioned above, Dr. Freedhoff wrote:

My experiences have taught me that junk food as part of children’s’ activities has become so normalized that my questioning this sugary status quo genuinely offends people’s sensitivities and sometimes even generates frank anger.

(Also check out my 2010 Lunch Tray post “Why Kids + Food = Conversational Hot Potato,” in which I discuss why I think this is such a hot button issue.)

For those of you who do instruct your kids to always refuse junk food in these settings — the teacher’s candy reward, the donuts at the class party —  has that approach been difficult for you or for them to maintain?

Or perhaps you focus more on educating your kids about healthful eating and then trust them to make their own choices– accepting the fact that sometimes they’ll make the wrong choices?

I’d love to hear what you have to say.

_______

In one of those moments of blogging serendipity, I just noticed that blogger Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition has a post up today which dovetails perfectly with this one.  She takes on the common argument, “We Ate Junk Food and Turned Out Just Fine, Right?”  Also check out my spiffy new “Snactivist” badge over to the right, courtesy of Sally.

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Food In the Classroom: Teachers Speak Out

The Manifesto! Click to enlarge it - copy and share it if you like.

Yesterday’s manifesto against food in the classroom, which I pounded out at my keyboard in a fit of complete frustration and anger, has clearly resonated with a lot of people.  With three exceptions (two of which I couldn’t print because they contained such foul language), comments posted here and on Twitter and Facebook have uniformly been in favor of getting food rewards and birthday treats out of our schools.

And many readers, like one named LA, wrote in to say, “Thank you for this. I thought I was one of the few parents who felt this way.”

Clearly not.

The other notable development is that I’m starting to hear from teachers.  Just as when I write about school food reform, I welcome comments and guest posts from school food service workers sharing their unique perspective, it’s been illuminating to hear from educators about this issue.  Here’s a sampling.

From Tina B:

I am a teacher, and while I admit I made the mistake of food rewards early in my career, I learned many years ago to stop the practice. I now have a treasure box filled with party favor trinkets items and a huge stash of stickers that I happily use instead. . . .

As for Halloween and Valentine parties, I allow sweets to be brought into the class. Candy treats are passed out at the end of the day (roughly the last 40 minutes or so) and I encourage the children to take most of their treats home. Because I teach in a poor district there usually isn’t that much to pass out anyway.

But the birthday celebrations are a completely different story!!!  . . . .

In recent years I have sent home letters to parents asking that birthdays be sweet free or to send in fruit or veggies, but since other teachers don’t have this class policy I really can’t enforce my requests. Parents of multi aged children (meaning kids in multiple grade levels and classrooms) can never remember which teacher has this policy, or just tune it out all together. Then there are the parents that have the attitude no one is going to tell me what to do when it comes to my kid. Parents will send in cupcakes for all, Capri Sun or the plastic bottles of colored who knows what, as well as bags of chips and bags of candy.

I have had parents go to the principal to complain about me because I absolutely refused a Costco sized sheet cake and two liters of Coke. The parent brought no plates or serving utensils for me, and I have learned from experience that to carve up a sheet cake into 28 peices and pour 28 cups of soda takes almost 45 minutes from start to finish and then the clean up process as well.

I physically cringe when I see all this junk arrive. First, the children see this bounty arrive and then proceed to ask about it all day long. “When are we going to eat cake?” becomes the mantra for the entire day. I’ll be in the middle of a math lessen and a child will raise their hand to ask “is it time for cake?”! Because I do not want to have 28 sugar crazed children in my room I save this stuff for literally the last 20 minutes of the day.

Another reason why I cringe when it arrives is because I myself have a sweet tooth and even when I stand there and tell myself that I will not eat that, I will not eat that, under no circumstances am i going to eat that…I almost always crack and eat the cake. :( I have learned for myself that the best way for me to eat healthy is the total removal of all temptation. Now I am a 40 year old woman and have a hard time refusing the cake, so really, what are the odds of a child saying no? We can teach our children to eat healthy so they have healthy bodies and minds, but cake is yummy, and temptation combined with seeing all the other kids eating will result in our kids cracking every time. . . .

From a reader who goes by “c:”

When teachers try to say no to parents with cupcakes, we get labeled as the mean teachers. It’s tough to stand up to parents on this issue and risk a grudge when we need those parents to work as partners with us to help their children succeed academically. Parents are often looking for something to dislike us for, and saying, “No, I won’t let you serve cupcakes to the class for your child’s birthday, ” is often very hard to say when you know you also need to say, “Mrs. Smith, I would like to have your child assessed for speech.” Just a different perspective to keep in mind.

c also added in another comment:

As a teacher who insists the food in my class is rarely present, healthy, and safe for everyone, I applaud this article. For every 1 parent who is sick of the unhealthy foods, there are 5 who complain when the teacher stops serving it. It’s amazing how many complaints I have fielded from parents who think it’s mean of me to have a party of fruits and veggies with no cookies, cupcakes, or other foods that will send my food allergic kids into anaphylaxis or diabetic kids into shock. Parents think kids NEED sugar to have a fun class party. I have had parents who, even after they have been told no, will still show up without permission with 30 cupcakes and plop them in my arms with a satisfied look on their face, thinking that now that the kids have seen them, I have to serve them. This debate has two sides to it – please remember that there are plenty of teachers who are really extremely tired of having 30 kids hopped up on sugar in their classrooms and parents demanding that it happen on a regular basis.

Parental push back, especially when it comes to birthday treats*, is a real issue.  Here in Texas, our legislature actually passed a “safe cupcake amendment” to protect parents’ rights to bring in sweets for their kids’ birthdays.  And I personally know one parent who was vilified at her children’s school when she dared question the birthday treat practice.  So my sympathy is with well-meaning teachers on the receiving end of some intense parental anger when they try to curb classroom sweets.  (By the way, for an interesting examination of why parents get so riled up over this issue, be sure to check out this post on Real Mom Nutrition (“For The Love of Cupcakes“) and the article she discusses there: “Food Nazis Invade First Grade.”)

But I want to end on a positive note.  Two days before I published my manifesto, a comment happened to come in on a much older Lunch Tray post (“Sarah Palin and Birthday Treats Redux“) about Sarah Palin’s 2010 publicity stunt of bringing sugar cookies to a Pennsylvania school to protest proposed “Nanny state” school nutrition guidelines.  That post turned into a distillation of my many arguments against in-class treats, and a reader named Annemarie, a teacher, had this to say:

Wow. so, I’m having a sort of mini food revolution myself, personally, and this blog comes at such a great time. I’m absolutely a foodie, and one of the hardest parts of trying to eat more healthily is fitting my foodie lifestyle into healthy eating. More importantly, I’m a mother now, to a beautiful almost-two year old, and eating right has suddenly become so much more important. People are encouraging my attempt at losing the ton of weight I want to lose, and it’s hard to explain to them that this isn’t about losing weight so much as its about changing my entire lifestyle when it comes to eating and feeding my family.

The reason I’m responding to this, though, is that i have a confession to make. I am a teacher of sixth graders, and I must say that in my seven years of teaching it never occurred to me to think past the reception of the treat. What I mean is I knew treats made my students happy. I bring treats in about five times a year, if that, although the clemtines I give them for PSSA testing some don’t consider a treat. We have a pizza party to celebrate reading Olympics, and every time we have a fundraising competition the winning team gets an ice cream party (that I have nothing to do with!). It never occurred to me the violation I was committing, and I truly mean that. My job is to educate, and yes, providing treats here and there is great. Bt reading these comments and this article has completely changed the way I’m viewing my treat-giving! It never occur to me that i Might have students who have parents desperately trying to save them by teaching them proper nutrition, and it never occurred to me that providing treats might interfere with that.

I’m a little confused by some comments – no one is entitled to cupcakes, and I think, honestly, the idea of getting creative with treats for the classroom and using non-food rewards is so important. I can’t wait to try and think of something clever for our next reward!

If that doesn’t make you feel hopeful . . . .

 

* A while back, I was stressing about celebrating my own child’s birthday in the classroom and TLT readers came up with many fantastic, food-free ideas:  “A Happy Ending to the Classroom Birthday Treat Dilemma.”

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My Daughter Asks for Water, Her Teacher Hands Her a Coke

Yes, really.

As you know, I’m no fan of handing out of candy for academic performance or good behavior, but since my children’s elementary school changed principals a few years ago, the incidence of candy rewards in the classroom has dropped off considerably.

Now my daughter is in middle school and she recently rotated through a class with a teacher (if any of my Houston peeps know of whom I speak, please don’t disclose here) well known for handing out sugary treats.  When I heard this news I cringed a little, but I assumed we were talking about relatively small amounts of candy to which I could turn a blind eye.

Um, not so much.

Over the last few weeks, good academic performance has been rewarded with full size bags of gummi bears (66* grams of sugar) and 12 oz cans of Coke (39 grams of sugar).  Every class, every week.  High-performing kids could (and did) receive both a bag of gummis and a Coke in a single class.

On the last day of the rotation, my daughter went up to this teacher’s desk for permission to go to the water fountain for a drink.  Without asking her if she wanted it, the teacher turned to his mini-fridge and handed her a can of Coke.  Her words to me later that day:  “I like Coke, but he’s made me sick of it.  I didn’t even want it!”

And here’s the kicker:  yesterday my daughter moved on to the next teacher in the foreign language rotation.  This teacher’s reward for high performance?  Inexpensive bracelets and other trinkets from the country in question, which my daughter pronounced “cool.”

I’m guessing it took this new teacher maybe five more seconds of thought to come up with that idea, instead of lazily sinking to the lowest common denominator:  sugary garbage.

If any of you have a worse classroom reward story, I’d really love to hear it.

 

[*Ed Update:  Thanks to a catch by reader Linda, on 4/28 I changed the grams of sugar in the gummi bears to 66 grams, from 22.  I hadn’t noticed that there are three servings in the 5 oz. bag.]

 

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A Soccer Mom After My Own Heart

I meant to post this a few days ago when it first came out:  a fantastic guest blog post on Fooducate by a self-described “soccer mom” taking on the junk food snacks regularly served at her kids’ practices and games.

It was written by Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, of Real Mom Nutrition, and if you close your eyes (well, don’t do that or you won’t be able to read it), the post may sound remarkably similar to my many  (some might say too many) rants against the junk foods regularly brought into public school classrooms.

Just as I often get the “who are you to decide how my kid celebrates his birthday?” argument when I rail against the birthday cupcake tradition, Sally got the same flak from other parents in the arena of organized kids’ sports.  Her retort?

When other parents brought this kind of crap to games every week, weren’t they deciding what was best for my child too?

Amen, sister!

And Sally totally gets my concern that, perhaps unlike in our own childhoods, all of these treats are just not “treats” anymore — they’ve become the daily norm for our kids:

The problem is, it’s not just Doritos at soccer. Kids are getting this kind of junk everywhere they go: in preschool, classrooms, church, clubs. And our kids, the ones washing down cupcakes with day-glo fruit drink at 9am every Saturday, belong to the first generation in modern history not expected to live as long as their parents because of their eating habits.

I think I’m in blogger love.  :-)  Check out her post in full here.

 

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