Just in time for Christmas, here's a bit of holiday cheer out of Minnesota:
Jill Gebeke made it a habit to reward herself with a small piece of chocolate after lunch every day. It's hard work being a school principal, after all. But the chocolate rewards ended last month when some first- and second-graders caught her. "I thought you said this was a sweet-free zone," they reminded her.
Gebeke, principal at Chelsea Heights Elementary, is not alone in trying to change an old habit. Much to the chagrin of thousands of students — and even some parents and school administrators — all public schools in the St. Paul district will be declared "sweet-free zones" by the end of this school year. …
Reminders have been sent to teachers, students and parents that "sweet, sticky, fat-laden [and] salty treats" aren't allowed during the school day, said Jean Ronnei, the district's director of nutrition services.
Pity the poor children at St. Paul schools during this time of year: “Merry Christmas children! Now please hand over any candy canes, Christmas cookies, gingerbread, sugar plums, pudding, apple pie, gumdrops, chocolates, and red-and-green-frosted cakes.” And how are kids (or teachers) supposed to know what qualifies as a “sweet?” Fruit is laden with sugar — is that banned? Are avocados and peanuts denied admission because of their high fat content? Are pretzels out because they’re salty? It's like a MeMe Roth holiday party without the cursing.
We've already seen some pretty absurd and heavy-handed attempts to crack down on snack foods in schools. Cupcakes in the classroom have been targeted since at least 2004. Schools in Arkansas, Arizona, and Great Britain have tried issuing report cards to children judging their weight. A handful of schools have even tried banning whole and chocolate milk.
All these cases brought consequences that food nannies never foresaw—or at least ignored. The cupcake prohibitions sparked a firestorm among parents. British pedants ended up sending “fat” report cards to perfectly trim tykes, thanks to flawed BMI measurements. And a School Nutrition Association study found that bans on milk resulted in children consuming 35 percent less of it. (Was anyone surprised?)
Of course, none of that matters to “cupcake police” who consider candy canes contraband. They’ll merrily continue to implement the same heavy-handed policies. But as you might expect, St. Paul's sweets ban is unpopular with one key school demographic: children.
"All my friends say, 'This really sucks,'" said Misky Salad, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at Chelsea Heights Elementary. "A lot of us feel it should be up to us to determine what we should do with our bodies."
If not them, then at least their parents. If Miss Salad’s mom and dad want to restrict their children to eating only their namesake, that should be up to them. But when a ten-year-old makes more sense than grown-up school administrators, we have to wonder if a bread-and-water diet can be far behind. Whole grain, of course. With double fiber.