Dear World: Please don't feed my kids junk food at school without my permission. Yours truly, Peeved Parent.

For those of you who don’t yet know about Bettina Siegel, I highly recommend checking out her blog The Lunch Tray. Informative and thought-provoking, she has her finger on the pulse of children’s food issues in the US. Her petition to ban ‘pink slime’ in schools made international headlines–and it worked! (Right on, Bettina!).

More recently, Bettina blogged about another controversial issue: feeding children junk food in school. She’s not talking cakes and treats at birthday parties. Rather, she’s (in my view, rightly) concerned about the practice of handing out promotional junk food items in school. Her son, for example, was given an 800-calorie Hershey bar one day. So I was shocked to read on Bettina’s blog that this is apparently a regular practice at her children’s school (and that the junk food is handed out without parent’s permission–or even knowledge). Check out her post on this issue. In a country where one in three kids are overweight or obese, how does this make sense?

Before I go any further, I should note that I am not an anti-junk food fanatic. Chips and chocolate bars a once-in-a-while treat at our house, and the kids can indulge all they like at Hallowe’en and birthday parties. This follows my philosophy of “moderation, not deprivation” (on the theory that forbidden fruit ends up being more tempting!). I admit it took me a while to get to this place, as my tendency as a new parent was to treat sweets like they were radioactive. I was helped by seeing how the French approach treats (they let kids indulge on special occasions like birthdays, in a kind of Carnaval-esque permissiveness that I admit I took some time getting used to). The occasional orgy of candy eating doesn’t seem to do French kids much harm. However, my kids are taught that these are ‘once in a while treats’. Handing out junk food in schools teaches kids a different lesson: it’s OK to eat junk food every day, whenever you like. That’s not the lesson I want my school to teach my children.

Bettina was inspired (and outraged) enough to write a Manifesto, and has asked people to copy it, circulate it, debate it. So here it is, below. Would love your thoughts!

6 thoughts on “Dear World: Please don't feed my kids junk food at school without my permission. Yours truly, Peeved Parent.

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with your comment. As a classroom teacher, we are always encouraging parents go bring in healthier items for birthday celebrations, to no avail. Weve even sent out a list of suggested food items, and in bowing to parental pressure to serve cakes and cupcakes, have provided a list of bakeries theft make cakes with fruit juice instead of sugar. Parents continue to bring in sugar filled treats. Its so very hard to convince parents that theirchilds birthday will still be “special” without a cake.

  2. Only a few years ago in 8th grade, it was our whole school who would weekly give out a full sized candy bar at lunch to students who had good attendance (which turned out to be a lot). This wasn’t one teacher, but the whole school. Parents weren’t told anything about it.

  3. We’ve struggled with this – as a parent of a kid with type I diabetes, and as a teacher, who sees this practice of constant candy eating at even the high school level. Our daughter (now in 4th grade) would miss a ton of class time if she were to troop to the nurse’s office for a BG check and insulin ever time food came her way in the classroom. She just ends up bringing it home, and sits there not indulging with her peers. The last week of school, when there seems to be tons of festivities, we usually just try to have one of us parents there to make sure she can participate (by checking blood, counting carbohydrates, and dosing insulin) and not be excluded. I’d like to add, however, that it isn’t the school or even the teacher that is usually driving the parade of sweet treats; it is fellow parents, who must feel compelled to “help” by donating some unhealthy snack, or overly indulgent birthday treat to share for their child. Our daughter’s teacher would much prefer that this practice does not occur, and even has sent home lists of health appropriate snacks for their one scheduled snack time. This list is routinely ignored by parents. It is our society (parents included) that has such an unhealthy view of kids and snacking, not just our schools!

  4. This is awesome. I wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper saying much the same thing this summer (Why didn’t *I* think to write a manifesto?? ha) but I got very little support in the online comments. I think most parents think of sugary foods—which is what most of it is—as “fun” and “innocent” and anyone who tries to restrict it as some kind of killjoy. In fact, I got told to lighten up and that I need more treats in my life.

    I honestly cannot understand why any parents would object to a blanket ban on food served in the classroom. Kids can still have lunch! Kids can still have snacks! In fact, they can have Hershey bars, if that’s what you pack them. I just want outside adults, who don’t know my kids and their allergies and their health issues (or my preferences), to stop feeding them. It’s my job to feed my kids!

    And I think a little extra recess time or gym time or read-aloud time or any number of things (think outside the box, people) would be a much more fun way to celebrate birthdays and special occasions than a bunch of nasty, chemical-filled cupcakes that result in some children to being excluded.

    This is in danger of becoming a manifesto. Anyway, bravo.

  5. I guess I have a hard time imagining a scenario in which a teacher can afford enough candy to have those sorts of effects on an entire class. I remember in 2nd grade my teacher had a jar of starbursts, and for one specific spelling game you could get one Starburst as a prize. It didn’t happen very often. Anyway, candy is expensive. I really don’t think there are many teachers handing out entire candy bars, especially not 800-calorie ones, and so I think it is something that can be handled on a case-by-case basis with specific teachers who are crossing the line. A blanket ban seems unecessarily draconian to me.

  6. I’m torn on this one – there has to be a middle ground… if my child’s school had a monthly birthday celebration for all the kids with birthday’s that month (or for a holiday/class reward) and I were notified in advance and adjustments were made based on the student’s nutritional needs (allergies, etc) I would be ok with that.

    And the way it was done in that Michelle Pfeiffer movie where she was teaching inner-city high school students on the verge of dropping out and rewarded correct answers with candy bars – I endorse that wholeheartedly. But that’s a special scenario ;-)

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