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Put Down The Cupcakes, People: My 2 Cents on The WCSD Wellness Policy

child with cupcakeAfter reading through all of the comments that parents made on Facebook regarding the Washoe County School District Wellness Policy a few months ago, I was amazed that so many parents were upset that they couldn’t bring in cupcakes for their child’s birthday.

I even heard a story about how one mom hid in the bushes outside of an elementary school to hand out cupcakes after school got out.

And there was one comment from a teacher saying that without the reward of pizza parties, his students would be no longer motivated to learn.

It’s time that we stop the insanity. (Yes, I just made a Susan Powter reference.)

Since when is sugar and junk food required for celebrations and rewards? Our kids are growing up in a culture where junk food is marketed directly to them and consuming it is the social norm. According to Parents Magazine, “The average kid under 12 consumes 49 pounds of sugar per year, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. Even scarier is that a twenty- or thirtysomething adult’s intake is actually lower (46 pounds). That means your child is gobbling up more sugar than you are, even though her body may be less than half the size of yours.”

I know you may want to celebrate your child by sending in cupcakes. But we’re not just talking one cupcake here.

Let me just give you an example:

My daughter’s classroom has 28 children. Prior to the Wellness Policy, her classroom was likely to receive 28 treats to celebrate birthdays in addition holiday parties, including Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s day, St. Patrick’s Day… It was truly out of control. In fact, just last school year at Halloween, there was a class party at my child’s school where parents brought in chocolate milk (24 g sugar) with donuts (11 g sugar), and it was the same day that there was a bake sale cart going from classroom to classroom. That’s over 35 grams of sugar one 3rd grader consumed at school (without taking the bake sale into consideration), when it’s recommended a child ages 4-8 should have no more than 12 grams (or 3 tsp) per day.

Way too much sugar parading around in front of our kids.

I encourage you to celebrate your child with a cupcake if that’s your choice. But do it at home or with their friends. You may think it’s “just one cupcake”, but when you put it in context of what had been happening in schools up until recently, it was truly the tip of the iceberg.

I teach my kids healthy eating. I teach them to make good choices. But when someone places chocolate milk and a donut on a child’s desk, simple peer pressure is enough to break down any resolve. When the bake sale cart went around with a number of sugary treats, the children were asked to buy the treats to support their fellow students.

So when I first read the WCSD policy, which hits on a number of the issues I think are critical to our children’s health, I felt it was a step in the right direction. Here are the parts of the policy that I love:

  1. Forbidding schools from taking recess away as a punishment. Our kids sit way too long in a day thanks to standardized curriculum and testing. Their brains need exercise in order to absorb all we’re expecting them to absorb. Studies have shown that physical activity can help people retain facts and improve brain function. And having kids with excess energy punished by taking away their one outlet for that is absurd.
  2. Not using food as a reward. Using junk food as a reward makes the junk food that much more attractive. The kids are working hard and striving towards that goal. If a kids worked for months to have good behavior in class for the reward of pizza, I’m betting they won’t make the “healthy choice” of declining that pizza.
  3. Allowing for physical activity as a reward. I love the idea of making physical activity a treat! It’s healthy for their mind and bodies, and conducive to education.
  4. Giving schools the goal of providing nutritional education. Each school will develop a plan and curriculum for teaching about nutrition. Although this education must start at home, I am excited to see schools starting to include teachings about healthy living.
  5. Healthier options at class parties. It’s good to celebrate with food. Humans have done this for centuries. But since when did that food have to be sugary or junk food? Parties haven’t been banned. You’re just asked to provide healthy food for those celebrations. If you need inspiration, here is a great resource. You can still be creative and Pinteresty.

When I met with a representative from the WCSD Wellness Committee, I was told they were considering adding “Exception Days” – a proposed 1-2 exception days per month, where the restrictions of the Wellness Policy will be lifted. I have mixed feelings about this. I think it’s great that parents can make homemade allergen free treats if they so choose, but I also wonder what the message is when we say they should eat healthy, but all bets are off for those Exception Days.

As with everything, there is a Yin and a Yang. As passionate as I am about healthy eating, the exception days will give those parents who are passionate about cupcakes opportunities to provide cupcakes to students.

Remember, the policy isn’t about the school district telling you what to feed your kid – it’s putting guidelines and limitations around what you can bring to be shared with other children. It’s time for us parents to step up and provide a healthy example. If you have questions about the Wellness Policy, be sure to read this post that answers the most common questions we’ve seen here at Reno Moms Blog as the policy was communicated earlier this year.


About Lynnette Bellin

Lynnette Bellin
Lynnette Bellin is the former owner and site manager of the Reno Moms Blog. She is a married mother of a teenage daughter and a highly energetic tween boy. Lynnette moved to Reno in 2001 after choosing to live in a place that she loved for its natural beauty. She has written four children's books, including The Kindness Ninja and a series of three books called Adeline’s Magical Moments Collection. She has been obsessed with blogging since 2002. Lynnette loves to experience outdoor adventures in our area, including skiing, hiking, camping, and open water swimming. She spends her days working from home for a NYC ad agency and shuttling kids to dance, lacrosse and basketball.

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