Monday, October 5, 2009

Battleground School Food

It may be a fluke or it may be fortune that the New York Times has taken up the "cause" of school food and nutrition in the last week or so. First there was the article profiling the cafeteria at a popular New York City public school in Queens. Then, Saturday, they ran an article on the ban of sugary foods from public schools in New York City even for celebrations (think kids' birthdays) and bake sales or fundraising activities. Actually, the 'bake sale ban' is not something new, it was issued in June but is just beginning to be implemented.

After my Public Health in the Media class last year (take it if you get the chance...I'll be the TA!) I am sure that it is not a mere coincidence that school nutrition has landed in the newspaper several times in the past month. I think the reason that the New York Times is talking about school nutrition policy is because people are starting to care about it! People want someone to do something about childhood obesity and schools are a natural starting place.

But it is important to ask: Does the ban on sugary snacks and treats in schools go too far?

I'm (probably not surprisingly) all for a ban on desserts in schools. Though, I think it is a shame that such a measure is needed. In my own life I know how much I associate sweets with celebration. This is association that is forged EARLY in life. I'd be hard pressed to find a one-year old without a birthday cake! Unfortunately, most of us can find a reason to celebrate nearly any day of the week leading to sugar abuse.

In addition to breaking unhealthy cultural norms, my other reason for supporting the ban is the assumption that we have to use sweets to fundraise! Like people won't buy carrot sticks and curry... OK, they might not. Still that is just another reason to get creative and find other ways to fundraise.

We are all aware of fundraising walks and 5k races. How about a fundraising parent-student softball game or soccer? Or a cultural or family dinner feast highlighting local foods with a delicious fruit bar for dessert? I think this kind of ban is not such a bad thing for schools...

Yes it takes some creativity and a little extra energy. But I look forward to that day when bake sales and sweet celebrations will be something that takes place on the weekend and is an event that kids actually look forward to (because they don't get it every day or week!). It's possible those monthly authorized bake sales will be more lucrative than ever...or they may find alternatives that are more fun and profitable!

Imagine that.

1 comment:

Kelsey Woodruff said...

In the district I taught in, there was also a complete ban on sugary snacks (including birthdays). If I were to make a school food policy in an ideal world, I would allow special treats for birthdays and such. Moderation is what we should be teaching children.

However, the complete ban actually made it easier for teachers to enforce . Parents knew simply that only real fruit juices and snacks like pretzels and goldfish were allowed for school parties. This meant that if a student brought flaming hot cheetos or cake for an everyday recess snack the simple answer was "no." Given the eating habits of my students, the complete ban on sugary snacks during school set a good example and averaged out their daily eating. I think once we reduce childhood obesity and help families to afford good whole foods at home, we can bring back the occasional sugary snack for birthdays.