Delicious Living Blog

Much ado about school bake sales: Why critiques of the new Child Nutrition Act fall flat

The new Child Nutrition Act may affect bake sales and other sugary fundraisers that happen during school hours. So what?


When Congress passed the Child Nutrition Act earlier this month—raising funding for school lunches for the first time in more than 30 years, banning some junk food in schools, and paving the way for new nutrition guidelines—conservative pundits were quick to carp that time-honored fundraisers, including bake sales and chocolate bar drives, would fall prey to the heavy hand of government. Controlling what kids eat at school doesn’t work, they claim.

As the mother of two elementary age kids, I’ll be the first to admit that getting children to eat healthy foods can be challenging. My local school district is now making a huge effort to overhaul and improve its menu offerings—and many of the kids are balking at the healthier offerings. Still, it’s a change we can’t afford not to make.

Current estimates of obesity-related medical costs in the U.S. are $168 billion a year… and rising. Esteemed pediatricians like Alan Greene, MD, point to a growing body of research about how tastes developed early affect eating habits for life. At many public schools today, young, at-risk children are eating both breakfast and lunch at school—two-thirds of their total nutrition.

The new Act’s funding boost shakes out to just an additional six cents per meal, not enough, but a “good first step,” according to Marion Nestle. What’s more, there’s a hidden provision that could raise about five more cents per lunch by kaboshing some traditional school-lunch voodoo economics, which now allow some federal funds togo toward subsidizing the cost of lunch for students who can afford to pay.  

To answer the pundits: No, school isn’t the ideal place to teach kids about nutrition, but better there than not at all. And when kids help plant gardens and harvest vegetables—a growing national movement—they tend to eat them! 

Our school now formally encourages parents to send healthy treats for birthday celebrations and snacks, which can feel a bit like a wet blanket to a 6-year-old. So yes, there are still cupcakes, cookies, and even candy in the building. But as a parent, I’m grateful that our schools, as centers of our young-family community, are taking a leadership role about the importance of good nutrition. 

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