Sometimes it feels as though schools have lost their proverbial minds and all it takes is a strict (or insane) adherence to a “health and wellness policy” to make the case that indeed they have.
But first, let’s get one thing out of the way. We all can agree that health and wellness are both noble goals. Everyone wants to be healthy and everyone wants to be well. Consensus achieved. Check!
Where things go awry is when we get nutty (not pun intended) over trivial food and beverage items as if they are some kind of kid killing poison. I’m not advocating that kids eat cupcakes and airheads every day but can we at least stop equating these staples of childhood with arsenic?
And, according to a recent piece at Huffington Post, we’re totally wrong about which foods are the “bad ones” anyway.
Most of us don’t know that a serving of tomato sauce has more sugar than a serving of Oreo cookies, or that fruit yogurt has more sugar than a Coke, or that most breakfast cereals — even those made with whole grain — are 75 percent sugar.
Just for fun, let’s look at a recent example of snack hysteria in my neck of the woods:
Field day recently took place at a school just a block from my home. As they do every year, scads of parents volunteered, many for the whole day, to ensure that 572 students in grades K through 5 had a fun and outdoor activity filled day. And they did. I could hear happy kid sounds from my house all day long.
Little did the sweaty but jubilant kiddos know that the master plan to serve them nice cold popsicles and yummy movie popcorn (already purchased) had been squashed at the last minute because they weren’t considered snacks that fell in line with the district’s “health and wellness policy.” That seems like an odd rationale considering that the school provided lunch the day before was a bacon cheeseburger. Last I checked, popsicles and popcorn were at least considered as healthy as a school cafeteria bacon cheeseburger. A quick scan of the lunch menu confirmed that the burger was indeed not a fluke; I also found corn dogs, American chop-suey, pizza, chicken nuggets, and nachos on the menu for the month of June.
I’m no nutritionist (in fact, I’m not even a vigilant parent when it comes to healthy eating) but even I know that it is impossible to reconcile any claim that popsicles and popcorn are bad and that corn dogs and nachos are good, especially in the context of “health and wellness.”
Now, before the allergy folks begin crying foul, let me concede that allergies are very different than simply refusing to serve sweets because they are “junk food.” (but for the record, people who are never allowed to eat junk food as children do not grow up to be normal adults). Food allergies, on the other hand, are serious business.
But even the allergy question can get tricky for a school community on a day that only happens once a year. While most children with allergies that I know are able to eat popsicles and popcorn, it’s inevitable that out of 572 students, perhaps someone cannot. And if we were talking about serving popcorn and popsicles all 180 days of the school year, I’d be the first one to call it a very bad idea. But I can’t subscribe to the notion that a potential allergy issue on one day a year should preclude an entire school from having highly non-allergenic snack.
Our school district, all school districts need to realize that they are expending people’s time and energy on triviality, often at the expense of larger issues that are actually worth our time, our reflection, and our efforts. Whether it be around issues of equity, achievement gaps, or fair funding, our time is better spent there than squabbling over whether it’s ok to serve popsicles and popcorn one day during the last week of school.
Seems to me that in an attempt to do right by kids with health and wellness policies, we ultimately do them (and the exhausted parent volunteers) a disservice. And we give our students every reason to show up at a school committee or PTO meeting to ask us, point blank, how in the world we can serve corn dogs every month and then forbid popsicles and popcorn one day out of the year?
Good luck answering that one.
And good luck with that school freezer now full of 600 popsicles that no one was allowed to eat because some grown ups went ahead and lost their freaking minds.