So, I just completed my daughter’s annual memo’s which our school has agreed to distribute in an effort to help keep Cate – my third grader with life threatening allergies to eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts – safe while she is at school. Some documents are for school staff only (Anaphylaxis Care Plan), some go to every family in the school (the one that says, “Take the peanut-free table seriously,”), and some go only to the families of children in her class (the one that says, “Please wash hands with soap after eating, don’t bring nut products into the classroom, etc.”)
These documents give me great peace of mind. (Incidentally, if anyone wants a copy of any of them, please just leave a comment below with your e-mail address.) But the thing that really helps me sleep at night is that our district has a Wellness Policy that prohibits sweets on campus. Yep, that’s right. How lucky are we? Well, truth be told, we scoured our county searching for a school district with this type of Wellness Policy, and when we found it, we raced to buy our house – unfortunately at the peak of the Southern California real estate market, but that’s another story.
Here are some aspects of our district’s Wellness Policy and Nutrition Guidelines:
- Food can’t be used as part of a rewards system
- Birthday celebrations can’t include food; goody bags should have only non-food items (stickers, highlighters, mechanical pencils, take-apart erasers, etc.)
- Students are encouraged to donate a book to the school library in honor of their birthday; they get to present it in front of the school at a monthly assembly
- Only 50% of classroom parties over the school year can include food
- Food at classroom parties cannot include sweets; district provides a list of approved healthy (yet fun) snack ideas
- No candy is allowed on campus during school hours; students can’t even bring it in their lunchboxes (in reality, this isn’t well-policed, but the spirit of it resonates with me, and my children abide by it)
- Candy and other sweets can’t be given with Valentine’s or other holiday cards
- Sweets are not served in the cafeteria (not that Cate would eat there anyway!)
Bear in mind that these policies were not put in place to protect food allergic children; yet, as the parent of a severely food-allergic child, our school district’s Wellness Policy makes me jump for joy! But even if my child had no food allergies, I’d still be thrilled with this policy, because it teaches healthy habits.
Why do our children go to school? To learn. Should learning be restricted to language arts, reading, math, science, and other academics? Of course not! There are many non-academic lessons our children learn at school, such as:
- Treating others with respect
- Learning about other cultures
- Exploring how other countries celebrate holidays
- Developing a strong character by learning about honesty, self-discipline, initiative, cooperation, appreciation, responsibility, and other character traits
- Keeping your hands to yourself
- Waiting patiently for your turn
- Appreciating music and art
- Building friendships
- Being active and physically fit so you can live a long, healthy life
Shouldn’t they also learn about making healthy choices when it comes to food?
As a society, much of our socialization revolves around food. Of course, this makes sense: we have to eat to live, and since eating takes up some of our free time, why not build parties and other social events around food? Going out to dinner with friends, having a neighborhood BBQ, taking a picnic to the beach, tailgating at a football game, and celebrating life events such as anniversaries, new jobs, retirements, and our children’s birthdays – events like these are what memories are made of. I agree.
But there is a time and a place for everything, and in my opinion, school is no place for sweets. If our children are regularly taking part in fun food-related events such as those I mentioned above, why do we need to do more of that at school? I have to say, food allergies or not, my children are not missing out on goopy treats. There are tons of opportunities for them to load up on sweets when they are at home, on vacation, or with their grandparents. They do not need more sweets at school.
What are we teaching our children by serving sweets in the school environment? At best: nothing. At worst: bad habits.
There is a fabulous document published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest which I recently tweeted, but I find it to be so useful that I have to include it here as well. Please download this document and share it with your school:
The message is simple: if schools are going to teach children about healthy eating habits, then they must lead by example: don’t use food as part of rewards system, and keep the non-nutritional sweets out of the classroom parties.
When our children grow up to be healthy, active adults who eat to live rather than live to eat, they will thank us.
Copyright: Egg-Free Epicurean LLC 2011, Amy Jones Anichini, Founder & CEO