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?

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