Sweet! Our School is Sugar Free!

by Laura Bedingfield Herakovich on September 4, 2012

My sons’ school recently made the decision to go entirely sugar-free. We received a letter notifying us of this policy during the summer. No longer would children be allowed to bring sugar-laden snacks to school, the cafeteria would ditch the baked desserts like oatmeal cookies and crazy candies and sugary treats would be disallowed in each classroom. I did a little happy dance in our driveway, and that was that. Or so I thought.

I had no idea that going sugar free would be such a hot button topic.

School started back about 2 weeks ago, and I had several meetings to attend. At them all, the issue of the new sugar policy was discussed, debated, and picked over, but the general opinion was a good one; however, we were floored at how many of us had outsiders (folks who don’t have children attending our school) who’d peppered our various cul-de-sacs, swimming pools and practice fields with negative comments and eye-rolls.

I didn’t get it. I am elated that our school made the sugar ban. But then again, I am the one who (discretely) tosses out the Halloween candy. I’m the one who never offers dessert. I am not a sweets person. (I think I’m in the minority here.)

Our sons–along with all the other students–bring their own snacks to school each day, but they all eat a chef-prepared lunch in the cafeteria. A child is not allowed to bring his own lunch. (This is not new and, frankly, is one of my favorite aspects of the school.) The school has also been entirely nut-free for many years, a ban which has never (to my knowledge) and should never raise any complaints. You’d think with the average elementary aged schoolchild eating between 17 to 23 teaspoons of sugar a day, a ban on sugar would be applauded (let’s not even get into the fact that the average sugar intake of 14-18 year olds is 34.3 teaspoons a day).

Parents are expected to pack a healthy snack, but I’ve seen (and heard from my boys) of times–in past school years–where this wasn’t the case. There have been times when I listened to a son complain that he only had grapes when another child had Oreos for a snack. “Tough,” I’d say. “You get what you get. We don’t do Oreos for a snack at school. Are you kidding me? Maybe tomorrow you can take an orange or some extra crackers. But you’re not taking cookies. Ever.”

And then our conversation would seamlessly shift over to the new game they learned in P.E. or the upcoming baseball game. It was never a big deal. People make different choices for their children and that’s that; it’s not my place to argue about it when we are each responsible for what our own children bring for snack, especially when there’s also an absolute no-share policy.

In the past, birthday celebration were big events at the school, a reason for all in the class to celebrate, and rightfully so, in my book. However, the birthday child was able to bring a snack for the entire class. This snack typically wavered between the aforementioned Oreos and one of those gigantic cookie cakes from the mall, both of which, apparently, are nut-free foods. It seemed like there was a birthday celebration every other week.

Another fabulous perk to the no sugar ban is that there are no longer pieces of candy doled out as rewards for good work or used as math manipulatives. There are no more pieces of gum or lollipops presented at the end of a music lesson or after-school program. And while there are still parties, the parties now center around a craft and a story, not a mountain of cupcakes.

I’ve always been a bit of a sugar-freak when it concerns my kids, and I’ve taken all the eye-rolling (from my parents and others) in stride. Regardless, young children, obviously, should not be shoving their faces full of sugary sweets all day; in fact, a child between the ages of 4 and 8 should only consume 3 teaspoons of sugar a day. To put it in perspective, one can of soda contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar. Can you imagine sitting down and eating 10 spoonfuls of sugar at one time? (By the way, I’m having bad flashbacks of my glucose tolerance test from pregnancy just thinking about it.) Adults regularly consume about 22 teaspoons of sugar a day when we should be taking in only 5 (women) to 9 (men) teaspoons a day.

I learned early on that my oldest son would go bananas if he had sugar that wasn’t balanced out by protein (think peanut butter with the jelly; bacon with the pancake; cheese with the crackers). My sons know the drill: I will allow something sweet, but they also need to eat some type of protein. The “counter-balance-it-with-protein” rule is rock solid in our home.

But this option isn’t always available, obviously, in a classroom. Can you imagine trying to teach a new math skill to 20 kids hyped up on a cookie cake? Can you imagine 20 kids hyped up on a cookie cake and contained in one classroom? Can you fathom M&M madness during a math lesson? Mayhem, I tell you.

So, thank you, our dear little school, for stepping up and going sugar free. Thank you for putting our children’s health–both present and future–in the forefront. Thank you for removing pointless calories from our classrooms and for saving our childrens’ teeth and our teachers’ sanity. Thank you for leveling the playing field for us all. Thank you for realizing that good habits and smart choices start early. Thank you for demonstrating that the easiest path isn’t necessarily the best one.

Thank you, again, for putting our children at the center.

This is going to be one sweet year!

Laura Bedingfield Herakovich is 110% behind her school’s new policy. How about you? How would you feel if your child’s school instituted such an across-the-board ban?

{ 12 comments }

BrookeB September 4, 2012 at 7:28 am

This is awesome!! Hopefully it will also result in the amount of chemical additives found in sugary junk being cut down on as well — which are much more often the culprit of hyperactivity and other issues than natural sugar itself. I would be very concerned if they started using “fake sugar” substitutes like deadly aspartame and Splenda in its place. Watch out for that!! Just because something is sugar-free doesn’t mean it is always better!

Laura H. September 4, 2012 at 7:44 am

Thanks, B! Thankfully, we aren’t worried about the cafeteria adding fake sweeteners. They have a fruit bar (whole fruit, not cut up in syrup EVER) and that’s dessert. End of story. I’m just thrilled mostly that no one is allowed to bring in sugary treats. This includes ANYTHING sweet (so you can’t bend the rules and bring in fake chocolate chip cookies made with splenda or whatever). I’ve never been concerned with what they serve at lunch; it’s more that the kids were eating something candy/cake/cupcake/M&M/gum-ish on a near daily basis… :)

BrookeB September 4, 2012 at 7:48 am

It sounds like your kids damn near go to school in Utopia! I’m coming over! :)

Laura H. September 4, 2012 at 8:01 am

I homeschool.
(KIDDING.)
:)

When I Blink September 4, 2012 at 7:31 am

AMEN, sister. We have that same conversation — “Why can’t I bring cookies for my snack if everyone else does?” — at least once a month. I always say, “Nope. Not everyone else does, but it wouldn’t matter if they did. We do fruit or cereal for snack.” (Mine have popcorn for their snack today, and they think they’re living the life of extreme decadence.) Nice to have *proof* that someone else is rejoicing in this as much as I am.

The thing I love about it is that now, if *I* want to do something sweet for my kids — celebrate something like a lost tooth with an ice cream cone or make cookies together and eat them — I don’t feel bad about it, like I’m just adding to the sugar they’ve already had. I can decide when they’re going to have something fun and exciting, and I get to enjoy it with them. -ML

Laura H. September 4, 2012 at 7:46 am

Oh, yeah! 100%. I’m not one who totally, completely, absolutely bans all sweets. I make birthday cakes for my boys on their birthdays. We’ll make homemade cookies every now and then (like you). But you should not get a treat for going to school. School is work! You’re there to learn, not rot your teeth out! :) (kidding, a bit, but you know what i mean…). cheers!

Kindra September 4, 2012 at 9:04 am

Out school is somewhat sugar free. We pay a little extra for a fruit or veggie snack the kiddos eat mid-morning. The school provides. As for birthday treats, they encourage a non-food item to share with their class. Like a pencil or small toy. I think this is partly due to the sugar issue but also the school is nut free. Which is kind of confusing because my son can bring peanut related things in his cold lunch. The school just cannot have nut items.
As for holiday parties, the school provides the goodies for the most part. If parents are asked to bring something it cannot be homemade and it has to be packaged with a label to make sure it’s nut free. My kids are gluten and dairy free along with dye and preservative free. So my kids sit out for parties.
As for school lunches, they do have fresh fruit and veggies. But the actual meals are overly processed, full of preservatives. They do provide milk but also flavored milk, which 90% of the kids choose. The chocolate and strawberry have over 20 grams of sugar in those little containers! I am thankful the kids are allowed to bring their own cold lunches. We try to eat as clean as possible, the school lunch would really throw off my kid’s day…beyond other things. But I am thankful for the small changes that they are making. Baby steps, right?

Laura H. September 4, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Hi Kindra! Thanks for your comment! Baby steps, indeed. That’s great that your school has a veggie/fruit option (stinks that it costs more…I mean, really. So frustrating that you have to pony up more cash for your child to have a banana than a scoop of Goldfish crackers…). Good for you for fighting the good fight and packing a lunch daily. That’s so tiresome! Please share some of the healthy kid-friendly things you pack; I’m always looking for interesting things that I could send as a snack…
Thanks for reading!

Katie Sansav September 4, 2012 at 11:26 am

Great policy – I limit the sweets too….my son is a milk or water kid, no juice or soda for him! I would pack some cookies as PART of lunch but not as a snack….can’t believe people would complain. Love reading your articles. Keep up the good work.

Laura H. September 4, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Sansav! Great to see you on here!! L is so sweet already that he doesn’t need any extra sugar anyway. And some people will complain about a sunny day. No negative energy around here; life’s too short. :) Hope to see you soon; thanks a ton for reading and your comment!!

Sarah September 4, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Wow, who knew T could be so heartless!!? Kidding. Though I am laughing a little at the “chef prepared lunch”. Do you remember the crap they used to serve at M?? I guess the little men have it a bit better but who didn’t love those Otis Spunkmeyer cookies they delivered every morning? xo

Laura H. September 4, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Salmon croquettes during Lent? Actually, any Friday during Lent. Wowsers. Good thing the fish-trees were making everyone sneeze so much that we couldn’t really smell anyway…
And if I could take in a cookie cake that said “Happy Berfday”, I’d do it. Maybe. :)

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