When schools ban sweets, are they going too far?

This week in Greeley, Colorado, the school board announced a ban on all sweets in the schools, as reported by FoxNews. No rewarding students with candy. No birthday celebrations with cupcakes. No bake sales. No off-campus fundraisers selling sweets.

sweets are banned in Colorado schools

Everything served must be pre-approved by the schools. There is only one cake recipe that can be made–it includes black beans–in the cake. The district says the kids love it.


I am adamantly opposed to fundraisers held at fast food restaurants such as McDonalds. I would much rather write a check at the beginning of the year and opt out of these ridiculous fund raisers that encourage (and in some cases require) unhealthy eating.

But no sweets in schools? Ever? No holiday celebrations? No cultural eat-ins? No birthday cupcakes?

Greeley, Colorado (a town that was–until today–on my top list of places to consider relocating my family, someday) you are taking this too far.

If we allow our school systems to dictate our children’s menus, when will they have an opportunity to try new things? To celebrate a special time? To create something different?

I asked Jennifer from Savor the Thyme about a healthy black bean cake. She shared that she’ll work on it. In the meantime, her kids love Zucchini and Banana Muffins. So do I mine. They’re somewhat healthy. They have sugars, but they have fruit and vegetables, too. Muffins like these help our kids to learn that even vegetables taste good, right? But in Greeley, Colorado, you aren’t going to be permitted to make those for school, so your children won’t learn it at school.

As a teacher, I frowned when my students asked to bring Root Beer to a class party. I rolled my eyes when, instead of sending in homemade cupcakes or cookies for a birthday celebration, a mom sent grab bags of candies, worthy of the end of Halloween night. But banning these celebrations in lieu of pencils and erasers? Has the school board forgotten what it’s like to be a kid?

An overwhelming response in the comments notes that the biggest issue for parents is that the schools are now dictating their shopping lists and what they choose to pack for their children for lunch. I applaud schools who change their cafeteria menu to make it healthier. Goodness, I wish our’s would actually do it, rather than just talking about it and pretending they did. But to tell parents what they can and can’t feed their own children? That’s too far.

“They’re dictating what I can send with my child for lunch – what I can give them for a treat at a school party,” she said. “I don’t believe that’s right. It’s my child. I should be able to feed them whatever I want. They’re not raising my child. They’re not paying for their orthodontic bills. They’re not tucking them in at night telling them they love them. But yet they’re telling me what I can and can’t feed my child?” –parent comment from the FoxNews article

Once again, schools are taking the opportunity to teach about making healthy choices and stuffing the concept into the overfilling closet of forgotten lessons. The closet that sits behind the caution tape of “shhh! Don’t talk about it. Just don’t allow it and we can forget it’s important.”

Greeley, Colorado, why not offer a lesson on sugar? On fats? On making healthy choices. Have your 2nd graders do a poll of favorite foods. Teach third graders about eating in moderation. Lead them to sample tastes from the world and learn the cultures of foods. Instruct Home Economics classes to create a healthy muffin that still tastes good.

Foods are a learning experience. So is fun. So is celebration.

<p><a href=”http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2736″>Image: piyato / FreeDigitalPhotos.net</a></p>
mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel (jewelryverse.com) and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

© 2012, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.


  1. says

    I’m hit or miss on this one. When schools start dictating what I can put in my kid’s lunchbox, THAT is going too far. But the cupcakes at school parties? Shoot me, but I’m not really that upset about that. Between 30 kids having birthdays and the 3 or 4 holiday parties each year, kids are getting cupcakes at school weekly. Add to that all the birthday parties they attend on off-school hours. OH! And Sunday morning church they have to have junk laid out on the “hospitality table” — I am glad that there are less sweets at school. I’d rather be able to offer my kids a treat at home, but when they get their fill at school and other places, I feel that I can never be the fun mom and offer a treat.

    Our school allows no sweets for birthdays, but they do allow sweets at holiday parties. For me, that is a nice happy medium.

    Now if they would just revamp those NASTY school lunches. OMG.
    Jo-Lynne {Musings of a Housewife}´s last blog post ..Wine Review: Parker Station Pinot Noir & Fess Parker Riesling

  2. says

    Wow. I agree with you. I mean, I do think we have a problem with obesity in America – with over processed and bad-for-you foods. And those foods ARE BAD…when overdone. But what we NEED to teach our kids is MODERATION. Chocolate cupcakes are unhealthy and inappropriate when eaten every day. But for a once-a-year celebration? Why not? I

    Your best point – KIDS need to be KIDS. I think that we can put some rules in place for sweets in school, maybe ramp up the healthy eating campaigns. But healthy eating FOR LIFE will never involve NO treats. It’s not realistic. But knowing the place sweets SHOULD have – in moderation – in our diets is the best thing we can teach them.

    Because in the real world? Candy, treats and sweets exist. They need to learn how to handle them appropriately and in a healthy way – not live in a bubble where they “don’t exist” – only to be bombarded when they are independently on their own.
    Stephanie Anderson´s last blog post ..Things Moms Say: Dream Jobs

    • says

      Exactly, Stephanie. They do exist. And if we teach them to ignore it… well. It will be like Freshman year in college is not only a place to explore beer, but sweets, too. So now we’ll have an epidemic of 18-year-olds overindulging on beer AND cake.

  3. says

    That is insane! I would pull my kids out of that district and move so my tax dollars don’t fund it. Healthy eating habits and moderation are what they should be focusing on. I really enjoyed that food revolution show where Jaime Oliver went to the districts and changed what they were serving the kids. Educate our children so they know how to make the right choices outside of school.
    Mychal B.´s last blog post ..Where has the time gone?

  4. says

    I agree Julie – I think school should “encourage” the development of healthy habits. . .don’t many kids have various science and health education classes? Teach the food plate (no longer pyramid) – teach about smart choices. . .that’s what school is for – to teach and for children to learn.

    If I send in a granola bar with chocolate chips – are you going t deny my child a snack? Better they should go hungry than eat what I (their MOTHER) has approved ? It’s a line that doesn’t need crossing.

    hchybinski´s last blog post ..#vlogmom – Zen Moments

    • says

      A friend sent her daughter to school with gummy snacks (which I have so many issues with, but that’s besides the point) for snack. Her teacher commented, in front of the whole classroom “you know those aren’t actually healthy, right? We encourage healthy snacks at our school.” The child picked up the wrapper and said “it IS healthy” and proceeded to read the wrapper to the teacher.

      That child? She got it. That’s what all kids need to be taught. That they need to find healthy choices among those that around them. I mean, they could have been gummy bears, but they were fruit snacks. They aren’t the healthiest thing, but who’s the teacher to decide?

  5. Heather M says

    There can be a balance. I don’t understand why schools don’t get that. Parents should get to put what they want in kids’ lunches as long as they aren’t things that will harm other kids who are simply in the same room.

  6. Q says

    i’m also a bit on both sides of the fence with this one.

    But, the flip side of the quoted Fox commenter is: yes, *I* should get to decide what my kid eats. That means I shouldn’t have to deny my own child a piece of her own Father’s homemade birthday cake because she’s already been fed a cupcake AND a slice of cookie cake, perhaps with a side of ice cream, that day because more than 1 of her classmates were celebrating their birthdays and each Mom was trying to outdo the other in terms of coolness factor dictated by supplying the most sugar laden treat possible.

    I’m down with the occasional treat, but they seem FAR more common than they ever were when I was a kid (I could be wrong, I just remember much more than the class singing happy birthday and getting to wear a cardboard crown for the day). Maybe a once a month kind of thing? That’s how my office used to celebrate. And *1* sweet treat with several healthier options too?

    I guess it’s just easier to issue an absolute moratorium than it is to try to police a society of one-uppers. Call me a cynic!

    • says

      and I totally see your point, MQ. It makes sense that you should decide what your child eats. And I agree that there’s FAR too much unhealthy at times. I roll my eyes when kids come home from school having had a cupcake AND a chocolate chip cookie at school. But there’s good in that, too. There’s good in that it leads to discussion. It leads to choices. And it opens the door for discussion at home and at school.

      It can be done in moderation. And there are places that prove that. It’s just so wrong when a school comes out and flat out bans everything.

      • Q says

        I do agree that it can lead to a productive discussion on healthy choices. We’ve had them, and will continue to do so. That’s m’job!

        I can also tell you that when presented with that “choice,” my kindergartener will ALWAYS choose the cupcake AND the cookie cake AND the ice cream (preferably washed down with some HFCS Red Dye #40 “fruit” punch)! And if it happens to fall on a Friday, add that to the once per week ‘treat’ that she’s permitted to buy with her lunch too. LOL

        As I said – I’m not sure I’m down with a “ban” (heck, I sent in cupcakes this year too!), but I also “get” why it’s just easier. I’m not down with any system dictating what granola bar I can or can’t send (save allergens), but telling me what I can or can’t feed OTHER people’s kids? Eh, doesn’t worry me that much. We’ll have cake, etc at their parties and the parents can decide via RSVP if they want their kids to participate and partake or not.

        • says

          that makes sense to me. My son just overheard me talking about it and missed the Greeley Colorado part. He became VERY sad that he couldn’t participate in the ice cream bar at the school cafeteria next year that’s for grades 3-5. Ice Cream Bar? I had NO idea. I asked him what the 3rd graders do when there’s ice cream bar AND a child brings a cup cake to school for a b-day. He shrugged.

          Here’s my answer: TAKE THE BAD STUFF OUT OF THE CAFETERIA.

  7. says

    Hi! I followed Musings of a Housewife’s link to your blog. Thanks for writing about this article. I wrote a long comment on Musings of a Housewife’s Facebook page after reading the article. I agree with a lot of what you wrote. I think that we condition our kids (and most adults are already conditioned) to think of celebrations and sweets as inseparable. Of course celebrating other cultures, birthdays, and holidays does offer the opportunity to eat sugar-y desserts, but it doesn’t have to be only that. Unfortunately, as you write, the school board isn’t giving those schools a chance to build up that education for those students because they have a large sweeping ban on everything. Like with most extreme situations, this will back fire and won’t give them the results that they want. I did find the Jolly Rancher bit funny because isn’t the 100% grade enough of a reward? Why do we need to double and triple reward our children– that is just as harmful as the sugar.

    • says

      Yes YES YES! that Jolly Rancher thing is absurd! That’s kind of a tipping point, right? I just had a discussion with a teacher about that today. All they really need is to know HOW they performed. Kids can be excited about that, if they aren’t trained to look for a tangible (and, sometimes, tasty) reward. I completely agree that schools should ban THAT.

      And I agree that there are other ways to teach culture. But let’s make schools fun, too. Let’s not forget that a bit of celebration is a good thing. Sure, there are other ways to celebrate, besides food… and let’s teach the children that as well.

      Bottom line, it’s all about balance.

      • says

        Thanks for the reply, Julie! I appreciate your words of wisdom. I have a 2 year old, so I haven’t entered into the world of school and treats yet. I’ve just read some books about rewards and punishments, so it’s a new concept for me but I see the value in not (over) rewarding. :)
        Becky´s last blog post ..Sunday Surf: April 22-28

        • says

          recognizing that now is something that not enough parents do. It’s awesome that you’re taking the time and interest in this now, with a 2 year old. Reteaching is a whole lot harder something being the status quo.

  8. says

    i kinda like the idea that there is no sugar in the schools. that way there is a level playing field and no one feels left out because their parent couldnt afford, forgot, or for other reasons, did not send in a sugar treat. Let’s not forget that some kiddos have allergies and maybe eliminating sweets will include more snacks that kids with allergies CAN eat? I also like the idea of not having a classroom full of kids jacked up on a sugar high and then crashing and burning and acting out.

    p.s. i’m just playing the opposite side just for argument’s sake.
    pammypam´s last blog post ..LDS Authors Giveaway Hop

    • says

      oh. but if you have all the parties at 2:30, you can send the kids home on sugar highs. (sarcasm. Though the teachers totally do that!)

      But, Pam. No sugar? None at all? No treats at all? I know a lot of allergy moms are staying out of this debate (I’m a mom of a minor allergy kid) but I really don’t know if that makes a difference. Big can’t have ice cream at school. He deals. We either send an alternative or he can take medicine. It’s pretty rare that they serve ice cream (or so I thought… until today when he shared that there’s an ice cream bar in the cafeteria for grades 3, 4, and 5.)

      Still, I think balance is better than policing.

  9. says

    i have to be honest, i’m not a fan of sweets in the classroom. i think maybe this particular ban is a little over reaching, but i don’t want my kids being fed junk at school. let me send them with a lunch (or choose the cafeteria lunch), but i don’t want the teachers or students celebrating with food throughout the day. i don’t necessarily think that’s a good lesson.

    i’ll admit, i’m also the mom that is NOT a fan of class parties. i know, mean. but it’s school. i’m required to have my kid attend x number of days, and i get in trouble if i want to pull them out for family vacation… but how many of those days are wasted away with class parties. often times celebrating things that my family does not teach or believe in…

    I have no problem incorporating fun with learning. we play learning games at our house all the time… but i don’t think that food or full on parties have a place in school. (maybe with the exception of one end of the year party?)

    just my opinion…
    MommyNamedApril´s last blog post ..And Then My Four Year Old Brings Me Back To Earth.

    • says

      i’ll admit, i’m also the mom that is NOT a fan of class parties. i know, mean. but it’s school. i’m required to have my kid attend x number of days, and i get in trouble if i want to pull them out for family vacation… but how many of those days are wasted away with class parties. often times celebrating things that my family does not teach or believe in…

      not mean at all. I completely agree with you. I’ve argued that many of the parties aren’t necessary. Most, even. My bigger issue is a government interfering with the choices that parents should be able to make–like what to send with their children to school for lunch.

      When I taught 2nd grade we did a unit studying Tomie DePaola. The conclusion was a study of his wordless book “Pancakes for Breakfast.” Each child received a copy of the book and wrote the words to the story. They learned how to create a recipe. They learned measurement. They learned sequence. They learned story telling. In the end, we celebrated the unit by, of course, making pancakes for breakfast. No. It wasn’t necessary to have pancakes. But it was such a special way to end the unit that we all wanted to do it. It’s a part of the whole language classroom.

      I’m sure there are other wordless books we can create stories to. But the idea of being able to encompass so many lessons in that one story… of showing how math and science interact with the day to day preparation of something as simple as pancakes… that’s eye opening for 2nd graders. It’s something they won’t forget.

      And pancakes… they’re made with sugar.

      • Q says

        I’d be willing to bet lunch that 99% of the ‘sweets’ in the schools have absolutely no lesson with them at all. I’d bet that the storywriting/math/science example and most ‘cultural’ education examples are far and away the exception (a welcome exception, in my opinion, but the exception none the less). They’re coming in the form of Halloween parties, Thanksgiving parties, Christmas/winter parties, Valentine’s parties, Easter/spring parties, we-finished-state-testing parties, end-of-year parties, fundraising reward parties, accelerated reader parties (3x/year), charity parties (our class had x% participation in the school supply drive!), and 20+some birthday parties. By our total # of school days per year works out to 1x/week, every week, for the entire school year. That doesn’t include the bags of candy or 12oz Cokes handed out as rewards. That doesn’t include the Friday treat in the lunchroom.

        I guess I just don’t find it that huge of an infringement. I can still feed my kid cupcakes, I just can’t feed 20 kids that aren’t my own cupcakes without their parents knowledge (say they’re attending our party, etc). I feel like it would actually GIVE me some power back, to make those decisions for/with my own family.

        So when *I* want to take my kids out for Dairy Queen, I don’t find that choice taken away from me because of the junk they’d been given by someone else without my knowledge or consent.

        I’d most certainly rather it not be mandated by the government. But, frankly, if people would get this offended and motivated about the numbers of students we turn out each year who can’t read above a 3rd grade level . . . now THAT’s a hill I’m willing to die on.

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