April 24, 2012

Thoughts on...Junk food in school


I grew up on Little Debbie cakes.  Also, I'm pretty sure that I drank a Pepsi everyday of 10th grade.  We had a soda machine at school. 

And while I admit to having some body image issues, I think that I turned out okay.  Honestly, I did.  I drink spinach smoothies.  I eat Greek yogurt.  I work out 5-6 days a week.  I rarely eat out.  I don't drink soda at all anymore. 

As a teacher, I've seen my students eat everything from organic apples and quinoa to Lunchables at lunch time.  I've taken away soda that parents have sent for their child to drink at lunch.  I've witnessed moms drop off McDonald's for their child's lunch...on more than one occasion.  I've taken away those sodas too (No soda at lunch is the rule in most elementary schools). Because yeah, the soda comes with the meal and, heaven forbid we don't get our money's worth at McDonald's, right?

I can look over the group of kids and tell who has healthy habits taught to them at home and who doesn't.

And I'll be the first to admit:  I give out candy as prizes.  Not in vast quantities*.  Not every day.  But yeah, bribery works.  So sue me.  If the parents out there didn't bribe their kids with everything under the sun, instead of expecting them to have an intrinsic desire to succeed, then maybe I wouldn't have to give out jelly beans to the kids who do their math homework.  You can bet that if I do that on a Thursday, on Friday every single kid will have their math homework done.

I recently read a post at Happy Healthy Mama (love that blog!) about teaching your kids to stay away from processed foods.

I get it.  I really do.  I wish, these days, that I hadn't had near constant access to junk food at a young age.  As I said, I do not blame my parents.  In the 90s, only the "crunchy" people cared about avoiding processed food.  I was provided with tons of healthy food.  I just didn't eat it.  Vegetables and I will always have a hate/love/hate relationship.  Emphasis on the hate.

But if you're not teaching your kid what healthy food is, why in the world would you assume that I, as a school employee, would do such a thing?  It's not my job!  It's my job to reinforce your child's love for learning.  Sometimes it's much harder than you would think.  I try to honest with my students.  I try to be a role model.  But please, do not blame the teachers for over-processed foods in schools.  I have no control over the dozens of cupcakes that come into the classroom for birthdays.  No one even asks me!  Sometimes, randomly, a parent will just show up at the door with balloons and cake.  In the middle of math class.  True story.

My mom knows how I've struggled with healthy eating over the years.  In fact, when I had some blood work done (for the first time ever) a few weeks ago, everything came back perfectly normal.  I was expecting low iron and high blood sugar.  I had high iron and perfect blood sugar.  I told my mom, "I was not expecting THAT.  You know how I eat.  There's no way my blood sugar is normal.  Something must be wrong with their machines."  She just laughed....and I'm sure she also told me to go eat some protein.  (She and Scott both think that "more protein" is the answer to every possible ailment.)

What do you guys think?  Do you blame schools for unhealthy eating habits?

I've actually spent a lot of my own money to buy healthier snacks (when snacks are needed), when junk food would've been cheaper.  I, personally, feel like our society's problem with junk food starts in the home...schools aren't completely innocent, but they're definitely the scapegoats in this situation.

*If you're thinking of the mass quantities of jelly beans I've been giving away lately, I split them between several students OR I consult the parent before sending their child home with jelly beans.


  1. due mostly to allergies but some part health related we aren't allowed to have candy or give out treats at school for parties, birthdays or rewards (I miss that one the most!) Although I don't miss passing out cupcakes for birthdays and seeing all but the frosting in the trash! And it is crazy what some eat for lunch! I see lunch boxes full of junk food!

  2. As a former teacher as well, I hated when parents expected us to 'parent' their kids. Absolutely it is not the school's fault, if parents want their kids to not eat certain foods, send in a lunch. Too many parents are too quick to assume that 'school will take care of everything' and forget that they are the primary caregiver. Cullen gets a happy meal every friday, its our little lunch date and its special, but everything in moderation you know (and we get it with apples and milk!)

  3. I don't think teachers should be responsible for our children's eating habits. However, I will say, I think schools should be more responsible in what they serve for school lunches. At least give some healthy options. Even though I bake a lot of sweets at our house (have you read my blog, hehe), my kids love fruits and vegetables. And several days a week we have salad with out dinner, which is always the first thing eaten, they love it! My kids would love if their school provided salad, or sub sandwiches...

  4. I have so much to say on this I could write my own blog post on it! I'll try not to ramble!
    1) Schools are trying. Most elementary schools have never had soda or snack machines students can access, but older students in middle, jr, and/or sr high schools are having these machines removed or replaced with healthier options.
    2) School lunches aren't perfect ( and usually not even good), but ours are "balanced." Students are supposed to have a vegetable and fruit. They also must take milk unless there is an allergy. They almost never serve dessert any more. Once in a great while (I believe there is actually a National Cake Day), they serve cake with whipped cream frosting.
    3) We have an "approved snack list" that is shared with families, but often is ignored. My first few years, I tried to enforce this by asking parents to contact me prior to sending in birthday snacks and sending it home again before getting snacks sent in for parties. I eventually got fed up, and as long as I could say I didn't know what was coming in, I didn't worry about it.
    4) Then I had 2 years in a row with students who had nut allergies. Their parents were WONDERFUL, and had researched lists of items their child could have, and I stuck to it like glue! I was not risking my students' lives. Yet some parents STILL did not follow the list!
    Having said all of that (and I could still go on), it is NOT our responsibility to teach this to our students, but like many things these days, it's becoming so. I do a health unit on foods, and I emphasize the importance of TRYING new foods, and even reward them with my class dollars for doing so. I try to tell them that I was a picky kid and I still don't like many healthy things, but that it is important to try things. AND that foods they don't like now, the may like as they get older.

    1. There really aren't any rules here when it comes to junk food in schools. While it's certainly not encouraged, no one is going to stop me from handing out cupcakes everyday if I wanted to. Things were MUCH stricter in Pennsylvania!
      There's also snack time in my school. In 4th grade, we don't partake in this, but the other grade levels give a snack time. Because apparently the kids can't make it from (free) breakfast at 9:15 to lunch at 11:45.

  5. I don't blame teachers, not at all. It irks me a little that the only foods the cafeteria offers are deep fried and fat-ladden, but hey, my kid won't eat 90% of what they serve (unless it's chicken nugget or pizza day) so she doesn't buy. They do push fruit on them, however, so that's good. I think it is up to the parents to provide healthy snacks and, maybe, on birthdays MINI cupcakes, not huge ones with gobs of frosting.

  6. Hi from Mingle Monday! I agree that healthy eating has to start at home. My mom struggled with healthy eating habits, but become a dietetic technician while I was growing up. I'm proud to say that I had never had Taco Bell until a friend of mine worked there when we were in high school! haha.

  7. I don't think it's schools, at least not for little kids, by the time kids are on hs their habits are pretty set. My eating changed drastically once I moved out and did the shopping myself and actually read what I was eating


  8. By no means is it the school's fault! I used to work at a daycare and we always made sure snacks were healthy, and we would break every couple of hours to go outside and play. It just seemed like common sense!

    But I will never understand these parents that expect others to pick up their slack - YOU raise your children to understand what good food really is, don't assume you're only half the equation.

    Brilliant post!


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