Should Schools Give Junk Food to Students?

Should Junk Food be Banned at School Parties?I recently attended a party at my son’s school and one thought clung to mind – I’m going to get some junk food out of this.

Nope. The teacher served up an array of healthier snacks, from bottled water to grapes. Not a cupcake or Twinkie to be had. Typical, I muttered. Our PC mindset scrubs simple pleasures like cupcakes from our children’s lives. And mine.

This week, my sister-in-law forwarded me a blog post on the subject.

… we live in a 24/7 food culture that feeds kids at every opportunity, a culture that uses food for everything from reward to distraction. When every event is a “celebration,” when every treat is “special,” it’s impossible to keep framing junk as an occasional indulgence. It is never — not ever — “just one” anything anymore.

That caught my attention. This, however, stopped me cold.

In 10 years of being “that mom” — the one who organizes junk-free class parties, who pushes for healthier camp snacks, who speaks up not only for my kid but for all kids — I have never seen a child protest. Not in any grand you’re-killing-my-childhood kind of way, at least. For kids, the food is secondary to the fun.

I suddenly felt very guilty about my cupcake craving. Then I got defensive. Our culture no longer allows us to use certain words (like “bossy“). Sports team monikers are under assault. And even a simple cupcake at a child’s party is under the microscope. Is it any wonder parents like myself are a little jumpy on this subject?

I understand the need for good nutrition, especially given how many times our children are targeted by junk food. Commercials. Impulse buy racks at the checkout aisle. Movie theater concession stands. The ballpark. We’re still scrubbing that cotton candy dye from my son’s hands from last season.

There simply must be a balance, though, and I suspect balance is not what some parents have in mind. The blogger listed above mentioned that she wasn’t just fighting for “her” kids but “for all kids.”

Our children should be equipped to deal with temptations and to understand the difference between a slice of birthday cake and a hearty, nutritious meal. Banning certain foods may be just as ineffective as banning a word like “bossy.”

Perhaps the best way a school teacher can approach the junk food topic is to deal with it head on. Talk about the reasons why the treats are yummy, and then why those very same goodies can rot your teeth in larger quantities. Parents, in turn, can make cupcakes with better ingredients, teaching students that even savory snacks can be made without relying on processed ingredients or other questionable food items.

That empowers the child to know the stakes with every bite and gives them insight into what ingredients go into the food they eat every day. That’s good not just for my child but for all kids …

And then I sent all of the above to one of the smartest folks I know, a mom who takes nutrition very seriously. Here’s her response:

Your preschool is an anomaly. Most, including my kids, foist junk on them at every opportunity!  The ‘snack’ is something like cookies, Goldfish (total processed crap), and at least once a week they are handed a ginormous muffin (the equivalent of a cupcake) or a cupcake.

It’s not a matter of being PC, it’s a matter of promoting healthy habits. I have NEVER heard a teacher talk about ‘balance’ with a kid – for instance, if we’re having cupcakes, then we’re serving water instead of sugary juice boxes…

And take things like soccer… Around here, there’s a signup sheet for snack for soccer. For preschoolers!!! Really? They don’t NEED a snack after soccer! If you want to give your kid a snack, go for it. But please let’s not feel the need to all sit together and eat garbage. That snack is almost never an orange – it’s a brownie! So you got a little exercise… now it’s time to eat some crap.  It’s just the wrong message.  And we’re talking about 40 and 50 pounders being handed treats that are larger than I would eat. Again, portion distortion is an issue.

And you have to look at the overall picture. Just about every day there’s some kind of junk temptation … a birthday party (cake), snacks in preschool (most schools are garbage), the cafeteria line at school (while there are some healthier choices there’s still lots of junk), and every place I go – from shoe stores to the bank – someone is handing my kid a sugary lollipop.

Even our local library story time hands out junky snacks at the end!!! In the LIBRARY! Come on. So I love to take my kids out for treats… ice cream, for instance.  They eat a small piece of dark chocolate with me several times a week. But it’s to the point that I feel I have to carefully think about when we have those treats because some days they’ve already kind of exceeded their saturated fat and sugar needs for the day! Again, it’s about balance. Not every day is Christmas or their birthday. And truly, most American diets suck. Ask a doctor.

Confused? Me, too. My education on nutrition and culture is just beginning frankly, but I’d love to hear your take on the issue …

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  1. says

    I have to go back to my Mom on this one. “Everything in moderation.” So if we are not giving our kids ANY moderation – because of the soccer snacks, the school snacks, the lunchtime offerings, the vending machines by the school exit – then perhaps we need rules for the school. If only to level the nutritional playing field. I want the leeway of giving my kids some junk at home – where we will talk about balance. So I guess I do want schools to stop giving my kids tons of junk so that I can!

    • says

      Thanks for your input, Dr. G! I’m really torn on this issue. I like to be decisive and I never want a wishy washy blog (or blog post), but I feel like I’m evaluating my feelings on this issue with every bit of info I receive.

  2. says

    Up the Culture! I’ll use whatever descriptive word I like! But back to the food bit: define “junk” clearly before you carry on about whether it’s good or not for the kiddies. I doubt young bodies have changed that much, so a little more fat or sugar may just help their development. What might be missing is a real sense of what constitutes a balanced diet and that might rest on how much of an effort parents are willing to make in order to put good food in front of their charges – if they don’t know, they’ll default to what the lil’ ones clamor for. Maybe that’s the real threat to health – parents who are too interested in being cool and appearing to have it ‘all together’ to their families, when in fact they can’t cover the basics, like proving to their offspring that they care about what goes into them!

  3. says

    I work at a school, and the problem is that schools are a function of government. Government feels the need to take of people and dictate what they should and should not have. I think they should offer things in moderation, but I grew up on not having this barrier, so I ate way more junk food than I should have, which still creates bad habits for me to this day. Unfortunately, I don’t have the metabolism I used to have. Schools can cut out junk food when they make food that tastes good, something many districts are still working on. Also, the food problem, in my opinion, is not nearly as problematic as the elimination of periods of time from the school day for physical activity.

    At any rate, I enjoyed your post and it’s an extremely valid question. I do think moderation in this case is fine, but we need for parents and kids to understand how to make choices based on needs instead of wants.

    • Christian Toto says

      Thanks for your thoughts, Mike. The best start, I think, is to keep this conversation going with as many parents as possible.

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