My youngest is in elementary school now, and for his birthday, I sent in pencils and temporary tattoos for classmates — because the school doesn’t allow us to send in sweets anymore.
When the change was first made, my reaction was: For real? Banning sweets? Since when did some cupcakes at a birthday party become so dangerous and a big deal? Even as a pediatrician, I thought it was silly. There’s nothing wrong with eating sweets as long as your diet is overall a healthy one.
But therein lies the problem. Not all kids’ diets are healthy. And, as I’ve thought about this more, I’ve decided that there’s something to be said for setting standards — and an example.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a policy statement on snacks and sugary foods and drinks in school. In it, they point out that more than 55 million children attend public schools — and get about 35 to 40 percent of their daily calories there. It’s not only important that the food they get in school be as healthy as possible, it’s important to use the opportunity (any opportunity, these days) to teach children and families about eating healthy.
Let’s face it: Junk food and sweets are crowd pleasers — I mean kid-pleasers. They are also generally inexpensive and often pre-packaged, making it very easy to throw them into snack bags and lunch boxes. So lots of parents do. Not only do they send them to school, they stock the cabinets and refrigerator with them. I can’t tell you how many parents and kids look at me like I have two heads when I suggest sending fruit and a water bottle for snack instead of chips and juice. (“He won’t eat that,” they say. “He will if he gets used to it, and if you try out different fruits,” I say, but it’s clear they don’t buy it.)
Now, I get that banning sweets from school parties or fundraisers or whatever isn’t going to make all parents feed their children healthy foods and thereby end childhood obesity. But it does force families to think together about alternatives — and gives kids a chance to eat healthy foods with their friends, which sometimes is exactly what’s needed to break through the resistance. And when kids bring in non-food treats like those tattoos, it reinforces the idea that celebrations don’t always have to include food (so un-American, but true).
So, I’ve moved from thinking, “They need to get over themselves!” to thinking, “Hey, this just might be a good idea.” It’s not about being the cupcake police. You can always feed your kid cupcakes at home. And besides, cupcakes can be a pain to make (especially when there are lots of kids in the class) and get into school (I lost my favorite cupcake container when I drove off after the party with it still on the roof of my minivan). Pencils or strawberries are so much easier.
That’s the thing: People get so up in arms about this (there were plenty of upset folks at our school) that they don’t always stop to think about the advantages.
And when it comes to advantages, improving the health of children is one of the very best ones out there.
This blog post was originally published on Huffington Post.