When Your School Goes Sugar-Free

You'd think we were taking away the library instead of cupcakes

Photograph by Getty Images

It seems to me that if you were concerned about your child getting enough sugar in his diet, there are plenty of opportunities to supplement it. Even so, when my children’s elementary school just adopted a no-treats policy for all things school-related, things got tense. You thought Obamacare was divisive? Try the two camps of parents who fight for the right to party (with treats) and those who believe we should, on a child’s birthday, clink carrot sticks. Both sides get equally angry. But are both sides equally right?

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Personally, selfishly, I’m pleased with the policy, because it means that I can give my kids treats when I want to, without having to worry about it being the 180th gram of sugar they’ve ingested that day. I can say, “Let’s go for frozen yogurt” when I want frozen yogurt, and know that it’s a treat for everyone.

Last year, my children would routinely come home from school, their lunch boxes still stuffed to the brim with sweaty, uneaten food and say, “Sami brought in cupcakes for her birthday and then we had a marble party with ice cream sundaes, so I wasn’t hungry for lunch.”

That was not a rare occasion. It seemed as though there was always a good reason (or two) to feed my child dessert. And that then rendered my dessert, the one I’d been looking forward to all day and had (maybe) crafted with my own hands, superfluous.

The parents in the community lashed out.

There are a few exceptions, such as class fundraisers, which usually involve a bake sale or a popsicle sale. But for the most part, school is a treat-free zone.

I interviewed a woman a few years ago who knew a lot about diet and nutrition—she was the head of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity—and the rule she had with her kids was two treats a day. They had to keep track, themselves, and they were on the honor system. To help with this rule, she led a crusade to ban cupcakes from school on birthdays. According to her, you’d have thought she had suggested they stop teaching history. The parents in the community lashed out. Why? Because she was a wet blanket and no fun: the lady who hates birthdays.

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It's similar at our school, but parents have become creative within the no-treats rule, bringing in pizza, strawberries and whipped cream, and smoothies. One parent even brought in a craft for the kids to do. The kids are used to it, and I hear more complaints from parents than from kids.

Has your school done away with sweet treats? How have parents responded? How do you feel about it?

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