Banning Sugar In Schools Doesn’t Teach Healthy Habits

cake-pops-684163__180Not that long ago there was some discussion at the neighbourhood school my boys attend, how to greatly reduce the amount of sugar the students were consuming while on the premises.

A naturopathic doctor, also a parent to two young boys, gave a compelling presentation about the health and behaviour benefits to cutting back the white stuff, and successfully riled up the parent population with suggested action items.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: one sure-fire way to ignite controversy and polarize a group is to change-up the status quo.

Back when I was a kid, we’d walk the ten minutes to school in the pouring rain toting our umbrellas and like a growing snowball collect kids along the way and after school we’d knock on doors, ride bikes and play a good old fashioned game of kick the can. Not really, but you get the picture. We weren’t developing carpel tunnel syndrome by age 12 and taking selfies to document every minute of teenage angst.

When I was growing up sugar wasn’t the evil, it was fat and cholesterol. A few spandex clad mothers could be heard espousing the benefits of the 20-minute work-out, Jane Fonda and the AB Roller while pouring a healthy dollop of Lite salad dressing over iceberg lettuce. Butter, eggs, oils, red meat, all of it was eschewed until the mid 90s when Barry Spears revolutionize the diet world with The Zone and all of a sudden steak and eggs reclaimed their clout in the grocery cart.

As a kid I enjoyed donuts, candies and cupcakes.   Mrs. Dickson used to make the best cupcakes, with lots of icing and sprinkles so when it was her son’s birthday and she came into the classroom, I made sure to not be the last in the line-up. When a French teacher would toss out mini-sized chocolate bars for correct answers, we’d know that she was in a good mood and Mr. MacDonald used to let us pop balloons for prizes: a weekend with the class budgie, an afternoon in his chair, giant, over-sized chocolate bars our parents would never buy.

I used to peddle my bike to the corner store (about 15 minutes away and across a busy intersection) with my friends. We’d return our books to the library and then go the Village Market, to see how many Hot Lips and sour keys our change could buy us. A lot more than today’s pennies, that’s for sure.

But now I am a grown-up and I am the one making the decisions.

Do you want to know something? My shoulders are sore from the burden of expectations.

I have come a long way with not caring what people think about my parenting. The proof is in the pudding, I like to say, and I am playing the long game. I don’t always choose the healthiest or freshest or more local foods for my kids. In fact, last night they ate an entire party-sized pizza while they watched TV, and I basically ignored them to read the latest issue of Vanity Fair.

We have a treat bucket overflowing with candy and there it stays. My boys choose something from it once a day, but they could take it or leave it.   Sunday afternoons I bake something – cookies, brownies, macaroons, Hello Dollies – whatever the request but after the initial fanfare that accompanies the trays being pulled from the oven, the cookies will remain in the jar. Nibbled on, but never gorged. The piano teacher, friends popping by and play date guests are usually the ones to grab at the goods. For my kids, it’s part of the landscape, like the wallpaper. It’s just there.

Have you heard of Snowplow Parenting? If Helicopter parent was the term of yesteryear, then Snowplow parent is the term for now.

Snowplow parents: defined by some of the extremes they take in their children’s lives. When you take the snowplow route, you are teaching your child that someone will always step in to make things right, and therefore no initiative is required on the kid’s end.

That’s how I feel about removing sugar from schools. It doesn’t teach children how to make good choices it simply removes the obstacle for them. I am a believer that diets need to be balanced and healthy, and that includes sugar. It doesn’t mean scarfing down an entire box of Krispy Kremes (guilty!) on a regular basis but having a lollipop while watching a movie, is ok in my books.

It does get tricky in schools when parties and birthdays are celebrated with food, but that’s a learning opportunity in itself. Instead of banning sugary treats empower children with decision-making.  With parents and schools being more aware of and considerate of allergies, replacing birthday cupcakes for an non-edible treat (pencils, erasers, etc) is an obvious option.  There is also the option of a paper crown and singing Happy Birthday.  Simple.  But it’s about learning when and how to celebrate with treats.

It saddens me to see so many grown women (and some men) with unhealthy relationships with food, swinging from fad diet to fad diet, depriving themselves of food groups, binge eating; all of these behaviours leading to body image issues.

Here’s my question: With as much emphasis we’re placing on reducing sugar and getting our children active, why isn’t there more of an uproar over cut PE classes and revoked recesses (as punishment or to pack in more instructional time for core subjects)? Why do high school students only need one PE credit to graduate?

If I had things my way, we’d focus on healthy living where exercise is valued for more than just fitting into skinny jeans, where real food was consumed more than “fake food” and we would all chill out!

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6 thoughts on “Banning Sugar In Schools Doesn’t Teach Healthy Habits

  1. I totally agree with this! I wasn’t allowed anything as a child and because of that, I went through a stage of life where all I ate was junk food. I now make healthy choices but I plan on teaching my kids about moderation to avoid them having the same junk food binge tendencies that I had.

    • In my opinion (which counts for zero unless you’re my kid) banning or making a hullaballoo about anything isn’t the answer. Kids have to learn that there will always be “evils” lurking and they need to know when a little is ok and when to walk away. I see how my boys with food and I admire their respect for it and that (for now, at least) food doesn’t control them, but they control what they eat. I won’t be beside them forever 🙂

  2. I’m completely with you here Beth-Anne. I grew up having a little of everything now and again and I’ve always been a healthy weight and have had a good relationship with food in general. I love to bake and I’ve been through stages of trying to bake healthier options, less sugar and all that but when it comes to making something I know we’ll all enjoy, nothing beats chocolate cake or vanilla cupcakes with pink icing. The mantra, “everything in moderation” is a good one I think.

  3. BA I think we are so similar! I literally laughed out loud (at work, no less), when I read your comment about scarfing down a pizza while they watched TV so you could read Vanity Fair. Totally me. Except I’m probably on The Twitter…
    Everything in moderation at our house as well. The kids do take one or two small treats with them in their lunch and in my world, that is fine! We also eat healthy, unprocessed meals for dinner and my kids are still ones that you will find outside by their own choice. Even in this frigid winter I have to pick my son up from the outdoor rink on my way home from work!

    and I totally remember riding my bike to the convenience store beside the library to buy a coke and a bag of chips!!!

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