Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Policy Point Wednesday: The Ice Cream Cometh

I had a completely different post scheduled and all ready to go, and then I checked my Google reader and found Professor Marion Nestle writing about birthday treats in school (note the mention of fellow school food activist The Lunch Tray.)

I, personally, am conflicted about school treats.  I dislike bans, as part of teaching our kids to eat properly is teaching them to manage treats.  However, when I clicked on the study linked in the article, I found this sobering set of statistics:

Researchers found that children served cake and juice alone consumed just under 350 calories.  Kids at parties who were offered cake, ice cream, juice and an assortment of chips ate about 450 calories. When cut-up fresh fruit was offered, kids still indulged but ate about 50 fewer calories than at the other parties.

As I said, I'm not against treats, but these huge portions concern me a great deal.  If a school celebrates only once for all the summer birthdays, in a classroom of 25 kids there will be approximately 20 birthday celebrations. Adding to that potential classroom celebrations for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukah and Valentine's Day, schools could easily be offering parties weekly.

To take this one step further, the American Heart Association has calculated that a pound of fat is gained for every 3, 500 extra calories taken in.  If kids don't cut back on or burn off calories elsewhere in their day, they potentially could gain a pound (beyond normal growth) every three months they're in school.  Of course, this issue is less about weight and body shape and more about health: it's just as possible that kids simply don't eat nutritious foods offered at mealtimes because they've filled up on treats.

Another consideration is food allergies and intolerance.  The blog Red, Round or Green describes a Mom's frustration with classroom parties and how they impact students with food issues, including her own child.  No matter what is offered in this particular classroom, at least one kid winds up left out of the celebration.  She points out that when a parent brings treats to the classroom, they are superseding the authority of all the other parents and taking away those parents' right to choose the foods their kids consume.

I'd like to see reasonable classroom food policies; I appreciate our own school district's guideline of mini-sized, portion-controlled treats instead of cupcakes the size of your head.  Other school districts have aggregated their birthdays into monthly or quarterly celebrations.  Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, parents often disregard school policy and put schools in the uncomfortable position of being the cupcake police.

We really need a better answer.

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