October 23, 2009

After School Foods and Fundraisers: Nutritious? No!

Already this school year I’ve been faced with a cheesecake sale for a booster club; candy sale for the school; hot dogs, chips and soda served at an afterschool program…and there’s the promise of more of the same through the school year. I’m hoping my experience is not representative across the mountains and prairies of this large country, but I fear it is.

An area of school food where there has been much nutrition attention is the foods and beverages sold and served to children in our schools to tow the line. For the 2005-06 school year the USDA required a Wellness Policy from any school district/system which receives reimbursement for school-served meals. A 2007 report card on the effectiveness of these policies on a state by state basis is offered by Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) offers one anaylsis.

But food and beverages sold during school hours, generally in the cafeteria, is just one place that schools, our kids and foods collide. Another which receives too little attention and is untouchable due to the revenue produced, is food served in after-school programs, food is sold as PTA, school and club fundraisers and food is served at school sporting and other events. My experience is that nearly none of these foods and beverages get the grade of A for nutrition. The Wellness Policies, while they may cover these foods, offer lip service vs. the teeth to enforce the good nutrition message. But let’s get back to the adults in and around the schools - parents, administrators, PTA organizations and teachers. Wouldn’t you think that with all the buzz about the childhood obesity epidemic they would have an ounce or two of consciousness about what our kids put in their mouths. Not the case! The priorities of raising money and purchasing inexpensive foods are still top dog and serving or selling unhealthy foods gets a wink, wink.

It’s time for us adults to reprioritize nutrition and help our children grow up healthy - we’ve got to walk the walk. Speak up and raise awareness about these issues. Creative ways to raise money in schools are available without selling unhealthy food and children can be feed and enjoy healthy snacks. Some school district have shown this is possible and CSPI provides excellent resources to get you and your community out of the starting gate. Let's get started. Together we can raise a healthier generation.