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?
Most 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.)
I’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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