School Cupcake Ban: Good Idea or Too Extreme?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
My daughter is in preschool, and I believe it's good for her. She's learning important social skills, and enjoys telling me all about the things they talk about at school each day. "What did you do today?" is a question I always ask on our way home. I don't always get to hear about what she's learning, but I do hear all about the games they played during playtime and of course, what she had to eat. It seems like at least once a week, someone has a birthday or they celebrate a holiday and she fills up on sugary foods. I try to relax about it a little, because I think occasional treats are fine. But inside I cringe when I hear about the junk that other parents bring for their kids to share, and how often it's happening. A school district in Michigan has recently put a ban on food as part of school celebrations. It might sound extreme to some, but I think it's a great idea.

The Alma school district (where the ban has been imposed) has implemented the policy as a way to combat childhood obesity. Instead of treats, students celebrating birthdays get an extra 30 minutes in gym class. The district has received federal stimulus funds to create new nutrition standards across the state. The nutrition standards are currently voluntary, but could become mandatory state-wide. This most recent ban goes above and beyond those standards, and has been met with mixed reaction. "Banning birthday cupcakes punishes all children for the bad example set by some parents, and will lead to them binging when sweets are available," according to one parent. Others say that this does nothing to impact childhood obesity because changes have to start at home. Proponents say you have to start somewhere.

"Michigan's new standards give clearer direction to districts on choices of all food at school, not just in the lunchroom, by addressing vending machines, school stores, classroom parties, fundraisers and even the faculty lunchroom." The standards encourage schools to find other ways to reward success besides food. New standards were implemented across the state last year, but only in the cafeterias. The new guidelines take it a step further. School officials say some parents have had a harder time with the new programs and policies than the children.

Personally, I'd love to implement policies like this at my kid's school. I don't think you're ever too young to establish good eating habits and learn that food doesn't have to be part of every celebration or a reward for a job well-done.

What do you think?

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Why is it that more and more of our institutions are being asked to take on the responsibility that belongs to parents? I have a hard time believing that one cupcake, even if it was six times a month, is going to doom a child to lifelong weight struggles. As many others have said, we should be teaching them to exercise that off anyway. I know I wish I was taught those lessons at a younger age.

In my experience, it is often the kids who are completely sheltered from certain things that go completely overboard later in life. I've seen it time and again with alcohol, in particular. If we want kids to learn how to exercise self control when exposed to fatty foods in social situations, I would argue that practice makes perfect.

Regulating sweets out of classrooms is an "easy way out" patch job for an issue that is going to take a lot more effort than that to solve. Report
I can appreciate the idea behind the ban, but I have to say that this is too extreme in my opinion. Afterall, I think that most of us know from experience that when we try to totally block something from our diet, it only makes us want it more right? I do think that giving the kids more gym time as a treat is a great idea, so why not allow them their cupcake and then some playtime to burn off those sweets? Report
I think a total ban is a little extreme, how do you teach moderation? why not celebrate birthdays by having 1 party for all the kids having b-days that month? with those who have summer break b-day's lumped in with the May or June party? Report
Well, small world! My family's actually from Alma and I didn't even know this was going on ( I don't live there anymore.) But ANYWAY...

I think it's a good idea, but I don't think it's the only way to go about things. As someone else mentioned, I would not have a problem with a class having ONE party for all the kids that had a birthday that month. Somebody could bring cupcakes (but not everyone!) and someone could bring other snacks too. That way they still get to celebrate but they won't be having cupcakes 6 times a month!

Also, I have a hard enough time controlling what my child eats (he's five, and believe me it's a battle!) and I really don't want a dozen other well meaning parents loading my kid up with sugar and junk food all the time.

As for teachers giving treats as rewards, I think it depends on the teacher and if you specifically don't want your child to have candy as treats, in most cases all you have to do is say so and the teachers will oblige. Report
I think the parent in the article who commented with "Banning birthday cupcakes punishes all children for the bad example set by some parents, and will lead to them binging when sweets are available," is ludicrous at best. Are you already assuming that all children are chocaholics and if they don't get their "fix" they'll freak out and O.D. on sweets later to make up for it? I'm a parent. My child has never obsessed about a lost food opportunity and ate until she threw up later to make up for it. Your logic is really confusing to me. I think that same parent should take a long, hard look in the mirror. If he/she feels that having alternative ways to celebrate birthdays, LIFE, VITALITY by having play time in the gym is a punishment...sounds like the parent could spend a bit more time looking at where that line of thinking is coming from. Report
I think their measures are a bit extreme. I agree with shopnmom about exercise. When I was growing up, we had morning recess and then after lunch. We did not get birthday snacks brought to class, but why not encourage healthier snacks? My kids still don't like sweets much (age 23 & 24) because I didn't give them much when they were growing up. We did have some, but we did not have a lot. Moderation and exercise need to be taught in school. Also they need non-electronic entertainment. Report
I was class mom and saw how frequently cupcakes/dunkin donuts were brought in for birthdays. But what is even worse is the candy handed out by teachers as rewards. What message is that sending?!

There are all sorts of reasons kids aren't able to eat cupcakes - lactose intolerance, allergies, etc. It just makes sense to ban cupcakes and the like from the schools. Imagine how tough it is on those kids to watch everyone else indulge when they aren't able to eat those treats.

Birthdays are easily celebrated in other ways in the classroom -- a special pin to wear stating "It's My Birthday!"; a birthday crown; a birthday pencil from the teacher... all these can make a child feel special on their birthday without causing any problems. Report
I'm not in favor of an all-out ban. Children need to learn good eating habits--and that includes eating "bad foods" in moderation rather than banning foods. Most of us know that banishing treats and favorite foods doesn't work in the long run. When those children become adults, they're no longer going to have parents and teachers making the decision for them and they may not have learned how to monitor themselves.

Obesity is a complex issue and it's short-sighted to think that banning cupcakes is the answer. Exercise and nutrition education has to be part of the equation, too Report
Kids are getting overweight because they lack exercise. My son's school didn't have recess after grade 2 except for lunch. I had a 15 minute recess in the morning, lunch and afternoon. Also, kids play video games and watch tv too much. I think this person exaggerated about how many birthdays. There couldn't be more than 30 in a year and not all parents bring treats. I didn't because I couldn't afford store bought cupcakes. Report
I don't see how birthday cupcakes are presented as "rewards." I would have considered 30 minutes of extra gym time a punishment, not a reward. I think birthday celebrations at school and at home have become circuses--large, expensive affairs with favors and goodie bags. I think a cupcake or a couple of cookies is sufficient, and parents should skip the bags of candy. The real damage at school is in the cafeteria, where high-fat, high-calorie crap is served up every day, and in the amount of homework these kids bring home, which leaves them no time for playing. Report
What a bunch of hogwash. While I'm glad the problem of obesity is being addressed, banning cupcakes is not a solution. Mom and/or Dad are. Report
Schools reward with food all the time - its cheap and pleases (most of) the kids. I agree that it has gone too far and would like to see healthier guidelines at schools. Report
I would hate 30 minutes extra gym time. Why not have a day during the month when treats are brought. That way they have the treat in moderation and learn that no food is bad. I'm waiting for the day at the checkout lane when we have to get weighed before we can purchase certain foods. I'm tired of big brother ruling my life. Report
Love it! We've got to change our thinking as a society and changes have to begin *somewhere*...this may promote healthy changes elsewhere within our network of contacts!

Don, Co-Leader of All Health Professionals, Binghamton Area Losers and Laid Off But Staying Strong SparkTeams Report
It's funny that the groups that promote these types of control think the right wing are control freaks. Report
I hate it. I resent how much our lives are regulated and controlled. Instead of deciding how we'll allow our kids to celebrate birthday parties, why don't they FORCE these fast food joints to lower the calories and skip the trans fats? Report
The earlier they begin instilling food as a reward, the more overweight children become! It's unnecessary to have sweets every day!!! Report
anything to help our overweight children is a good idea as far as I'm concerned, too much junk is made available to them as it is. Report
I can understand the thought. I am not for it though. My daughter doesn't eat a lot of sweets any way. And like someone mentioned those overweight usually bring horrible lunches and it does start at home. Report
I think it is up to the parents to "govern" their children's diets, not the schools. Childhood obesity has to do with diet as a whole not a treat now and then. Perhaps the parents in the school could band together and think of healthy alternatives such as cupcakes made from scratch with organic ingredients etc. There are many ways to lower the fat and sugar content in sweets and still make them taste great. The no time excuse will not work either because homemade treats can be frozen and thawed if necessary. The games idea is a great one as well. Report
I think the bigger issue is the junk that parents feed their children. An occasional cupcake is no big deal. I think the obesity problem is caused by simply too much junk food/ fast food and too little movement. Report
Obviously if there is a ban on bringing treats to school for the kids, it has gotten out of control. If you want to treat the birthday kid and friends, give a toy to everyone, gift certificates or do something after class or have the normal birthday party that weekend. Take the onus off of the school and teachers from kids having allergic reactions and have the parents take the responsibility. The 30 minutes in gym class could be fun, but why not just let the child make the announcement for the day or lead the class or sit somewhere special at lunch (with the teacher?). Report
It has been a while since I had a young child in school. But I have heard from parents that their child scool does not allow "home baked goods" and if the parent of the child wanted to celeberate that childs birthday, it had to be cleared with the teacher and again only certain treats were allowed. Report
I disagree with banning treats - if a child has a food allergy, then parents should be aware so they don't send something that could harm that child. Schools should use "treat time" to talk about nutrition - turn it into a true teaching moment! Or celebrate all the birthdays in a month on one day, rather than having multiple celebrations throughout the month. When we lived in Texas our school district talked about banning treats, but I'm not sure if it was enacted. Legislating good choices doesn't work...we have to take personal responsibility and teach good nutrition. Report
There are many sides to this argument and many valid points on both sides. My problem is when it is legislated - for example, I heard that Pennsylvania may pass a law banning parents from bringing treats in to school. That is going too far in my opinion. Report
Yes if you don't want children to have sugar and the side effects it would be a great idea to celebrate birthdays without that white poison Report
When I was in school, we never did 'birthday party' things like that... but we did have class parties for things like Christmas, or the last day of school. I think that a 'junk food' ban for something like that is ridiculous. Let kids be kids... and learn moderation at the same time.

BUT if the school is doing a party for every kid's birthday, then maybe I could understand a ban like that, because that is a little too often IMO. Report
Oh my goodness, banning cupcakes (or anything that isn't inherently dangerous!) is such a bad idea. People, including children, need to be educated about making good choices, and given the opportunity to make those choices for themselves. If you legislate everything, you are just setting people up to fail as soon as they are out of the "nanny state's" grasp.

To mis-quote the new and improved Cookie Monster, "Cupcakes are a sometimes food." Kids are capable of learning that, and if you give parents better, cheaper, and/or easier ideas for celebrating birthdays, then parents can learn that too. After all, schools should be about education, not legislation. Report
Good grief - what a hornet's nest!
Looking back over the years, when my children were wee, and when I've worked in Playgroup and Nursery - I now firmly believe that birthdays should be celebrated by a special treat and lots of games. The games - well there's your 30 minutes PE, but it's games so it's fun! Parents wanting to send something in should be encouraged to send a small gift - as other folk have already commented. And it will have to be stressed, over and over, to parents that "small" means what it says - so *a* pencil, not a packet - packets will be split up so each child receives only one. Food for a special snack-time should be provided through the class room or Nursery budget for snacks. The teachers can then ensure that snacks are healthy, that there is a small sweet treat, and that dietary requirements for all their children are adhered to. It could even be that the treat is a "cooking" lesson, where the children make something, whether it is a small cake or a pot of vegetable soup.
Food from home should be eaten only by the child who brought it, in this day and age of ever-increasingly strict laws about food hygiene and preparation. Report
Oh dear, lord... Treats for birthdays at schools is not going to create fat kids. I did not get fat because somebody brought cupcakes. I got fat because there were also cupcakes at home and I am eternally lazy about exercising. Kids now are getting fat because schools allow Pizza Hut and Taco Bell to contribute to the lunch menu, and then there's Pizza Hut and Taco Bell at home. It's not the occasional indulgence of a birthday party - even if there are three a week - it's the, usually unintentional, double-whammy effect.

And is the 30 minutes of gym really a reward? Sounds more like a punishment to me (but then, I never did like gym class, laziness about exercise notwithstanding).

All something like this does is tell kids those foods are bad rather than teaching them that all foods are ok in moderation (one of the tenets of SparkPeople, is it not?). Report
Call me a scrooge, but I think schools have gone way overboard in "treating" kids. Our schools regularly have reward parties with pizza, or ice cream, and the teachers hand out Jolly Rancher candies right and left! I'm not advocating for no celebrations at all, but I don't think schools are the place to hold birthday parties. Extra recess or free time of some sort in the younger grades sounds better than food treats. In the upper grades, there have to be other, better ways to reward students than with food. Report
As twenty years of being a fourth grade teacher, I'm all over the map on this one.
*One cupcake a week is not going to make an overweight child.
*I ate with the kids all the time in the cafeteria, even though I didn't have to and I'm here to tell you that fat kids brought or bought terrible lunches. The normal weight kids ate normally no matter what they had and the others either ate two lunches or brought junk food or just too much food.
*Most kids these days get treats at home, but some don't and they really looked forward to birthdays.
*I think if NOBODY can have it then it is fine. My partner and I fought the uphill battle of telling parents to take their cupcakes and go home. It wasn't pretty. Most of them thought they would just sneak them in this time for little Johnny.
*I think that having 30 minutes of PE is hard to work out. Who is doing it? The classroom teacher? So he or she is being punished because it's the kid's birthday? What are they doing? Milling around , talking, ??? Just because they are in the gym doesn't mean they are working off any calories. Where does this 30 minutes come from? Math, science, language arts? You see my point -- somedays we couldn't have worked in an extra thirty minutes for anything. I'm sure the teachers who deal with this all the time have made allowances.
*Making these types of decisions affects everybody.
*I'm all with having pre-packaged snacks. I have had to absolutely throw homemade stuff away that had roaches in it. Pre-packaged gets rid of the wild colored huge cupcakes. We said they could have 100 calorie snack things. Report
I am with the idea of allergies. Those who have them (food dyes included) are left out of this each time. To begin to show that there are other ways to celebrate life's highs other than with food is a great lesson! I am sure that IF there is a desire to hand out cupcakes. then the parent can feel free to invite the class over for a party=0) Report
Well I have 2 views on this. #1 we hardly ever had birthday treats when I was in school so not sure when that started -- seriously is it really necessary #2 So when is the government bodies going to butt out of my children's lives. It is up to me the parent to make sure that my kids don't overload on junk -- do you really think that the occasional cupcake in the classroom is causing obesity? Now this being said I think with all the allergies and how messy they are that its a bad idea to have cupcakes at school -- just stop throwing everything under the "child obesity" umbrella. Are we really such sheep that we just go along with whatever some "expert" says. Let's use some common sense while raising our kids and stop trying to raise the kids who's parents don't have common sense. Teach the kids good nutrition -- not just we're taking it away because kids are too big -- honestly I have just about had it with all the ridiculousness ... Report
My son's district did this sometime ago. Personally, with so many allergies out there and potential reactions from simple exposure, I'm ok with it. He doesn't know any different, so its not a big deal to him. Report
I think it's a fine idea, especially since the ban is against food in general, not against any specific kind of food. With all the different cultural dietary specifications and diverse allergies and family lifestyles out there, I think bringing food into the classroom is already tricky! There are definitely other ways to celebrate birthdays than with food. Or, perhaps the birthdays could be consolidated so that there is just one celebration a month, for example the first Friday in December they would celebrate all the students with December birthdays and a variety of foods/treats could be brought in so that there are alternatives for students with special dietary needs or preferences. That way there is less chance for anyone to feel left out, the "treats" really are controllably occasional, and comraderie & culture can still be exchanged over food. Just some thoughts..... Report
I can see both sides to this.
On the one hand, yes, childhood obesity is an epidemic that must be dealt with. However, as many people have mentioned, having one or two cupcakes at school is not what's causing this problem. Too many people are feeding their children prepacked foods instead of fresh, and allowing them to sit in front of electronic devices after school mindlessly snacking on empty calories.
On the other hand, extra gym time would've been AMAZING as a kid. I was one of those kids that had too much energy to sit still in class; my early years in school were spent fidgeting & waiting for recess or gym class so I could move. At home, we got up, got dressed, ate breakfast & went outside to play, no matter the weather (though there were times when we weren't allowed off the front porch in case we got lost in the snow).
Someone mentioned that they worried that the extra gym time would be a punishment to the heavier children. I used to babysit a lot while in high school, and some of the children I looked after were quite heavy. They didn't usually want to go to the park & play, but rather wanted to stay home, watch TV & snack. If I could come up with a game to play in the park, something really fun for them, they wouldn't even notice that they were getting exercise, just that they're having fun. Children are innocents that learn what we teach them -- if we teach them that moving is fun -- games, sports, walks, races, it doesn't matter what -- then they will grow up with less of that self-consciousness that so many of us adults are plagued with. Sports & exercise in children gives them self esteem.
& giving them cupcakes once in a while? That teaches them that a treat -- once in a while -- is perfectly okay. Report
My youngest son started kindergarten thie year and they have the rule there of no food treats on birthdays. They can bring in something small to share with the class (stickers, pencils...) instead. Also everytime they want to share a food treat in the class I need to sign a permission slip.They won a pizza party for the class for their fundraiser and I had to sign that it was ok for him to have pizza. I think this mostly due to allergies, but it is nice to know that he is not going to school and eating treats. Report
Back in the "dark ages" when I was a kid, birthdays were celebrated at home, not at school. And you know what? We didn't feel deprived at all. Report
I have to comment on this because today is my son's 7th birthday and we brought cupcakes to his first grade class today! I am trying to instill healthy eating habits into both of my sons. To me, healthy does not mean "no treats ever." That is an unhealthy philosophy. So yes, they get cupcakes on their birthday. But I also teach them that cupcakes are a "once in awhile" treat, not an every day indulgence. Common sense needs to prevail. My son has 19 kids in his class. Add in a few special class celebrations, and they are maybe getting 25 such treats the entire school year. I'm okay with that. Report
Wow. Have things changed since I was a toddler first starting in school.

The claim of goodies that often makes me wonder about the class size. In the area of the country where I live, class sizes in the senior high are no more than 25. I don't know about elementary school, but where my grandson is going to pre-school, the maximum student load is 10.

At the rate of 2-3 birthdays a week, there would be 3-5 weeks where that would happen. At one birthday a week, that would be 10 weeks of cookies or cupcakes, and I don't think that's too much.

If parents were notified at the start of school that birthdays and special holidays where children are in school and not taking the day off that extra sweets beyond that are not appropriate for health reasons. If that notification also mentioned some healthy options, maybe one parent would send apples, oranges or a large fruit plate in place of the cookies and cupcakes.

With most families having both parents working, in the case of single parent homes the single parent working, I don't know how they have the time to prepare extra treats for school. Never mind, a swing through a bakery of grocery store eliminates that problem.

Limiting the amount of occasions where snacks from home would also help the families make money and would eliminate the feeling that they had to provide the children something extra.

I don't know what the federal guidelines are for school lunches are now, but my wife worked in the administrative side of food service for a school district. At the time, new federal guidelines came out and a single serving of catsup was considered a vegetable serving.

Check with your school district about what meals are served at the schools and react accordingly. School board meetings are open attendance and if enough parents complain about the lack of nourishing foods, the school board will do something - figuring if they don't they might not have a position after the next election.

In our school for kindergarten, treats brought in by students for birthdays were the child's favorite fruit. They gave us ideas like placing strawberries and grapes on a plate to make a number 6 or stick them on sticks like a sish kebab. Then the kids would consume it as part of snacktime.

Now that my daughter is in grade 1 we are allowed to bring in cupcakes but I think we'll continue with the fruit. At least if the left overs are left in class we won't be facing a teacher obesity epidemic! Report
I went to school in southern Colorado from 1989 to 1996, and I can only remember maybe three kids out of probably 200 who were overweight. We did treats for birthdays, but only on Friday, only for an hour, and if there was more than one that week it was a joint event. Holidays were a half day event, but no recess or electives( like pe or music) that day to allow class time. Parents were educated on portion sizes and sweets were no bigger than a standard cupcake cup. We also had a lot of weekly health and nutrition classes and learned in science what unhealthy food does. we all had video games and tv, but had parents who limited our time. The big thing to me was weekly the guidance counselor did self esteem builders and I am a big believer that self esteem is a big part of the battle. after moving to Missouri, I found out most schools are the opposite. I feel we need to teach our children smart choices, not keep them in a bubble where they will want to rebel. Report
Oh my goodness, this is going on in my back yard and I didn't even know it! I'm from Central Michigan as well... I think this is a GREAT idea. Kids need to be taught healthy lifestyle habits just as much as they teach life skills. I grew up eating a bowl of ice cream every night before bed for a bed time snack! I know now that I'd never do such a thing for my kids... I wish they would have taught better habits more when I was in elementary especially... that's when kids are the most impressionable! Report
I don't think that's good at all. Isn't there a phrase tossed around that no food is completely off limits, but to enjoy it in moderation? This does exactly that and puts certain foods off limits. Doesn't that make it fruit of the forbidden tree and more desirable, especially to a child?

Okay, I get that some classes have kids with birthdays close together and it can end up being overkill on cupcakes at certain times, but to ban them completely is almost cruel. Maybe they can do a monthly birthday celebration so its limited to once a month. Kids hate school enough and removing something fun isn't the best choice.

Also, an extra half hour of gym is so unappealing to a kid. A half hour running or doing some sort of physical activity all by yourself while the rest of the class is off doing something else really doesn't strike me as an all around great time. Report
I really don't think the occasional 100 calorie cookie or 150 calorie cupcake is going to have an effect on the childhood obesity epidemic. I also don't know that it's the school's responsibility to try to take that on. Parents still choose what a child eats for their three meals a day - even if one of those choices is school lunch.

As a former teacher, I often used cooking as a way to teach math skills and different cultures. I'd hate to see those opportunities legislated away. Report
I love this idea. Birthdays and other school events should be celebrated - but why don't we think extra recess is a reward? Why isn't bringing stickers or fancy pencils to your classmates a reward? Cupcakes are awesome, but why are we teaching kids that the only way to celebrate is with a cupcake? Report
Our son is in first grade and his school has a similar "birthday ban" in an effort to promote a wellness attitude among teachers and students. However, they still celebrate birthdays - instead of food, parents are encouraged to send "treats" the students can use. My son loves the different pencils, erasers, bookmarks and even a cute little pencil sharpener his friends have shared with the class on their birthdays. I think this is a balanced way of teaching our kids that celebrations can be about more than just food. Report
I am in favor of balance not bans; children even in elementary schools are being held to standards which their parents can't keep; long time elementary teachers talk about how difficult it is to encourage and motivate children - we continue to take away the joys of childhood and learning and replace it with adult set rules and regulations designed to keep us competitive with some country across the way which has an entirely different social structure and social goals. Will banning cupcakes make a difference in childhood obesity for real? who's kidding themselves, but it surely does sound good on the surface. will mandating an extra 30 minutes of gym time encourage educational development and a love of physical activity - dream on especially if you are one of the kids who was always chosen last or never had a friend on the playground. banning cupcakes is not the answer because it does steal the joy from celebration - most countries celebrate together with food - we've forgotten how to take time and celebrate in that way. Report
I agree, too extreme. Kids can't even have any fun anymore.

It's not one day of cupcakes that is making our kids fat, it's their parents letting them eat junk food all day, everyday, and sitting them in front of the television instead of going out and playing with them. Report
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