Before you bake cookies for your child’s classroom party, it’s a good idea to make sure you won’t be breaking any school rules. Traditions like birthday cupcakes and bake sales have come under attack at many schools, where trail mix has taken the place of chocolate chips.
The bull’s-eye on sweets comes after schools have dealt with junk food and soda in vending machines. States and school districts are also trying to rein in fattening school lunches. But with the obesity epidemic showing no signs of abating, schools are ramping up their efforts to promote healthier lifestyles.
In many cases, school leaders are responding to state and local wellness policies that require food sold in schools to meet nutritional guidelines and be commercially packaged. In other instances, it’s a local school decision that affects not just bake sales but also classroom birthday parties, after-school sporting events, and holiday celebrations.
Reasons for the restrictions go beyond wanting to keep empty calories out of school and curb childhood obesity. Principals are also worried about kids with allergies and sanitation practices in home kitchens.
For many moms and dads, bake sales and class parties represent a tradition they want their child to enjoy. In West Babylon, N.Y., parents who opposed a new policy banning traditional sweets from classroom parties showed up at school with homemade treats in hand for a final hurrah. Other parents are worried about the amount of junk food their kids are exposed to and support efforts to curb unhealthy snacks in school.
In many school districts, parents have worked with local school officials to get an exemption or reach a compromise. For example, in some districts, bake sales are allowed if they take place after school. Or a parent may bring in commercially baked mini cupcakes to celebrate her child’s birthday.
If your school or district is creating a wellness policy or addressing childhood obesity by changing nutrition policies, here are some ways to get involved:
Make sure parents are represented on the committee considering the new policy or guidelines.
Push for a policy everyone can live with that isn’t too extreme. Instead of an all-out ban on baked goods, maybe your principal will limit them to once a month or allow them as long as healthy alternatives are offered.
Be willing to offer healthier treats. Delicious baked goods can be made with fiber-rich whole grains, pureed fruits and vegetables, and heart-friendly fats such as olive oil. Also be open to serving smaller portions.