Please Stop Feeding My Kids Junk Food

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I’ll admit that I’m very particular when it comes to the foods my kids eat.  I’ve learned not to be too restrictive, because it’s important how to teach them to make their own choices and how to incorporate treats and other foods they love into their diets.  My oldest is 8, and so far, I think we’re doing pretty well.  My kids don’t feel deprived that they don’t eat fast food on a weekly basis, and they don’t mind when I add kale or other leafy greens to their favorite smoothies.

I always assumed that school would be a place that would support my healthy eating efforts.  What I’ve found is actually quite the opposite:  by far, school is where my kids get the most junk food.  Almost every special event revolves around food, whether it’s candy for doing well on a test or ice cream for selling the most magazine subscriptions.  Here’s one example of the lunch served for “field day”, (an event that celebrates physical activity):  a hot dog, bag of chips, a “Ho-Ho”, a soda and a slushie.  I wouldn’t mind so much if the hot dog came with a piece of fruit, so the meal had at least some redeeming quality.  I understand kids like treats, and I understand it’s just one meal.  But meals like this are just totally over-the-top for me.  Last year my daughter came home feeling sick because she was not used to having so much sugar at one time. 

One of my “campaigns” this year was to swap chips for apples in the hot lunches served once a week.   I was successful, but was surprised at how much resistance there was to my idea.  Some people said the kids wouldn’t like it, they deserved treats now and then, it was too expensive, etc.  It’s important to point out that I’m not sharing these stories to cast the school in a negative light.  I think this is how it is in most schools across the country.  My kids go to a great school and I believe they are getting a quality education.  I’ve just found that teachers and administrators have bigger things to worry about (like budget cuts, state testing, etc.), so changing food culture falls low on the priority list- especially when they don't get a lot of support from parents.

I am surprised that my opinions as a parent are definitely the exception.  Most parents I talk to aren’t worried about the food their kids are eating at school, or at least not enough to speak up about it.  I’m sure a lot of it has to do with my profession, and the fact that I see what years of bad nutrition can do to someone (both physically and mentally.)  I just think it’s important to focus on the whole child, (which includes their health and wellness), so that they establish healthy habits that carry on for the rest of their lives.  In a perfect world, the school would support my efforts to feed my kids a healthy diet instead of frustrating them. 

I don’t think kids are missing out on anything if they get a pencil or even just a “Great job!” when they do something well.   Schools could use special meals as a way to introduce new foods (or at least good-for-you ones) to reinforce the idea of eating to make you healthy and strong.  The apples were just my first step in changing the mindset of parents and staff at our school.  Hopefully I can continue making more positive changes one step at a time in my little corner of the world.

Have you ever had issues with the food being served at your kids schools?  How did you handle it?  Do you think my concerns are reasonable?  Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

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RYCGIRL 8/1/2020
Great info! Thanks! Report
Fortunately I live in the Salad Bowl & many ppl work in agriculture so families are given fruits & vegetables by employers so the kids are used to eating asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, cabbage, spinach, kale, carrots, strawberries etc fresh. The big companies all work hard to make sure the school programs provide low cost options. The big issue many other places is I'm sure budget. Fresh is costly due to transportation & distribution along w/ cold storage. Food corporations package shelf stable items at a fixed cost per serving.
If this is a problem in tour area, go to tbe school board meetings, speak up. Be prepared to work w/ local cooperatives & farmers to get the necessary resources into the schools. Recognize that weather will impact & limit some options. Petition to get natural & organic chefs into those communal kitchens to bring new,ideas & recipes. Lots of ppl complain-you must make the time commitment to help change it. Report
Fortunately I live in the Salad Bowl & many ppl work in agriculture so families are given fruits & vegetables by employers so the kids are used to eating asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, cabbage, spinach, kale, carrots, strawberries etc fresh. The big companies all work hard to make sure the school programs provide low cost options. The big issue many other places is I'm sure budget. Fresh is costly due to transportation & distribution along w/ cold storage. Food corporations package shelf stable items at a fixed cost per serving.
If this is a problem in tour area, go to tbe school board meetings, speak up. Be prepared to work w/ local cooperatives & farmers to get the necessary resources into the schools. Recognize that weather will impact & limit some options. Petition to get natural & organic chefs into those communal kitchens to bring new,ideas & recipes. Lots of ppl complain-you must make the time commitment to help change it. Report
Who knew Apples could cause such a stir. Good for you to at least speak upm. As a kid there was always fruition my lunch box and I found the other. kids jealous Report
thanks Report
Why do kids have to be rewarded with food and treats anyway!? They are not dogs! when we did well in school we got good grades, when we passed a test we got an A (or a C in my case lol) If we won the race we got a ribbon. We did, however, have a mom or two who brought in cupcakes for a child's birthday. Report
Schools can only do so much. If kids don’t see their parents eating healthy, if all around them are messages that food is rewarding, if it’s role models to them that food is for pleasure, rewarding, and fun, they will conduct themselves accordingly. My son has been raised to believe that food is to help the body and mind grow. It is something you eat for physical health. Now in high school he has no problem resisting things in the cafeteria, the nearby convenience store and the restaurant. He has been taught that what you eat can impact your brain. Both of refuses to let ourselves be peer pressured into eating “normallly”. Normal is a machine setting. We are human beings. Report
Um, I realize this was written in 2014, but didn't they try this under Obama and found they had a massive increase in food waste? I could totally be wrong here, but I seem to recall reading that food waste spiked following that order. And I think it's because kids are used to eating that unhealthy food in the rest of their meals. Report
Good info, thanks. Report
Schools can only do so much. Many teachers use treats in the classroom because parents are so resistant to any kind of negative consequences or punishments for kids. Also you would not believe the amount of junk that kids bring in their own lunch boxes. So the school meets a lot of opposition when they attempt to provide something healthy.I remember the amount of sheer hate our former First Lady received when she tried to promote exercise and simple healthy eating tips. It has to be a community effort or it just won’t fly. Report
I make up for it at breakfast and dinner Report
Great article! Report
My girls are ages 8 & 6, 3rd & 1st grade respectively. I have always tried not "barter with food" with my kids, but there are a lot of teachers that do this in class. My 1st grader gets a Skittle or M&M for completing work correctly... which I don't understand! I know people say, "Really Lady? It's just 1 Skittle..." but this type of thing has helped to turn my kids into junk food junkies. I think: 1 Skittle plus 1 Skittle plus 1 M& adds up in that little body. The 8 y/o is learning to make good choices, but she doesn't always. I do not buy soda or juice, we do not have candy in our house for the most part, except if we have some overflow from Halloween (which it goes out the door after a week). I teach my kids you ARE what you eat. We VERY rarely eat fast food. Unfortunately, it is considered a "treat"...but I try to relay that it is NOT a treat. It is not good for your body. I always have a salad. Our whole family is considered "Obese" by BMI standards, but we eat right & we exercise & play. The school lunches are not horrible, as they do offer a fruit & veggie...but as one person stated, sometimes they are frozen/canned and just plain gross. I make my kids' lunch if they do not want school lunch, or lately, they will make it themselves, which I love. I have found that they are more apt to eat what they make themselves. American's love convenience & is hard to change that mindset when it is every nook & cranny. Report
I have spent meal times at school with my grandkids and watched a lot of salads and other healthy foods go straight to the trash cans. If they don't eat something they can't be alert enough to study so feed them healthy at home and they'll learn good nutrition there. Report
I don't have any kids in school, but I have seen my niece's menu. On Fridays they have frudel Friday. It is basically an apple hand pie covered in frosting. The other days are not much better. Also they eat breakfast at school. Between 8am and 11:30 they eat breakfast, snack, and lunch. That is three times in 3 1/2 hours. By lunch she is not hungry so she doesn't eat. By supper she is then starving. Too much food and two many calories. Report
In high school, the teachers always got to the cafeteria first and bought all the salads. My best friend had a good relationship with the ladies in the cafeteria though and they always saved one for her. If she couldn't get a salad, she'd get the lunch program food which she would take one bite of and give the rest to the squirrels. We had some very fat squirrels on campus. A lot of students chose to starve rather than eat the cafeteria junk. It didn't seem to matter much though, because after lunch everyone was a zombie, either from eating junk or from not eating at all. Such a shame. Healthy food boosts brain power. Schools worry about students not performing well; maybe they should look into what they're feeding them. Report
I totally agree with this 100%! I am so sick of all the crap the schools are trying to feed my son. He is VERY allergic to preservatives, dyes, chemicals and artificial flavors. it's ridiculous how much of that junk is in the treats at school, or even school lunch. He packs a lunch everyday and is very good at telling people he cannot eat things because he's allergic to them. He doesn't like what the chemical ingredients do to his body, he does not feel deprived. Report
Studies have found again and again, that if students are fed healthy lunches, they perform better in class, and have fewer behavioral problems. It benefits schools, parents, and students to work together on this issue. It will save them all money and effort in the long run. Report
I have 2 kids in school now, kindergarten and 5th grade. I agree that the schools are trying to improve their lunch options, as I see a fruit and vegetable side available with every lunch. However, I serve my kids mostly fresh produce and when I visited them to have lunch with them on their birthdays, both fruits and vegetables are canned or frozen and overcooked until it is tasteless and near mush. Yuck! I couldn't even eat the veggies, and I always eat veggies. The main dishes often astound me at what they consider a main entrée: soft pretzel with "cheese" sauce, fried mozzarella sticks? Are these the healthy lean protein entrees children are supposed to be learning to eat? These are pure junk food masquerading as main entrees! Shameful! Report
The sad thing about all of this is that a lot people don't see what is wrong with what these kids are eating because the whole family eats this way at home, too. After a day at work, it is so much easier to stop at a fast food place or order take out than it is to go home and fix a nutritious meal. I am somewhat guilty of that myself, after work when I get home if I haven't planned my supper ahead of time, I find myself noshing on whatever is easiest and it usually isn't veggies and fruits, more likely a grilled cheese sandwich... And I know better. A lot of these parents and care givers DON'T know better. There needs to be a lot of education aimed at the whole population before things will improve. And it doesn't help that the USDA is considering new food guidelines that removes lean meat from their nutrition recommendations. Where are we going to get enough complete protein without it? Report
My daughter's school sent home a letter letting us know that our 8 year old daughter is obese and provided a lovely chart to show just how obese she is. About a month later my daughter comes home with an apprx. 1 pound (yes, I weighed it) bag full of candy that she had won at the school carnival. In line with what others have posted, it seems that in these situations that candy is dished out to kids, whether at church or school, those adults think it's a "special" occasion. I've come to realize now that I have kids, special occasions happen everyday of the week. Between church and school... it's always someones birthday, there's always a game played that begs for a reward, there's always a bonus for getting a question right, or there's always a reward (candy) for displaying good behavior. On a different note, how do you effectively tell grandma who loves baking to STOP BAKING treats and feeding it to your kids every day. (This in addition to all the stuff that everyone else gives them) grrrrrrrr! Report
I work with schools all across the country and agree that the food isn't the best. There are lots of examples of schools doing really good work in this area though. I suggest getting involved with Action for Healthy Kids and utilizing their really great resources. Encourage schools to sign up with the Healthy Schools Program from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation or get the certification from the USDA's Healthier US Schools Challenge. There is actually a lot of support out there for schools that want to move in a healthier direction. Report
i lvayern and all the schools my kids have gone to over here the schools make sure that the school dinners are cooked locally and that they use bio products.the meals are chosen to be nutritionally sound and the kids usually have fruit or yogurt for dessert.there is also strit instrutions from the schools here that the parents only put healthy stuff in the lunch boxes.if one of the parents give kids white bread there will be a note in the lunch box asking the parents to use sweets are allowed.the only exception is on birthdays you can bring a birthday cake.if some parents make a booty bag with sweets etc on their kids birthday the kids aren´t allowed to eat it in school but is given to take home and the parents decide.on st nichalos that is celerbrated here the kids became a stocking,again sent home to eat not at school.the stocking had a satsuma,an apple,handful of nuts in shell and a little chocolate st nicholas.on the whole i am pleased with the schools here.every break they also put out chopped up fruit and vegtables if the children are hungry Report
I'm a retired teacher, and our school (middle level) put in a salad bar. Some students loved it, some hated it, but we actually had school fund-raisers to be able to keep the salad bar going. The cafeteria also often served fruit, though the kids didn't seem to like it as much as the salad. But I often had students come to me and ask for an apple - they knew I always had apples in my fridge for my lunch or snack.

I was teaching in a low-income area, and our school also provided breakfast. Usually eggs, or pancakes, or even just cold cereal. But yes, the cold cereal was often the sugary kind.

And yes, some people on campus sold candy as fundraisers. The principal kept trying to stop it, because it jeopardized our federal funding for school lunch programs - but some teachers or staff people did it anyway. (And NO idea what they did with that money.) Report
I am a teacher, and I have found that most of the junk foods are being brought from home. Our school lunches are very healthy, and they are being given fresh fruits and veggies daily. We no longer have unhealthy items on their plates. We have nutritionists that come to our classrooms to teach our kids about healthy eating. We do all that we can with the resources that we have. Kids no longer have soda, fries, hot dogs, etc....Instead, they are presented with healthy choices. Our biggest unhealthy concerns relate to birthday treats (brought by kids for the classroom) and special events (planned by parents). Report
This isn't great post. I have been struggling with this for several years now but feel completely powerless. My kids get junk food ALL the time everywhere we turn. School, synagogue, after school classes and activities, friends house and the holidays are just a huge haul of junk. I stopped taking them Trick or treating couple years ago and everybody looks at me like I am a mean person. My daughter started Middle School this year and the variety of junk at cafeteria is astonishing. Barely any vegetables to chose from, lettuce and carrots are pretty much the only choice, salad is basically just lettuce. I do not understand why they sell Rice Krispies, ice cream bars and such at school cafeteria? I have no idea what to do about it. I got so overwhelmed that I just gave up. Report
I find your concerns reasonable. I do not have children in school; so, have not been directly confronted with these issues. Our local K-12 schools have removed soda machines from campus. Honestly, I find it alarming that so many parents appear to be unconcerned about what their children are fed at school. Is it ignorance? Resistance to change? People living in a perpetual state of high stress and anxiety struggling just to make it through each day?

You keep pushing to make those positive changes one step at a time. Our children deserve better and we can do better. Report
Well stated! Our schools are trying to make improvements, but it's slow-going. They no longer allow soda to be sold in vending machines and they often offer fresh fruit or raw veggies. The big problem seems to be that many kids put the healthy stuff in the trash. I don't think the solution to that is backing down and going back to lots of items I wouldn't feed my kids at home. If kids don't learn about good eating at home, I think the school has to stress it. I hate to dump one more thing on the teachers, but who will do the teaching? Report
Excellent post! I agree 100%. We have a few individual teachers on board with healthy eating, but my kids get most of their "junk food" from school and church. (We're working on changing over the snacks and treats at church, too!) It's incredible the amount of resistance you get from parents who think you are mean for not allowing sugary and processed snacks on a regular basis. The common mind set I've run into seems to be "my kids are skinny and play sports, so it doesn't matter what they eat". No one is taking into consideration the long term effects of a poor diet, or the bad habits they're developing that will lead to weight gain and poor health in not too many years. Last week I was at the elementary student's christmas concert. There were 1 or 2 overweight kindergarteners, by the time the 4th graders took the stage at least 25% were overweight. It was really shocking to see the progression. Definitely a lot of work to be done! Report
Our health as a country can undergo a radical change for the better if we can get behind efforts to instill healthy attitudes toward healthy foods at an early age. BILLIONS of advertising $$$ are spent to influence our attitudes toward food. Those same $$$ COULD instead be shifted to make veggies and fruits be even MORE "cool" and "neat to eat" than junk food. What a transformation we might behold!

Schools could do their part for our children during their formative years when lifelong patterns are being established. It is criminal that this advantage isn't better harnessed. Our society then pays the price over and over in higher health care costs. Report
I believe you are what you eat. As an elementary school teacher, I tried to instill a "Healthy Snacks Only" policy in my classroom. I had parents transfer their kids out of my class because of it. I gave up. During our 9:30 AM snack time my students eat: cookies, Little Debbie cakes, chips (including Doritos), Gogurt, granola bars, and Rice Krispy Treats. They complain of headaches and being tired. They are hungry way before our 12:30 PM lunch. They can't focus. I believe a lot of our behavior problems are due to their horrible eating habits. Junk in, junk out. Report