First World Problems at Field Day: Protecting our students from popcorn and popsicles

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 jubilant kiddos know that the master plan to serve them ice cold popsicles and yummy movie popcorn 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 considered at least as healthy as a school cafeteria bacon cheeseburger. A quick scan of the lunch menu confirmed that the burger was indeed not a fluke; also found on the menu for the month of June were corn dogs, American Chop Suey, pizza, chicken nuggets, and nachos .

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.” 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.

Our school districts should not be wasting parents’ time and energy on these trivial debates. Our time is better spent around issues of equity, achievement gaps, and fair funding rather than squabbling over whether it’s ok to serve popsicles and popcorn one day during the last week of school.

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.

What do you think?
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Erika Sanzi

Erika Sanzi

Erika Sanzi spent a decade as a teacher and school dean before becoming a full-time education advocate. Her love for writing coupled with her willingness to take on people in power has led her to spend much of her time responding to status-quo protectors inclined to put adult interests ahead of kids. She is particularly focused on inequities in the system, persistent but surmountable achievement gaps, and what she sees as a culture of low expectations that disproportionately impacts low-income students of color. She is the mom of three young sons and you can often find her on the sidelines of their countless sports practices and games. She is committed to the belief that zip code isn’t destiny, that parents deserve choices when it comes to educating their children, and that too many “good” schools are falling down on the job in too many ways. Born and raised in Massachusetts, she now calls Rhode Island home with her boys, her husband, and her big fluffy dog, Griffey. She writes about her corner of New England at Good School Hunting.

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